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Nghệ thuậtBàn tròn "Mĩ thuật đương đại Việt Nam đang ở đâu"
Kaomi Izu, Patrick Raszelenberg, Nguyễn Đại Giang
Talawas round table "Contemporary Vietnamese art in the international context"
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Nguyen Dai Giang:

I'm a Vietnamese painter living in Seattle. At the 1997 international competition entitled ‚The Most Gifted Young Painters' in Stockholm, my picture ‚Upside Down' finished third. They say I'm an American artist whose work transcends ethnic boundaries to become international, both Vietnamese and American. The overseas Vietnamese community appeared elated, hailing me as a Vietnamese artist successfully blending into American culture and whose ability is recognized by the international art world.

Actually, when I sent in ‚Upside Down' I wasn't even thinking about ‚nationalism' (dan toc tinh), tradition, means of subsistence or any other bonds of daily life. I just remembered one thing: to look for my own personality inside me and paint it. That personality is really Vietnam, just like the ‚upsidedownism' in art is that Vietnam as well, while there are American and other elements as well.

After the first exclusive exhibition of ‚Upsidedownism' in Seattle, art critic Anna Fahey contented in the art review ‚Weekly Seattle' that with "Dai Giang' s quirky style, Upsidedownism subverts the history of Western art". Actually, ‚Upsidedownism' provides an overdue perspective full of Vietnamese philosophical thought, a new aesthetics introducing the art revolution of the 21st century. And it quite simply enriches Western art history.
I chose free creativity in its pure, undiluted meaning. The more freedom, the more soaring the arts will be. Independence and freedom are the quintessential ingredients of creativity. Endeavoring to be creative, one has to overcome territorial and ethnic boundaries, (national) customs and habits etc. in order to arrive at the (sense of) perfect beauty of the time. I don't have to paint in order to introduce myself as a Vietnamese. I meely need to paint well or even beyond comparison, and the result is universally acknowledged, since it contributes to the international standing of the Vietnamese and the pride of the glorious United States.

I agree with Nguyen Hung that the Vietnamese art world needs decent critics. The most difficult thing is to distinguish the fake from the real, the visible from what's concealed inside. Artists need critics like a fighter requires a trainer.

What's interesting about Kaomi Izu's view is that he provides three angles, two on the 'floating' (surviving) and one on the 'drowning' (doomed) aspect of Vietnamese art. As stated in the interview with Nguyen Hung, there's a future for Vietnamese art.
Thanks everybody.

Kaomi Izu:

1) In response to Patrick:
My 'main issue': There's no such thing as a main issue here. You didn't read my contribution dated 10/21 (or any of my previous ones) closely enough. This is a roundtable, and every contribution has to be viewed in relation to all other ones. I should have put "manh me, day suc song" in quotation marks, since those were Veronika's words (10/20) - my fault. Within the context of my argument, there's no indication I would agree with her. If it did appear to you as though I would, that's your problem.

"I can't perceive much of a contrariety (here)" [between "cái nhìn mang tính dân tộc-quốc gia" and "cái bẩy tượng trưng chủ nghĩa tự tạo vớI các ngộ nhận về cái "văn hóa làng" độc đáo của mình"]: I'd like to ask you whether there's no contrariety between your natural face and the one that's 'full of make-up' once you're out the front door, the one that may become a mask once you're dealing with people in general, and whether that doesn't mean anything? You gotta be pretty naive to think it doesn't. Not to perceive any difference between 'nationalist dispositions' in the thinking of an artist and its political mask is about equally naive.

"Vì những vấn đề thuộc văn hóa làng VỐN ĐƯỢC XEM (tôi nhấn mạnh, K.I.) là thành tố 'dân tộc'": You really think so? Then what about Natalia's question (10/27: "Tại sao chị không bao giờ vẽ trâu? Thu hoạch ổn định ở Hà NộI đấy")? I wonder who's the one who "got the nerve"....

With regard to the mass line argument: You totally made that up. Either you didn't get my point or else just used it to argue. My idea was this: What do foreigners like us really understand about Vietnamese art when everything we see has already been selected according to criteria guided and directed by the Vietnamese state and popular taste, both of which traditionally don't understand much about art. Moreover, the ability of foreign curators to discover (new artists, interesting pieces etc.) leaves much to desire. Hence, what's my point got to do with your 'mass line' arguments?

2) In response to Mai Chi:
Not until "the globalization with its cultural pressure", the issues "national character" and "integration" have become hot debated topics in many places. In former times, and always, if there was a pressure from the outside, issues like "national character" and "integration" were raised, especially when politicians wanted to search for a common thing. This is "not only a concern specific to art administrators in Vietnam", you are right. But it is necessary to add: this is a common concern of politicians everywhere. And it is usually downfalls from an art point of view.

