All posts by Alyssa Jeanne

Tutor’s notes + feeback Part 5

CAT 5 Assignment report 514783

Assignment 5 – Final draft annotated

 

Carla has been a great help, especially with my academic writing style, which has been my biggest challenge. I understand now, how I write more subjectively, instead of finding the research to back up all my ideas. It’s not enough to have an opinion, without the knowledge to back it up.

I know we all learn differently, but having the annotated draft, showing me exactly where went wrong, alongside the OCA Harvard Referencing guide (why have I never come across that before?) everything has become a bit clearer.

I am going to a talk, given by Tim Dooling, the historian I interviewed, on Thursday all about Hue and in particular, the Nguyen Dynasty, which should add to my research and help develop my essay further.

I have a lot of editing and re-writing to do these next few weeks, ready for the assessment process to begin.

I have enjoyed this course and definitely learnt a lot.  I wish I hadn’t taken so long to complete, but I did not want to rush.  I am looking forward to my next course, painting.

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Assignment 5 – Final draft

“Some of the most provocative political Art is made with Fibers” ¹
Leslu Camhi for the NY Times.

Textiles hold answers to the past, through the tradition of craft, interwoven in any civilization and culture around the world. Artist Võ Trân Châu† was born into a family of traditional embroiders and employs this language by reconstructing old clothes from the decendents of the Emperors of the Vietnamese Nguyễn Dynasty, in which she tells a personal story of a multifaceted history.

Châu first solo exhibition is called  ‘Lingering at the Peculiar Pavilion.’

In this essay I will be looking at a selection of six of Châu’s works, considering how these works connect to the gallery space, question the creation of the pieces and how they relate to the history and the present of Vietnam and its people.

“The renewed embrace of fiber might have something to do with our increasingly virtual world, scrubbed freer every day of human contact and face-to-face interaction”. ¹ Châu’s contradictory tactile digital textiles are a paradox of old and new, appealing to both the laborious traditional techniques she inherited from her mother as a child, and the new digital technology needed to pixelate these images.

img_5266-1
NGỌ MÔN (MERIDIAN GATE), 2016
Mixed used fabrics, cotton, thread
84,5cm x 134cm

 

When you see the patch work pieces up close, you see a mosaic uniform squares. It is only when you take a picture digitally, can you see the image clearly. Viewing these in a gallery, distance plays an important part in seeing. Châu wants you to consider distance and time, as you must stand back far enough to see the whole picture, the whole story.

 

img_5267-1
The front gate of the citadel in Hue
Meridan Gate patchwork up-close

The Nguyễn Dynasty (1802-1945) consisted of 13 Emperors, the seat of power was the Imperial Capital of Huế situated in the geographical center of Vietnam, where the citadel and tombs remain.

“Water image” hangs in the exact center of the manipulated gallery space, representing the position of Huế in Vietnam. The pond below distorts the piece representing a distilled history, inviting the viewer to imagine a different narrative. The Long cổn is encompassed by white artificial walls, whilst at the same time, creating enough space and distance to float alone, with no disturbances. The beautiful ornate embroidered dragon contradicts the used clothing, demonstrating a rich past, and a poor present.

 

“Water-image”
“Water Image” in the form of a Long cổn suspended on top of a black pond Size: 4sqm

Châu explains though her work “how the tremendous effort of those currently in power has and continues to erase these people’s past, rendering their images blurry and patchwork-like, akin to their family history.” ²

Châu’s work challenges those in power for erasing her countries past. The economic term Đổi Mới was introduced by the single political party, in 1986, meaning renovation, literally “the change to the new.” Châu and Tim Dooling ª(local historian) tell me how young people are not taught in schools any history before the Vietnamese revolution in 1945.

The August Revolution³ started when the Viet Minh invaded Hanoi, led by Ho Chi Minh, eventually ending the Monarchy in Vietnam forever. Bảo Đại (who consequently named Vietnam after being called Annam) was forced to abdicate on August 25th 1945 and fled to France​.

Châu says, whilst there are streets such as Hàm Nghi street, named after the 8th Emperor who reigned for a single year and railed against the French, there are no streets named after the most recent emperor, Bảo Đại street, Khải Định street (his father), or Đồng Khánh street (his grandfather) because these emperors accepted the French. Bảo Đại himself was considered a Puppet for the French, for this reason he is not buried next to his father Khải Định’s tomb in Hue, which is elaborately designed with Eastern and Western architecture, and still a major tourist attraction. For this reason, Châu created the piece ‘Ngau Cam’ pictured below.

img_5269-1
Ngau Cam – Spontaneous feelings 2017
Cotton, thread
66,5cm x 93,5cm
Bảo Đại’s tomb, in France, not in Hue, with the other Emperors

 

img_5270-1
PORTRAIT NO. 13, 2016
Mixed used fabrics, cotton, thread
75cm x 57cm
The Last Emperor, Bảo Đại
img_5268-1
Mosaic Portrait No.12
Cotton, thread
60cm x 40cm
The 12th Emperor, Khải Định

 

Châu told me of the Nguyen descendants she met. They all gave their clothes freely, although some were scared and most confused about what she was doing with them. When I asked her how they felt about their past she said most did not care, or perhaps, they just didn’t understand. Not one of the descendants attended the show because they live in Hue, and couldn’t afford to travel to Saigon. All the descendants Châu met are poor, but more importantly, they are not from the lineage of Bảo Đại, who all live in France.

