For this exercise I went to The Arts Factory, conveniently located but us the road from my house, in a District just outside the center of Saigon, encircled by the river.
I’m often dubious of art galleries in Saigon, although I have come across some remarkable work. The thing that gets me, is the house music played so loudly, with the shiny bar surface, and urban shipping containers, graffiti, of course. Being spoilt with London, it’s grit and layers of dirt, uncovering some of the most potent art I’ve ever seen. Vietnam is a bit naive, a bit adolescent in many aspects; the music – the worst songs from the 90’s, the fashion – purposefully torn jeans, slashed in perfect lines; the restaurant decor – 90% industrial design and replicated French tiles. Where’s the imagination?
As hard as I am on this city, there are glimmers of hope, especially at looking through anthropological goggles. Vietnam was only opened up the rest of the world in the late 90’s, which could explain their love for Celine Dion, and are therefore playing catchup, especially in terms of creativity. A very Asian attribute is that there is one way to do things, you are taught by copying, exactly. It doesn’t help the fact that most of the media is highly censored, and art work which isn’t in-line with political views could be destroyed.
There was an instance where the police were asking for bribes to allow a photo exhibition to take place.. a few photographs showed people on motorbikes not wearing a helmet. The gallery refused to pay the bribes, but opened as planned, with brown paper covering all of the pieces. It in itself was a grand statement about the control of the authorities.
The on-site piece I went to look at today was about the impact the throw away societies have on environment, and is called The Prolonged Intervention, by Le Phi Long. A site specific installation piece on Ly Son Island, Vietnam.
At first, I thought it juvenile, another discussion about eco-warriors cleaning up the beach.The video is long-winded, with mundane conversation between clean-up crew, as they put the rubbish in colour allocated piles. Of course there was time-lapse, and scenes of sun-sets, people working so well together, smiling at their positive impact on the world, feeling chuffed to be apart of such a great and worthy story.
Once they collected the plastic they attached them onto a net, which hung over a tourist attraction, To Vo Gate, an arch of lime rock on the beach. Wow! So inventive, so dynamic, so, so… ordinary.
I was bored and annoyed, until the reaction of the locals came up with subtitles. Most of them were generally baffled by the act of these activists/artist. They have never considered the idea that art could bring forth social awareness. Not only was it sore on their eyes, it ruined a popular tourists destination. They cared not for meaning, they didn’t question the waste and did not want to answer to the problems. They wanted to ignore it, as many things are in Vietnam, ignored. On the other side, there were people who understood, people who want to see change, and be apart of it.
Vietnam is a very clean country, who do recycle everything, as which most developing countries. They are miles behind on environmental concerns, considerably so with the use of plastic bags and styrofoam. It is a question that needs to be address, how each individual impacts their world through each daily choice, to refuse plastic bags, for example, or choose not to eat meat, or ride an electric motorbike. It’s a valuable statement, and one worth discussing.
On further research, Le Phi Long, is quite a remarkable artist, and has another work by the same name The Prolonged Interventions, apart of an exhibition called The Body Boutique. His surreal drawing of children affected by Agent Dioxin, Agent Orange as it’s commonly known, are incredibly disturbingly but beautifully composed.
The second part of the exhibition by Le Phi Long, is called “Invasive Deviant” where the gallery collected, or accepted donations of unwanted objects, accumulating in a pile of rubbish, essentially. The idea was, that perhaps amongst the garbage, you may find something you’d love. Another mans rubbish is someones treasure.
To be fair, it was mostly rubbish, but hidden underneath, I found a treasure…
A pair of perfectly good shoes, in my size. I stuck my name and number on them, and collected them this morning.