We’re talking about Doi Moi again: how in 1986, Vietnam suddenly transformed from a closed, North Korea-like Communist regime to a much more open country, with loads of investors and curators coming in and artists travelling out to see the world.

Chi Truong

This was the context for the founding of Nha San Studio in Hanoi, named after traditional houses of the north. Tran Luong and Nguyen Manh Duc started it in 1998, and it soon became as a wonderful little utopian art space where traditional musicians, contemporary artists, and even shamans could hang out, eat food and share ideas.

Unfortunately, it shut down in 2010 when a female artist’s nude performance created scandal in mainstream media. They were officially forbidden from creating further performances.

Chi Truong 3

But since then, artists coached by that pioneer generation have transformed themselves from a fixed site to a much more amorphous phenomenon: no longer Nha San Studio but Nha San Collective. Hence the title of one of their series of works, Skylines with Flying People.

Chi: Now we don’t have a space and we consider ourselves like flying people, homeless.

They have had a few locations in the past decade: Zone 9, LaCa Café, Hanoi Creative City. They’ve also had support from the Japan Foundation. And they’ve done cool stuff: livestreamed performances on Facebook, LGBT exhibitions such as Queer Forever, public seminars and loads of other education initiatives for the young.

Chi: For us it’s important to have connections with young people and they participate in our program of emerging artists. They stay with us for more than two years and they know how we work and it’s them who are the collective.

Oh, and the IN-ACT International Performance Art Festival, founded in 2011 and partnered with NIPAF in Japan.

Chi: In the history of Nha San, performance is important, because it’s cheap, we don’t need permission, and a lot of things to do with the body are important to artists in the past. So we want to keep this spirit for young artists. Every year we send to NIPAF young performance artists.

Chi Truong 4

The last bit of her talk focussed on wider curatorial initiatives in Vietnam. For instance, she noted an art writing workshop and series of public talks conducted by Zero Station in Ho Chi Minh City, called Translation: Understanding Difference and Distance in Contemporary Art Across Asia.

Chi: The job of curator is like a translator. We translate this idea to local artists, to the local public. We are the translator between the local thinking to the Western system. And also the translation between the language of the artists and the public and the government, the bureaucracy. We do the translation in each very precise context.

For me finally developing the context means understanding the context… It is this look of the other that helps to understand ourselves.

And now it’s half past six and the bus is leaving for Gillman Barracks! No more discussions for today.

(Thank god. I’ve got enough to blog already.)

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