One of the descendants Châu met was a homeless security guard and the grandson of 10th King of Nguyen Dynasty, Thành Thái, who was considered a “Rebel Emperor,” although Tim Dooling says “only in recent years has it become possible to discuss the history of the dynasty in more balanced terms, and to show for example that far from being a revolutionary hero, Thành Thái was actually a violent psychopath, while rather than being active revolutionaries, both Hàm Nghi and Duy Tân were largely victims of circumstance”ª.

When I asked Châu if Vietnamese still harbor bad feeling towards the French and Emperors who supported them, she said this is the reason why the descendants’ life are harder than normal people now.

Châu’s work demonstrated not only the lack of education in Vietnam, but also the lack of interest in their history. The Monarchy in Vietnam goes back a lot further than the Nguyen Dynasty, when it was closely associated with China. Although perhaps legendary, according to tradition, Hùng Kings existed as early as 2879 BC. There is still a debate about the legitimacy of some Kings, Lords, and Emperors, but one thing is clear, no one seemed to care when the 3000+ year of history suddenly ended in 1945.

Perhaps, for these reasons,  Long Tinh Ky floats alone, up high, easy to miss, around the dark corner of the gallery space.

img_5272-1
Long Tinh Ky, Old Flag of Hue, Mixed used fabrics, cotton, thread, wood from traditional Hue houses
130cm x 80cm

 

Yes, the French occupied Vietnam, as did the Chinese. It is a part of their history, and their present. It is interwoven like Châu’s tapestries, in the food and in the language. Vietnam is driven by money, there is no room for sentiment, the only way is to look, is forward.

In Hồ Chí Minh, for example, beautiful old French buildings being demolished and two-hundred-year-old trees being cut down daily. Châu’s work reminds us that the steady erasing of history allows the destruction of memory. Huế’s old monuments are now only superficial tourist attraction which the Party frowns upon as Feudalism, although Tim Dooling tells me, you can still find high-ranking state delegations paying deferential visits to Gia Long’s (the First Nguyen Emperor) tomb in Huếª.

 

Châu compares history to the moving of time, it’s a blur, she says, you don’t know the truths clearly because people remake them, we only have our own experiences to judge.

 



 

¹ Leslu Camhi available at https://www.nytimes.com/2018/03/14/t-magazine/art/fiber-knitting-weaving-politics.html [14-3-18]

²San-Art available at http://san-art.org/exhibition/lingering-at-the-peculiar-pavilion/ [2-2-18]

³August Revolution, available at https://study.com/academy/lesson/the-august-revolution-of-1945.html [17-2-18]

ª Tim Dooling, available at http://www.historicvietnam.com/tim-doling/ [2-3-18]

† Võ Trân Châu, available at http://votranchau.com/ [17-2-18]

 

https://creativeartstodaybyaj.wordpress.com/2018/03/29/research-questions/

Reflective Commentary Part 5

In deciding to pursue a pathway in textiles, this portion on the course was very important to me to complete to my best abilities, to decide whether it is the right direction for me to head.

I really enjoyed portions of Part 5, especially looking at sustainability and the hand-made, two aspects which are really important to me.

I am really happy with my eventual choice for assignment 5, Võ Trân Châu’s exhibition about the end of the Nguyen Dynasty. exploring the history through its descendents’ old clothing. Finding research in Vietnam is my biggest challenge, so deciding to go directly to my two sources of direct information, Chau and Tim (local historian) allowed me to get a deeper insight into the often blurry history of this country I now reside.

I went to see Chau’s show over a year ago, and it still strikes me the amount of time, consideration, and sheer talent of her embroidery skills. She comes from a family of embroiders, so has grown up appreciating this craft. You don’t often see shows such as these, where everything is made by one person, tapestries such as Grayson Perry’s, would not made by the artist, but by a team of craft people. Chau has had no published art reviews, no one has writen critique of her show, she has only exhibited in Hanoi and Saigon, and briefly in Ireland. It makes me wonder why? Although she is young, her textile art is some of the best I have ever seen.

img_5265-1
Embroidered on sheers mesh, mounted in front of painted background.

