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Nghệ thuậtBàn tròn "Mĩ thuật đương đại Việt Nam đang ở đâu"
Văn Sáng, Kaomi Izu, Nguyên Hưng
Talawas round table "Contemporary Vietnamese art in the international context"
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Van Sang (from the audience): First, the art scene is not a primary school class, where we can point out which kid is lazy, which is bad, etc. as Nhu Huy wished. The art scene has been always, in any place, a market of false anf true hooking into each other. Please do not try to transform it into a well sorted shop with labels for the value of each item. That would be dangerous and boring too. Dali used to announce widely that Picasso was a swindler. Dali, and not just a no-name! But at the end, Picasso was a swindler or not, probably Nhu Huy is also not sure. Having viewed the 10th picture of Hartung one realizes that he is also a great swindler, repeating himself, copying himself (as Nguyen Hung condemned some Vietnamese artists, by the way, why didn't Nguyen Hung tell a few names?). But his swindling produced much more inspiration than other people who swear that they have true feelings. Sure we made propaganda art in the past with true feelings, sure we painted Bac Ho's picture with real believe. I think maybe Vietnamese art is hindered by this very request for true emotions, by people thinking of themselves as the judge over conscience.

Second, Nguyen Hung, I do hurrey the foreigners not only from my own point and economic point of view. Without Korea with its never-ending soap operas then rosa female lips would be our norm of beauty forever. But now those lips can be dark red and noone slights that they are lips of a corpse. The paint company De Luxe advertises fiercely, and therefore wall colors in Vietnam now can be much more divers to what is recommended in housing theory. Ordinary foreign consumer goods coming to Vietnam have changed the thinking about color, form, speed, beauty, etc. of our whole society. In comparison, the national art scene has done nothing notably, because we are busy serving the other foreigners, we are busy thinking of taking part in some Documenta (which I admit I heard the first time here). And we are most busy thinking about moral.

Kaomi Izu: In this round table, I am a foreigner, too. I don't know whether in Vietnam, people have anti-imperialistic fear or not, but I know for sure that the concern about being the recipient of all sorts of residues from the developed countries is real and, to my mind, legitimate. I feel that Birgit's emotion somehow smacks of "colonialism". She takes offence about Nguyen Hung's "sarcasm", but she never cares about the situations that are conducive to that sarcarm (see again Nguyen Hung's Nov. 14 statement and Veronika's Nov. 08 statement). In discussion, it's important to face the issues raised.

Birgit spoke about the role played by foreigners in the development of Vietnamese art. This remart of hers, too, smacks of "colonialism". She used seemingly modest terms such as "connecting link", "source of information", but this interpretation holds in itself a connotation of "bringing light". We should manifest ourselves through actual work and theory. Because, in reality, not every foreigner coming to Vietnam is prompted by a same motivation. And not everyone of them has"profound knowledge of Vietnam as well as of the international art circus" (the words in inverted commas are Birgit's)

Nguyen Hung: Vietnamese public nowadays know about Vietnamese art mostly through stories, anecdotes, myths, etc. Rarely they have seen original art works. Furthermore, because they don't have the basic knowledge of art, art critics towards a certain artist or art work is not necessary for them. Most of them don't want to read. Some of them read, but their readings often just increase their illusion of their "knowledge". With such a local art public, contemporary Vietnamese art exists as a illusion. New discoveries in art are not transferred into cultural values. The whole art body as a result has no chance to evolve.

About the artists, the social atmosphere of the "doi moi" and "open door" period over the last 10 years has given them a relatively free space to "do whatever they want" (at least in their creativity; publicizing/popularizing their works is another matter). However, after the beginning excitement, with a fast growing number of artists, who were splitting to divergent paths, as well as absorbing numerous influential trends, etc., they all have been worn out gradually. And now it is obvious that not many of them are doing the creative work or self-expression in the real sense. The majority of them, absorbing "others," or learning/copying from "modernism" to "post-modernism," just "create" in the sense of grasping certain formulas or certain techniques, or using or making up some motifs, or holding on to some themes/subjects, and, just like that, they "clone" their works days after days without a change. Freedom and integration have been a challenge. They need critics, and need to be criticized. But for them too, critics is not necessary too. It is groundless. It is either just some accompanying music of work of people with a lot of time.

From this perspective, I think that the most important subjects of Vietnamese art critics today are the very cultural institution that failed to nurture an art public; the theoretical system that "shapes" people so that artists have such an inability to change themselves; the culture full of biases, prejudices, and self-pity, the unconscious products of history, that makes each person a prisoner of the ism "we-are-different" so that we have no ability to absorb and to integrate the real fresh/new/modern things of the world in a self-imposed manner, etc. In general, the more important needs in Vietnam are the critics of theories, critics of methodology, critics of cultures.

Above are the reasons why, when joining this forum, I eagerly wished to focus on the general problems. Problems that need to be considered from the "others'perspective", that need a free and open forum.

Veronika and Nora think that considering individuals is crucial. I have no objection. It is true that when mentioning an art body/scene, we could not ignore individuals. But the main point is the attitude and the way of studying it. When we speak of the "most representative names" on way or another, we touch the whole system of values of an art body, we also change the system of values that we use to evaluate into norms. And so, our strength or weakness, obviously, either lighten up, or just darken the problems.

Veronika mentioned Nguyen Minh Thanh. I am not surprised of this at all. Everybody could point out certain "representative" names. However, we need more that just those names, we need explanations and analysis. "Judging without explanation" of an artist is too easy a job.

Nguyen Minh Thanh's successes, judging from the social standpoint, such as going abroad, being famous, liked by many, copied by many, and, envied by many, etc., frankly, do not mean anything. The fact that Minh Thanh has ignored state organizations doesn't say anything neither. From this viewpoint, quite a few artists in Vietname are more successful.

In art, "being yourself" (your word "individuality") is a value. It is even the most basic value. With this value, "originality" is the measurement. (Perhaps I don't need to explain more here). Is Nguyen Minh Thanh's art original for real? Using himself, using "mom's life," or using "villagers' lives," etc. as themes do not guarantee that Nguyen Minh Thanh's art reaches a certain quality. Themes/topics are not substance/content. Themes/topics must be viewed in a certain attitude or a certain aesthetic sense, and must be built on a structure bearing a certain artistic characteristic in order to have a substance. And only from this step, we could discuss about art, about "being yourself."

You have ignored this. Is it true, that "international experience and the application of international artistic forms of expression", "anti-academicism" (in your words), are a warranty for success, and need no further analyzing and studying? This is really odd!

I am not yet discussing Nguyen Minh Thanh here, but just analyzing your way of thinking. And I am looking forward to your answers to my questions.

© Talawas 2002