About these issues, have we provided "new information, new approaches" as Mai Chi stated? I think, Nguyen Hung's disappointment is not unreasonable. We are still running around in the confrontation of "etho-national view" and "universal values", but still not able to define what they are. This "going in circles" is similar to this of discussions in Viet Nam. Reading again the protocol, you will see that only with Patrick, problems were seen from different points of views. This is the core problem. It is very close to Nguyen Hung' opinion about the "swamp" and "personality of a free person". Just seen from a different point.

Patrick Raszelenberg:

One one hand affirming that 'dan toc', 'hien dai' et cetera are considered unavoidable analytical entities when discussing art yet on the other disclaiming their judicious and penetrating value, Nguyễn Hu'ng is nhầm ... quá nhầm (wrong, too wrong). They're part and parcel of an approach endeavoring to do justice to particular works of art, not a universal tool to be applied with sweeping and indiscriminate force. They may be dead wrong as means of classification and categorization - and I certainly believe they are - yet happen to be ubiquitous not merely in our discussions about specific works but our very thinking reflected in those discussions. To discard them is simple - to circumvent them by striking straight into the very heart of a work of art's 'purely artistic' value is quite another story.

Nguyễn Hu'ng's professed perturbation and annoyance at a mode of thinking widely prevalent in Vietnam in which art is regarded as a tool ("my thuat la phuong tien") appears odd, since it misses an essential point: Getting upset at means of political instrumentalization of the arts would eventually impede us to display irritation at its purely 'artistic' functionalization as well. Art is always a tool, be it for the recondite yet profound expressions of a creative mind or the shallow, short-term political considerations of some functionary or art cadre.

Nguyen Hung's charge that "the artists of the economic renovation period" allegedly aren't "any better" than those incessantly panegyrizing the 'hien thuc' character of a work of art, while both reasonable and legitimate, is about the cheapest reproach one can come up with, since entire generations were taught to be deeply steeped in the canon of socialist realism, and it's gonna take more than a decade to transform diehard concepts.

"Nếu giới mỹ thuật quốc tế nhìn mỹ thuật Việt Nam theo kiểu "Việt Nam trước", "mỹ thuật sau", như một cách nhìn, thì thật tình, tôi chẳng ngại ngần gì không nói: họ cần phải học hành lại, từ đầu."

Now that's some suggestion ... back to first grade .... Assuming Nguyen Hung is right in claiming that foreigners do tend to regard Vietnamese works of art as Vietnamese first instead of just art, then maybe there are good reasons for such a perception. I guess we're all irritated at this distressing proclivity yet I least would prefer to refrain from telling people - even ignorants - to "học hành lại, từ đầu". What's more, reading Nguyen Dai Giang's recent piece and his reference to the reactions of the overseas Vietnamese community to his 'Upside Down' exhibition, one cannot help thinking that ethnicity and nationalism will continue to play its role in the arts.

I can't see why Hung would want to determine whether an artist "belong[s] to the whole world" or "all of humanity" (nghệ sĩ thực thụ là của chung nhân loại"). That's practically the same as professing the opposite, that he'd belong to a specific country or culture. In the end, it's the artist himself who decides what or who he is, not the critics or art institutions, and certainly not anyone at this roundtable. If Vietnam had produced a universally recognized genius in the arts like Picasso, would Nguyen Hung still insist he's not Vietnamese but belongs to everybody? He might say he'll belong to everybody but he's still (and possibly foremost) Vietnamese - and that only the Vietnamese can really understand him. We'd be childish to insist that the art critic claim for himself that kind of aloof magnanimous perspective some artists may, can and will not even recognize for themselves, particularly when they're successful. What the latter is prone to do not just for artists but anyone else is gracefully illustrated by by this example taken from Nguyễn Hiến Lê's memoirs:

"Dưới chân núi, khắp trong vùng này có rất nhiều ông "đạo" kỳ cục, ông thì nằm suốt năm, gọi là "Đạo Nằm"; ông thì chỉ ăn ớt, gọi là "Đạo Ớt"; ông thì nói gì cũng chỉ "ừ" gọi là "Đạo Ừ"... ông nào cũng có một số nông dân chất phác nghe theo, cũng phụng đủ thứ" (Hồi Ký Nguyễn Hiến Lê, NXB VH, Hanoi 1997, tr.142)

We may easily substitute 'mot so nong dan chat phac' with 'mot so vien chuc nghe thuat chat phac' J