 

The thing with studying textiles, as I discovered in A Textile Vocabulary, as an art form, in order to have an impact such as in Chau’s work, you need time, a bucket of time, patience, experience, and dedication. I remember making textile samples after samples after samples. My sewing skills improved, but I did not enjoy the process, or the result.

Because I am a ‘mature student’ I already have an idea of what I want to create. Everyday I am developing ideas through indigo dyeing, removing it with bleach, painting over top, using old metal screens to print etc..

Since 2002, I have worked with traditional Chinese paints and brushes, explored porcelain, and now use textiles, but through every medium, there has been one constant, and that is painting. I feel like pursuing textiles further will only pigeon-hole me, instead of giving me the broader tools of development that a Creative Arts BA(hons) could.

I’ve decided my next course will be painting, which means I will have to change pathways.

This course has taken me longer than I wanted, or expected to complete. I did get married in the middle, so was rightly distracted. I have taken in everything I have learnt through this course from contemporary art to photography, creative writing, and visual studies to improve my clothing label and develop new ideas as an artist.

I applied for July assessment, so this will be my final blog posting. I do not have a physical sketchbook, everything is hanging on a hanger, or folded into piles. If you would like to see what I have worked on this past year here is my Pinterest Board:

 

https://www.instagram.com/the_old_is_new_again_/

And my website : http://www.alyssajeanne.com

Thank You Carla Rees for all your support this last year.

 

 

Assignment 5 – first draft

“Some of the most provocative political Art is made with Fibers”¹ writes for the NY Times. Textiles hold answers to the past, through the tradition of craft, interwoven in any civilization and culture around the world. The language of threads tell the stories, most often by women, reminding us of our history.  Artist Võ Trân Châu demonstrates this seamlessly in her first solo exhibition ‘Lingering at the Peculiar Pavilion.’ Various size and square pieces of fabric are cut out from the used clothing from old Emperor’s descendants of Nguyễn Dynasty, creating detailed tapestries.

In this essay I will be looking at Chau’s many works in this exhibition, considering how they connect to the gallery space, question the creation of the pieces and how they relate to the history and present of Vietnam and its people.

When you see the pieces in person, they look like different tones of squares. It is only when you take a picture digitally, can you see the image clearly.  Your eyes cannot register the image from close up, distance plays and important part in seeing. Perhaps this is another notion Chau wants you to consider, you must stand back  far enough to see the whole picture.

“The renewed embrace of fiber might have something to do with our increasingly virtual world, scrubbed freer every day of human contact and face-to-face interaction”.¹  Chau’s contradictory tactile digital textiles are a paradox of old and new, appealing to both the laborious traditional techniques she inherited from her mother, and the new digital technology needed to pixellate these images.

img_5266-1
The front gate of the citadel in Hue
img_5267-1
Peculiar Pavilion patchwork up-close

The Nguyễn Dynasty (1802-1945) consisted of 13 Emperors, the seat of power was the Imperial Capital of Huế situated in the geographical center of Vietnam, where the citadel and tombs remain.

“Water image” hangs in the exact center of the space, representing not only the position of Huế in Vietnam, but reflects, a distilled history, inviting the viewer to imagine a different narrative.  Salon du Sagon, where this exhibition was shown, manipulated the space by installing an artificial wall which encompassed the Long cổn connecting it to the white-walled gallery space, whilst at the same time, surrounding it with enough distance to float alone.

“Water-image”
“Water Image” in the form of a Long cổn suspended on top of a black pond, isolated, in silence
This work remakes Long cổn, the emperor’s ritual garment, by sowing together patches of the descendants’ clothing
This work remakes Long cổn, the emperor’s ritual garment by sowing together patches of the descendants’ clothing

 

Chau explains though her work  “how the tremendous effort of those currently in power has and continues to erase these people’s past, rendering their images blurry and patchwork-like, akin to their family history.” ²

Chau’s work challenges those in power for erasing her countries past. The economic term Đổi Mới was introduced by the single political party, in 1986, meaning renovation, literally “the change to the new.”  Chau and Tim Dooling ª(local historian) tell me how young people are not taught in schools any history before the Vietnamese revolution in 1945. The August Revolution³ started when the Viet Minh invaded Hanoi, led by Ho Chi Minh, eventually ending the Monarchy in Vietnam forever. Bảo Đại (who consequently named Vietnam after being called Annam) was forced to abdicate on August 25th.

Chau explains how there is no Bảo Đại street, Khải Định street (his father), or Đồng Khánh street (his grandfather) because these emperors accepted the French. There is Hàm Nghi street (the 8th Emperor who only reigned for 1 year) because he went against the French. Bảo Đại was considered a Puppet for the French, for this reason is not buried next to his father Khải Định’s tomb, which is elaborately designed with Eastern and Western architecture, and still a major tourist attraction.

