Nghệ thuậtBàn tròn "Mĩ thuật đương đại Việt Nam đang ở đâu" |
Natalia Kraevskaia, Hoàng Ngọc Tuấn
Talawas round table "Contemporary Vietnamese art in the international context"
I feel that in the discussion on contemporary Vietnamese art we not only follow the trajectory of its movement but also want to determine its point of departure and moreover to calculate its point of arrival. And here we are, crowding at the arrival door with the slogans: "Hands off from the Vietnamese roots!", "No to neo-colonialism!" And Kaomi Izu in front of all: "Stop bringing foreign light to Vietnam!" I am afraid if somebody would understand his words too straitforward and at one go will stop all Russian-built hydro-electric power stations, then I wouldn't have the possibility to send this letter to you. Okay, I'll wait till fellow-townsmen of Nguyen Hung would invent computer working from the local peat. Or all the peatbog had burned out during the recent massive fire - the result of the local strategy of draining swamps? I hope that Nhuyen Hung would not use the same method for drainage of his imaginative art swamp.
Yes, Kaomi and Nguyen Hung, whatever the expressions of Birgit smacks of, yes, Huy, irrespective of how long you'll continue your "cow" discussion with Veronica (this exactly reflects the similar problem in art which you discussed before - articulating words without having anything to say. Yes, in this particular case we have an example of how even one person can "bring light" and make an immense impact on development of creative diversity and even teaching strategy. Yes, I am a witness, and dozens of artists, and the whole Hanoi Fine Art School after all. (This round-table is not the right place to give a list of all Veronica's activities. So, Kaomi, can you give me your telephone number for our further discussions? And by the way, can you provide some information on the exhibitions of Vietnamese art you have curated or organized? I am very interested in the exchange of information with you. Should I write to you in Japanese or do you speak only Vietnamese?)
Back to the light. Any "light" is good, from the West or from the East, if it's really "light". And in the art I don't remember anybody complaining about NORWEGIAN Munch being considered as father of German Expressionism. Or expansion of French impressionism throughout the world, was it forerunner of cultural neo-colonialism, Laurent?
Yes, everybody knows that globalization (I'll use this word instead of neo-colonialism, I looked through dozens of economic and philosophical essays- no significant difference) has its negative effects too: the reign of transnational corporations, dehumanization of science and technology, concentration on mass distribution and mass consumption, standardization, and so on. But we also tasted already such impacts of globalization as high-speed access to information, dynamic communication and dialogue between cultures. I foresee Kaomi/Nguyen Hung replica: "And what's about Westernism?" Yes, yes, it exists. As exist museums and ballet theater, symphonic music and art history - all those totally western concepts. Should we destroy them as Khmer rouge had done? Or should the west instead refuse from all paper based items (books, magazines etc.) since paper is Chinese invention? (We didn't pay attention in our discussion to the "additional thought" of Hoang Ngoc-Tuan, 28.10.02, about negative influence of exagerrated national pride and ideas of ethnocentrism. Unfortunately he has disappeared from the round-table, leaving space to the chauvinist propaganda).
Last month there had been the Asian international workshop in Hanoi contemporary art center, which aimed to provide collaboration between Vietnamese artists, musicians, actors, dancers and those from other Asian countries. In the discussion at the visual art panel Vietnamese artists expressed their usual anxiety - we want to use new western art forms, but how we can change them to become totally Vietnamese. The others (not westerners, Asians) didn't agree: " If you make installation, performance - western invention, you have to know the language of these forms, set of codes, filling it with your own concepts and ideas. Otherwise you can't provide ground to communication. If you want to create something exclusively Vietnamese, go on, but this creation must be really new, original, never seen before".
Our artists (not my, Huy) were upset; they are full of energy, of enthusiasm, eager to change, to express, to create, but... to learn new language is boring for them, but to make some small research before doing an installation on not very familiar concept - is still not their habit. From another hand, the presentations made by non-Vietnamese participants at this workshop had shown very convincing that culture doesn't always come into other societies unchanged, but can get interwoven into context of local cultures. And I hope it had slightly influences Vietnamese artists' simplistic idea on "new" art forms.
"New" art forms, the installation-performance-video triptych. Laurent, I agree with many disillusional conclusions from your writing, but the last paragraph somehow disturbs me a lot.
I am not advocating neo-colonialism. And I didn't worked out myself clear attitude towards hybridization of culture (I only know that it existed for centuries since people began to develop trade roads and that as the result of it new cultural forms emerge).
