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Nghệ thuậtBàn tròn "Mĩ thuật đương đại Việt Nam đang ở đâu"
Nguyên Hưng, Như Huy, Nora Taylor
Talawas round table "Contemporary Vietnamese art in the international context"
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Nguyen Hung: Dear Patrick, "nation", "modernity" etc. are permanent values. But are they unavoidable concepts in a discussion about art (or is the actual problem an altogether different one)? At least seen from an artist's perspective, this is not necessarily the case. For an artist, "nation" and "modernity" are the products of 'the mind of the other' (you can also find that idea in Nguyen Dai Giang's article dated 11/02). They can clarify things, but they may also obfuscate and become a somewhat obstructive force blocking the artist's concern with his cognitive spontaneity which is the source of his free creativity.

The question we need to ask when talking about 'Vietnamese nationalism' and 'modernity in Vietnamese art' is not what these concepts are but how, in which context they are brought up. Asking what they are merely leads us to Dao Mai Trang's doubts ("bao nhiêu người trong số chúng ta trò chuyện đây có thể cảm nhận đầy đủ cái 'chất' này" (26/10/02) and fruitless, pedantic discussions. To an artist, this is pretty shallow nonsense if not outright hilarious. Asking, however, how they're brought up will lead us straight to the political atmosphere, the educational basis, the art institutions, prejudices, collective imagination, their symbols and their influence etc. In my eyes, those are the most worthwhile issues, for they allow us to perceive the problems related to Vietnamese artists' frame of mind, that which is called their 'potential'.

In your quote from Nguyen Hien Le, I'd suggest his phrase "a couple of shallow country bumpkins" equals "a couple of shallow painters" and not, as you'd have it, "a couple of shallow art bureaucrats". In Vietnam, the main problem is the individual potential of the artist.

Van Sang, Vietnamese art has no domestic audience. While that's an issue worth debating, I got the feeling it's one that's simply not on your mind - right?

Whether a painter works for money or something else is really his own business. Who'd blame him? Nobody will base his judgment of an artist's personality on the fact whether he paints for money or not (of course I know that there are still numerous cases of this 'pathetic' taste which cause quite a stir-up in Vietnam. Even Tran Luong, in an interview with Sports & Culture a couple of months ago, attempted to explain away this fact, arguing that people should assume "a more generous attitude toward artists". If they paint for money, that's because they're poor etc. Though a popular attitude, it's still the exception)

The problem is that people will paint one way and talk another, copy others and repeat themselves in their paintings - yet conceitedly engage in 'creativity talk' and 'expression speak' while zealously joining art forums squabbling for position and standing - another common phenomenon in Vietnam. Now, would you call that hypocritical or not? Can we derive an artist's character from that or not? Or do you believe that, "Gee, in that ambiguous and confusing environment in Vietnam, this type of hypocrisy isn't really surprising"?

From my point of view, you're free to cheer 'long live the foreigners' for as long as you want. There's nothing to argue here; however, I'd like to ask you leave it at that.

Charging that 'all' artists 'depend on the state', 'depend on politics' sounds a bit disingenious. In fact, they're no different from you, from the artists who 'depend on money'. And they don't think they're producing first-rate, unequalled art - so what's the problem?

Dear Veronika, "học lại từ đầu" (re-educate): A lot of people felt insulted by that remark. Still, that shouldn't lead us to disregard the issue we're currently debating, i.e. the foreigners' perspective or, to put it more precisely, their reasoning when assessing Vietnamese art. You better read my article again and stick to what I said. The same applies to everyone else as well. 'The mind of the other' may guide us us to paradise, but it may also conduct us to hell, depending on our perception. To those without that perception, without perceptive potential, even a groundless critique is enough to throw them off balance.

The attitude of simultenously catering to and despising [vừa cần vừa khinh] foreigners is still very popular in Vietnam. Looks like Natalia also mentioned that in her article on 27/10. And what kind of attitude [bản lĩnh] does that betray? One I as a Vietnamese am not particularly proud of.

As you rejected to "observe and carefully analyze the problems of Vietnamese art", I don't see your argument when you call words like "this art is a miserable one", "swamp", etc. as big words? Or do you think that just because you have teached in the Hanoi Art University, and because many other foreigners have brought "light" to Vietnam, Vietnamese art can't be miserable?

Nhu Huy: Mai Chi said in this round table we should not let our emotion get hold of us. However I think most of us have gotten too emotional, although by emotion I might mean something different from what Mai Chi was talking about.
I think the reason we get too emotional in this round table is that most of us do not look for the cause of our indignation or admiration, and I think looking for the cause of something seems to be the best way one can get to know it.
I will give an example. Natasha is angry about the present saturation of buffalo paintings in Vietnam. Now what makes her (or me) angry? I think the answer is basically emotional fakery, intellectual laziness and technical deficiency.
So it is emotional fakery, intellectual laziness and technical deficiency that make us angry and not buffalo paintings per se. Knowing this, we will not hate all buffalo paintings, but just those having the above properties. (I don't know whether you have seen the 10 zen paintings of buffalo, and if you have, whether you like them.) Knowing this, we will not be deceived by any surface appearance, be it installation, video, performance... Any subject, any form, if it shows emotional fakery, intellectual laziness and technical deficiency, will irritate us.
By the way I have a question for Veronica which I have many times wanted to ask but always forgotten. You once wrote that "...the painted cows, done by my 15 or 20 artists in Hanoi...could have been a sensation in documenta..." I wonder what you meant by "artists of mine". You pay them (or they pay you)? You teach them how to do art (or they teach you)? You help them with appearances in the world (or they help you with appearances in Vietnam)? Why did you not mention their specific identities, but spoke of them in terms of a bunch of 15 to 20 people. And more, when you talked of sensation in documenta, did you not also think about the Laos artists bringing to the show their (painted) elephants, the Thais their (painted) crocodiles, and the Australians their Forster cans. Why couldn't they have made a greater sensation than you.

Nora Taylor: Talking about influential artists, I would say Truong Tan was in the 1990s because he dared to be different and taught his students that they could paint something personal, something besides landscapes and still lives. He influenced Nguyen Minh Thanh and others. But his influence has waned. Now I would say that Tran Luong is very influential, not because of his work necessarily but because he is heading the center for contemporary art and he has the power to encourage artists to make multi-media works, performances, happenings, etc. But as far as painting is concerned I think Tran Trong Vu will be extremely influential in bringing Vietnamese art to the outisde world. Because he is already 1/2 in Vietnam, 1/2 in France, he transgresses many of the categories of Vietnamese art and he is very political in his approach. He is not afraid to address issues of race, censorship, money and nationality in his work. Because he will be exhibiting in places that most Vietnamese artists don't have access to (galleries in New York, workshops in Germany, etc...) he will no doubt influence how outsiders view Vietnamese art. We'll see.

© Talawas 2002