 

img_5270-1
Last Emperor, Bảo Đại

 

img_5268-1
12th Emperor, Khải Định

 

img_5269-1
Bảo Đại’s tomb, in France, not in Hue, with the other Emperors

 

Chau told me of the Nguyen descendants she met. They all gave their clothes freely, although some were scared and most confused about what she was doing with them. When I asked her how they felt about their past she said most did not care, or perhaps, they just didn’t understand. Not one of the descendents attended the show because they live in Hue, and couldn’t afford to travel to Saigon. All the descendents Chau met are poor, but more importantly, they are not from the lineage of Bảo Đại, who all live in France.

One of the descendents Chau met is a homeless security guard and the grandson of 10th King of Nguyen Dynasty, Thành Thái, who was considered a “Rebel Emperor,” although Tim Dooling says “only in recent years has it become possible to discuss the history of the dynasty in more balanced terms, and to show for example that far from being a revolutionary hero, Thành Thái was actually a violent psychopath, while rather than being active revolutionaries, both Hàm Nghi and Duy Tân were largely victims of circumstance”ª.

When I asked Chau if Vietnamese still harvest bad feeling towards the French and Emperors who supported them, she said this is the reason why this is a reason that the descendants’ life are harder than normal people now.

Chau’s work demonstrated not only the lack of education in Vietnam, but also the lack of interest in their history. The Monarchy in Vietnam goes back a lot further than the Nguyen Dynasty, when it was closely associated with China. Although perhaps legendary, according to tradition, Hùng Kings existed as early as 2879 BC.  There is still a debate about the legitimacy of the some Kings, Lords, and Emperors, but one thing is clear, no one seemed to care when the 3000+  year of history suddenly ended in 1945.

Yes, the French occupied Vietnam, as did the Chinese. It is apart of their history, and their present. It is interwoven like Chau’s tapestries in the food and in the language. Vietnam is driven by money, there is no room for sentiment, the only way is to look, is forward. In Hồ Chí Minh, for example, beautiful old French buildings being demolished and two hundred year old trees being cut down daily.  Huế’s old monuments are now only superficial tourist attraction which the Party frowns upon as Feudalism, although Tim Dooling tells me, you can still find high-ranking state delegations paying deferential visits to Gia Long’s (the First Nguyen Emperor) tomb in Huếª.

Chau compares history to the moving of time, it’s a blur, she says, you don’t know the truths clearly because people remake them, we only have our own experiences to judge.

img_5272-1
Flag of Hue, during the Nguyen Dynasty, made from descendents clothing

 


¹ available at https://www.nytimes.com/2018/03/14/t-magazine/art/fiber-knitting-weaving-politics.html [14-3-18]

²San-Art available at http://san-art.org/exhibition/lingering-at-the-peculiar-pavilion/ [2-2-18]

³August Revolution, available at https://study.com/academy/lesson/the-august-revolution-of-1945.html [17-2-18]

ª Tim Dooling, available at http://www.historicvietnam.com/tim-doling/ [2-3-18]

https://creativeartstodaybyaj.wordpress.com/2018/03/29/research-questions/

 

Research Questions Chau and Dooling

Of course I have changed my mind, …

Instead of looking into Textiles in public spaces, using Tipi structures in neo travelers/festival folk, I have decided to go with an exhibition I saw last year by an amazing young Vietnamese Artist called Vo Tran Chau, Chau is her first name.

See Exhibition here:

Lingering at the peculiar pavilion 

Finding research on her work was next to impossible, as there are no art reviews written about her, which is such a shame. The brief for the Essay was to find primary source information, so I emailed Chau.

Dear Alyssa,

I’m so sorry for my late reply, I’m little busy in this time. I hope this email still useful for your paper.

Are there many descendants of the Nguyen Dynasty still living in Vietnam? How did you find them?

Yes, still have many descendants of Nguyen Dynasty living in Vietnam, special is Hue (a city in the central Vietnam that was the seat of Nguyen Dynasty emperors). Just only all descendants of Bao Dai are in France.

I have some artist friends living in Hue, I ask them about descendants, then they introduced their old teacher in Hue of fine art university. He is the first descendant I met, I became his friend after some meetings. You know, the first man is the point, then he introduced to me a lot of descendants around him in Hue and Saigon, and everything became easier for me to meet, talk, and interview with descendants of Nguyen Dynasty.

 

How did they feel about giving you their clothing, did they understand the art you were trying to create?

I think some of them understand what I did, special are young people, some of them not really understand, sometimes they afraid of a little bit, but they still give me their clothes willingly. And some of them don’t care about my art or what I said 🙂

 

How do they feel about their royal lineage being erased? Are they rich, or just normal, like most Vietnamese?