But nothing appears or gets adopted just by chance, without reason, on the empty place. All the art styles, directions, trends and forms had been conditioned by different factors - economic, political, social, as well as by development of human reason and knowledge - science, philosophy pshyhology, literature... Thus, Art Nouveau was resulted by revolt against the new age of mechanization and Jugendstil reflected concept of unit of arts with crafts and industry. And Futurism based on literary concept - reaction of young intellectuals against cultural torpor and thus demanding distraction - was popular specifically in Italy and in Russia, probably, because in these countries the idea and practice of anarchism were thriving at that time. And so on, and so on.... 60's - Pop art as reflection of spread of Pop culture and growth of industrial and commerce environment. 70's - performance as intention to liberate artist from the art object, to reject the traditional and institutional forms, to provide immediate contact with the public and to turn art from exclusive product into direct visual communication.
Don't you think that adoption and growing popularity of these new forms in Vietnam is not result of propagation, but is tightly connected to the similar processes which happened to be in Europe in 60's and 70's, with this tremendous changes occurring in Vietnamese society about which you speak? The growing democratization, liberation of mind from the stereotypical mode of thinking, desire to disavow the past, to share worldwide values -it is also a side of the modern Vietnam. And this new reality will shape new art forms, which can better express visual translation of the social processes. Never mind of it will be cultural appropriation.
The first steps within this installation-performance-video triptych are as baby's first steps. The language is not yet learned, but the first words already pronounced. We must have a patience to wait for distinct articulation.
And national cultural roots - nobody is going to grub them up. But if Kandinsky all his life had been sitting on the oak stool looking to his beloved lubok (analog of Dong Ho prints), would we ever get abstractionism?
Dear all, I have been absent from the roundtable for a while due to many personal problems and commitments. Today I'm back with some ideas.
1. No discussion could reach a positive conclusion if nobody tries to step out of his/her cultural/ideological frame and carefully listen to different ideas from all directions. Staying proudly within a frame, we refuse to listen to ideas from outside. This makes us poorer and poorer forever. We have to learn from things out there, imitate them, use them, and base on them to develop new things, or hold them firmly in order to surpass them.
This roundtable has incidentally evolved around a frame: Vietnam. And, unfortunately, it seems many people in that frame are quite reluctant to open wide their fences and step out. Instead, they stand behind their fences and let "outsiders" step in, one by one, after having given them tickets clearly marks "outsiders". And when the "outsiders" are stepping in through the threshold, they are told: "You are free to observe and talk, but don't ever suppose you can understand us."
Of course, the situation could get worse, if the following scenario occurs:
An "outsider" says: "Hey, you are obviously backwards. Come out here. Look at us. Try your best to follow us, if you want to survive strongly".
An "insider" says: "Hey, don't be so wrongly arrogant. We don't follow anybody. We have defeated you on many battlefields. And we are surviving strongly without your concern. If we have any problems, they are our problems and we will sort them out by ourselves. Just keep quiet, come in here and have a look."
2. Actually, what do we want to achieve through this roundtable? The title of the roundtable is "Where is the Vietnamese Contemporary Art at the present time?" I suppose that we all know where it is now. I suppose that what we want to achieve through this roundtable is to predict where it will go, and, more than that, to suggest a certain positive direction for its development.
3. Our discussion seems to become very muddy whenever we have to deal with the issue of "national identity". I would like to suggest some ideas as follows:
Firstly, in order to make our discussion more fluent, we must know clearly where we are speaking from. Stubbornly staying inside to speak is obviously problematic. Stubbornly staying outside to speak is also problematic. (Please notice that some people may come inside but still speak as if they are still standing outside). I suggest that we all should stay on the fence to speak.
Secondly, national identity is a nucleus around which all other meanings of a nation's activities are organised. But sometimes this nucleus is only a MYTH, or an ARTIFICIAL STUFF, or even an EMPTINESS.
The majority of Vietnamese think that their national identity is something permanent but, in fact, it is not so. Our national identity has been always very "flexible". At times, it had a strong of flavour of China. At other times, it smelt French, Soviet, American... or a good mixture of many flavours.
During the second half of the last century until recent years, the strongest flavour was socialism (of course, socialism was something we borrowed from somewhere outside, and it could be useful to a certain extent). In fact, the national identity of Vietnam even became identical with socialism: "Loving socialism is loving the country!" (Every child had learned it by heart). Every anti-socialist Vietnamese was labelled "unpatriotic" or "traitor". The national identity of Vietnam was defined as being "revolutionary".
Recently, due to the unstable condition of socialism in dealing with the free market and the globalised communication, this national identity has gradually changed to embrace more and more mythical and artificial stuffs, and even empty rhetoric. So, now, it is an ironic mixture of both the "revolutionary" and, (alas!) the "traditional". And, I have to admit that, in my view, both elements are fake. But not a few Vietnamese people, including artists, have easily fallen in that trap. And once you let yourself fall into that trap and feel proud of it, it is extremely difficult for you to get out.
I suggest that instead of trying to prove in vain that Vietnam has a pure and lasting national identity, we may adopt a view that Vietnam has a kaleidoscopic identity. I suppose this view may make us more relaxed, healthier, and richer. I will discuss my idea of this kaleidoscopic identity in my next email.
© Talawas 2002