Not easy to tell about how they feel, but most of them are regret about their royal lineage being erased. They are still think what the royal did is being friend with French is right and they regret that Com.munist came and erased their royal. But most of young people don’t care about the history and their royal lineage, now they live like normal Vietnamese.

They are not rich. Some of them are normal, some of them are poor. I started to research about Nguyen Dynasty when I read about their poor life on newspaper, and I also met a poor guy in Saigon, he is a grandson of 10th King of Nguyen Dynasty, he is security guard for a small hotel and homeless.

Did they see the exhibition?

No, they don’t, this’s sad. Because most of them living in Hue, but I didn’t have opportunity to exhibit in Hue. Some old guys in Saigon are busy and not really care about the exhibition.

 

Do you feel like Vietnam’s rich (yet confusing) history is being lost, or forgotten, and do you think many young Vietnamese feel the same? Do most people only want to look forward, in your opinion, because of the hardship Vietnam has endured through many wars?

Yes, I think Vietnam’s history is being lost because many young people don’t care about history so much. First, they feel boring with the history they learn in their school (the history was remade and make up). Second, many money value was come in from outside and made they run to the money value, they become listless with the Vietnamese heritage.

Yes, they don’t want to look back to their hardship life in the wars. They just try to earn more money 🙂

Do you think people still today harvest bad feeling towards the Nguyen Dynasty and Bao Dai?

Yes, because that is what they heard from their teachers at their school and other people around them, this is a reason that the descendant life is harder than normal people now.

In socialism, there is no place for Emperors and royalty. Although Bao Dai wanted peace and unity for his people, do you think he was a bad leader and made bad decisions, ex. working with the French? Do you think he and his family should have had a place in Vietnam, or is it right that they have been exiled to France? (This one maybe a hard question to answer).

It’s hard to say that Bao Dai was a bad leader and made bad decisions, because in that time, he didn’t have power and he had no choice, he is just a scarecrow.

I can say should or shouldn’t in this case. I just tell you that Vietnam don’t have Bao Dai street, Khai Dinh street (his father) or Dong Khanh street (his grandfather).

 

I think the work you have created is so important in looking back at the story of Vietnam. Hue is so saturated in history, do you feel like the Vietnamese people still appreciate it as a place, or is it being forgotten?

I think Vietnamese people still appreciate Hue, where they can visit like tourists 🙂 I think Hue is still an important place for Vietnamese to look back the history, although most of them just care about superficies of it.

You use so much symbolism in your art, is this because it is difficult to openly talk about? There are many layers to the meanings and truths you were trying to express, was there anything you wanted to say, but felt like you couldn’t?

I’m an artist, I’m not a history writer ^^ I made artworks about history, I don’t want tell about Vietnamese history like a writer. I hope the viewers can take their time to stand in front of my artworks to think more about the history, the moving of the time… in their experiences. Because, you know, the history sometimes is blur, you don’t know the truths clearly if someone remake it, you just can read many ways for an subject, then use your experiences to judge.

You said ‘The tremendous effort of those currently in power has and continues to erase these people’s past, rendering their images blurry and patchwork-like, akin to their family history,” Can you give me any references to back up this statement?

I knew this informations from some Vietnamese channels and what the descendants told me, they are not convenient to give you, so sorry.

 

I don’t have any review for my exhibition from art writer, sorry.

I also want to apologise that I just answer your questions like this, because it is not convenient to write deeper in email.

Warmest regard,

Chau

 


 

I also wanted to get some background information on the History of the Nguyen Dynasty, and in particular, Bao Dai, the last emperor of Vietnam. I did read a few history books found on the UCA Online Library, but the were more an account of days and evens, rather than opinion or anything of interest.

I decided to go straight to the source of a man called Tim Dooling, who I’ve heard so much about since living in Saigon, reading his accounts of Old Saigon, on his very well researched website called Historic Vietnam.

He was again, very kind to answer my questions.

From me:

Dear Tim,

I’m a resident of Saigon, studying a BA in Art Textiles from the Open College of Art in the UK. I am writing a paper on a show I attended last year, by a talented young artist called Vo Tran Chau –see here http://san-art.org/exhibition/lingering-at-the-peculiar-pavilion/

The show has brought up many questions about the Nguyen Dynasty and in particular Bao Dai, being the last Emperor, ending that chapter of Vietnamese History. I’ve had a look through a few articles about Bao Dai on your site, and to be honest, I am finding it very challenging researching in Vietnam – there are a distinct lack of books written in English on the subject other than history books.

I was hoping to get a clearer insight into how Vietnamese today see their history associated with the Nguyen Dynasty, which was under-pinned by the French and Chinese. Are there still ill feeling associated with Bao Dai and the Royal family, or are younger people interested in their countries heritage and find it confusing and unclear?

In her exhibition, Chau says
“Water-image” is created from sowing together pieces of clothing of the Nguyễn descendants, who are like portraits without numbers. The tremendous effort of those currently in power has and continues to erase these people’s past, rendering their images blurry and patchwork-like, akin to their family history. In a way, their story reflects society: that same blurriness unfortunately coincides with contemporary culture as some things (tangible or not) are packed with a “heritage” label and others tremble and shiver under uncertain, unappreciative hands.

I was hoping to find some evidence to support this statement in my paper, would you know of any examples I could use?

I know you are a very busy man, and I appreciate you taking this time to read my questions. If you could point me in any directions, via papers or websites, or even your own academic opinion, anything at this point would be incredible helpful in understanding this interesting, yet important aspect of Vietnamese History.

Kindest,
Alyssa

His response:

Dear Alyssa
Thanks for your message.
Perhaps to a certain extent what she says is valid. The school history curriculum still focuses almost exclusively on the history of the revolution, so few young people would know a great deal about the dynasty other than its connection with French oppressors, and the “heroism” of the so-called “rebel” emperors Hàm Nghi, Thành Thái and Duy Tân, who refused to be part of the system. Only in recent years has it become possible to discuss the history of the dynasty in more balanced terms, and to show for example that far from being a revolutionary hero, Thành Thái was actually a violent psychopath, while rather than being active revolutionaries, both Hàm Nghi and Duy Tân were largely victims of circumstance. With Bảo Đại, I don’t think any ill feeling exists, but the popular perception of him as a playboy is probably accurate, although it fails to take into account his earlier life. He began his reign with many good intentions and much promise, but he was eventually ground down by the French who thwarted him at every turn, preventing him from introducing any real reform. In the end there was nothing for him to do but to retire into a life of indolence, which is how he is remembered today.
In my new guidebook on Huế (published next month) I have devoted a lot of space to the earlier Nguyễn lords who originally built up the dynasty, they remain almost unknown to the general public even today. Some see parallels between their territorial borders and those of the Republic of VN, between their war with the Trịnh and the N-S Second Indochina War.
The Party also has a paradoxical relationship with the Nguyễn dynasty, which is officially frowned upon as feudalism – yet at the first Emperor Gia Long’s tomb in Huế, still ignored by mass tourism, you will often find very high-ranking state delegations paying deferential visits. Some say that tourism here has been purposely limited at this site with a view to maintaining it first and foremost as an official preserve.
As for the last sentence of the quote from the exhibition, I wonder if I am understanding it correctly if I interpret it as referring to things which some would regard as heritage but are still too “sensitive” to be discussed openly. If so, I think that things are now changing so rapidly that what was taboo yesterday is often no longer so today. Witness for example the new exhibition on the Ngô Đinh Diệm family which opened recently at the Independence Palace, introducing topics which were completely forbidden just a few years ago. As for the intangible, I recall that back in the early 2000s many traditional beliefs were dismissed as superstition, but that’s long since ceased to be the case. Of course, censorship still exists and is much more prevalent in Vietnamese than in English (my publisher has told me that I can say some things in English but it’s “too early” to say them in Vietnamese) – but the limits of what can be discussed in print and in public continue to be pushed back.
I hope this is helpful, I’m not altogether clear what kind of examples you are looking for but please feel free to come back to me further.
Best regards
Tim


 

Going straight to the source of information is where it’s at when researching with a distinct lack of books, magazines, and popular opinions, when living in a socialist country as an expat, this it what this assignment has far taught me.

Block Printing in Bagru, India

 

My (new) husband and I went to India, for our honeymoon. We flew into Delhi, took a night train to Pushar, and then another train to Udaipur. India stole our hearts, we decided to extend the holiday by an extra few days, to go to Jaipur. Secretly, I wanted to go there because of its renowned block printing communities. Thank goodness I married an incredible man who knows me well enough and was happy to tour the block printing community of Bagru with me.

Bagru is located 30km west of Jaipur, and has a long tradition of hand block printing because of its original proximity to the Sanjaria River. Bagru thrived as a marketplace, making ghaggras skirts, dupattas head scarves, and angochhas, men scarves. The print indicated the wearers specific community, and marital status.

It was a joy to witness a community of craft people working together, as families and friends, to create hand carved block, hand- block printed pattern,  which are hand-dyed and washed, into gorgeous lengths of textiles.

As soon as we arrived we were humbled by the simplicity of everything. The many coloured, patterned, and mud resist panels lay stretched on the dusty yard, the concrete wash basins are worn with no hard edges, and although the area was not actively in use, you could see where each stage of washing and dyeing took place.

 

 

 

The nature dyes

syahi – natural black, made from scrap iron (pictured above). During the printing process, the brown liquor quickly turns into a rich black.  The rangraz (washer) submerges the cloth into near-boiling bath of alizarin dye to fix the black.

begar- In 1869, chemist developed a synthetic version of natural alzarin, a red dye that occurs in the madder plant rubia cordifolia, locally known as majeet. As with syahi, you need to wash in harda which is the mordant.

indigo – In 1897, a chemical synthetic indigo was developed, which was less expensive and easier to use, being more consistent with uniform of colour. Because indigo is a vat dye, you do not have to pre-treat the fabric with a mordant.

 

 

 

The block carvers belong to a small community whose numbers are dwindling due to new technology. The blocks are typically made from seasoned shisham Indian rosewood, which you can see drying in the back of this shop. The cross-section of the trunk must be free from any knots or imperfections. The blocks are planned and sanded and chalked with a white paste, which the carver traces a design onto. Block can take up 6 days to complete, with some designs needing up to 6 blocks.

Block carving

The resist printing with mud technique is called dabu. The chihippa gently flicks off the extra mud from the block and continuously stamps the resist area, then sprinkles sawdust over the wet paste to prevent it from smudging. The cloth is dried in the sun, and then dyed in indigo or otherwise. The resist is then boiled off revealing the white or layer which was underneath.

 

 

 

 

 

Most communities in the area have a table or two in their home from which they print 100-200 meters daily. I was really surprised by this number, as it’s no cottage industry, in fact this is quite a large production of hand-printed textiles.

We walked past a home with scarves hanging over the balcony. I automatically loved them, the size, the different patterns, and colours, different from what I had seen. We are invited inside to see them at work, at of course, I purchased a few.

 

 

 

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the lengths waiting to be printed
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women beautifully printing
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so gorgeous

 

Back at Studio Bagru, Ben and I chose our blocks and colours and began our hand-block printing workshop.

 

 

I decided to print using different stages, the border had 4.

  1. gudh – yellow // background block
  2. rekh – blue // outline block
  3. & 4 datta-  pink green // filler block

Matching up the blocks took so much skill and attention, especially as fabric is not fixed like paper, it stretches and curves. Matching up the corners you simply use newspaper to cover the angle on both sides, match up where the last block began, and continue to go around. The print in the middle was the same. I began to measure the block, to see how many times it could repeat in the rectangle. My teacher simply wobbled her head side to side, as the Indians do, and put down the newspaper covering the edge of the border, allowing the pattern to extend to the very edge.

 

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My fisnished scarf

 

Thank you to  Jeremy at Studio Bagru for showing a glance of  this amazing traditional textile village. We were completely overwhelmed by the skills and hard work, knowledge, and history of these amazing people.  It is thanks to people who work in fair trade/slow fashion industries which are keeping these incredible skills alive.

 

Textiles are the only medium which I have studied, in a ‘art context’ or otherwise which transcends people of every culture, in terms of warmth, shelter, identity, but also in fashion, activism, travel, all of which are present in everyone’s life, everyday, across every border. It is such a broad and interesting subject soaked in tradition through craft, and dried out in brand through consumerism. From mass production, to a needle and thread, I find the search of life through textiles, very emotive.

The ways of the cloth, the time and labour of creating cultural fabrics, whether in Guatemala, Rajastan, Sapa, or Japan, on a loom with hemp or cotton, using indigo or mud, running stitches or embroidery, flowers or geometry, mirror or shells, they all have commonality of an ancient beauty, passed down through generations.

It always gets me, how does a people discover the exact recipe to brewing a vat of indigo which has been used in China, Africa, Japan and India? How do they know how mud can be used as a resist, or can chemically alter the colour when mixed with metal?

I’ve had the chance to see first hand in Northern Vietnam, and last week in Rajastan, how alive this tradition is still today. In Sapa, most H’mong homes have an indigo vat outside, which pregnant woman cannot go near, because babies are known to kill the vat which is a live culture.. they add chillies to the mix because babies no not like spicy food.

In Bagru, Rajastan, the community of block printers are still living together, and even share the same surnames which came from their craft. The Chhipas are the printers, the Rangrez are the dyers, and the Dhobis are the washers. They all live harmoniously together to create lengths of printed cloth. (will write a blog posting about out trip).

Although I am comforted by the fact that these traditions are actively practised, they are under threat due to mass production and synthetically made materials.

Looking at the brief for Assignment 5, I’d like to research nomadic cultures, who tend to use textiles more than other ethnic group because of the ease in using canvas as shelter, clothing as identity, and blankets for warmth. These traditions have tranfered to todays traveler communities in the UK, as well as the festival scenes, of which I was apart of for ten years, using Tipis as shelter, and block-prints are fashion.

The choices for the essay are either practical or artistic. I’ve opted for the practical option, although I am concerned with the academic referencing finding papers and essays written on the subject as guidance. My tutor did mention to use more fact than opinion in my next paper, but this could be difficult.

  1. Select a public or commercial space and focus on a textile that is being used in a functional manner. This can either be an exterior or interior; comment upon its practical use and presence within/around that environment.

Project four Enveloping the body

Select a fashion image of your choice and analyse the garment shown in terms of:

  • silhouette
  • volume
  • drape
  • movement
  • colour
  • print/pattern.

It’s been really interesting engaging with Fashion photographs. I have this real resistance towards the fashion world, and my first approach was to find ‘cultural appropriations’ to talk about, when choosing an image to study. I re-read the brief of the exercise, realizing, the meaning is to not pick apart a designer, but instead, look at the beauty of a garment in terms of drap, colour, silhouette, etc..

I settled on this dress by Yipqing Yin Winter/Fall collection 2012.

Reading her Biography, I begin to understand her motivations:

She aims to create a garment that protects and reinforces, being at the same time a second skin and a flexible armor. Examining the dynamic potential of pleats, she imagines never-fixed structures, always-in-mutation volumes. She sculpts the emptiness around the body through the pursuit of balance and points of disruption between flowing zones and sculpted zones. Through the modernisation of smock technique and the elimination of any order of construction, she experiments garment “tombé”, seeking for fluid lines. She models loose shapes with staggering structures and confesses her attraction for an intuitive method of creation, a sensory wandering, and a search for voluntary accidents.¹

I am so inspired by the way she looks at the space around the body, where in Fashion, we are considering the thin skeleton and how to accentuate the female form, creating body images which are unrealistic and unachievable.

Yipging is a sculpture instead of a draper, or a dresser. The model doesn’t wear the garment, the garment wears her, but in a symbiotic way – each contributing equally to the balance.

  • silhouette

The structure of the dress is defined, yet, not fixed. I can’t say sure by the photograph, but it looks as though it sways with movement. The most appealing aspect of this dress, is the only the shape of the dress, but how is silhouettes the models body, like through net curtains, leaving the middle bare, cleverly obscuring some areas, but also accentuating the stomach muscles, and lower back, creative a sense of strength, like armour.

  • volume

The volume is formed of the a bird like cage, the back is more of a peacock’s tail, soft, but sturdy, and full. The front volume reminds be more of 1920’s feather fans, quietly layered on top of each other.

  • drape

The drape is limited to the small amount of soft feather like fabric flowing from the constrictive frame.

  • movement

Again, it’s difficult to see how this dress flows. By looking at the frame, I imagine it sways back and forth when walking, in a solid form, like a pendulum.

  • colour

This is one things that drew me to this dress, the perfect ascents of colour vs dark outlines. Like a female Peacock, there aren’t any bring colours to show off, instead there is the most beautiful teal, only a speck or two on the back, exactly in the middle, against the metallic muted greys.  All the colours are mirrored, especially obvious in the two deep blues specks. Digital images are never correct, which you can tell in these two pictures of the dress. The lighter shades of grey and teal cools the dress down, like it was frozen on the tips, creating a dream like sense of calm which is incredibly pleasing to the eye.

  • print/pattern.

Perfect symmetry enhances the pattern, which feels a bit like when you cut out snowflakes on folded paper. I can’t stop looking and enjoying the fluidity, simplicity, and balance of this dress, constructed from fibers, but enforced gently with a flexible armor, using modern techniques. The whole dress feels completed, to the point, or finishing with a bow across the chest. A fully realized and finished product.

 

I really love this piece because it feels like a contradiction. It’s so soft but rigid, fluid yet solid, obscuring and revealing, timeless and modern, and definitely more art than fashion.

This dress deserves to be in a museum, not a runway.


¹Yiqing Yin Biography available at http://www.yiqingyin.com/about/?lang=en [9-3-18]

 

Made with total love…

My Girls, I love my girls.. if I could have had 7 or 8 bridesmaids I would have.. but I only had 5 — Kate, Cee, Eleanor, Melody, and Emily.

Each of these exceptional woman and very different and unique, so figuring out a dress style/colour/design was a challenging task. Most importantly, I wanted to make them happy and comfortable, and beautiful on the day.

My first idea was making each dress in a colour of their choice, out of organic cotton and a lovely sheer layer. I gave each of the girls swatches of dye colours, which each one chose a colour, except Ele, who kept coming back to gun metal grey, or brass, or other non-colour colours. Instead of disputing this fact, I simply decided to make all the dresses in some lovely grey silk, I already had.. which meant I could paint them.

My mom had a traditional Ao Dai made out of green silk, which I also painted.

I wanted each floral painting to reflect them. I have never taken so much love to paint anything in my life.

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Cee’s dress
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Eleanor’s dress
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Emily’s dress
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Kate’s dress
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Melody’s dress
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Mom’s dress

My Girls