Hanoi’s art scene at year’s end adds light to life

By Thuy Linh, Thanh Nien News

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Le Hoang Bich Phuong’s “Milky Way” likens human beings to planets in a galaxy, deeply affecting one another. Photo: Thuy Linh
For many, buying a painting may seem like an unnecessary luxury and irrelevant for those just trying to get by.
But even for those of us who can’t afford to purchase artwork, a visit to a good exhibition offers a chance to admire human skills, connect with an intelligent idea and, for a moment, feel inspired and remember that life is a fascinating mystery for us all.
The art scene in Hanoi at the year’s end is vibrant, with four major exhibitions that reveal Vietnamese and foreign artists’ skills and potential.
The mystery of black holes
Contemporary artists have long borrowed from science, using their own interpretations to create metaphors about life and the universe.
Although most can appreciate the skill it takes to create a work of art, the idea behind it can often leave viewers perplexed.
 “Black Hole” creates a sense of order and meaning in a dark, mysterious universe. Photo: Thuy Linh
“I don’t understand these pieces,” a young assistant who guides guests at Le Hoang Binh Phuong’s ceramic installation exhibition at the Japan Foundation said with a smile.
The exhibition, which is titled “White, Black & Gold,” and will run until Christmas, showcases a work called “Milky Way,”a wall-sized arrangement of handmade ceramic human finger shapes.
Phuong’s idea is to liken each and every human being to a planet, randomly born and strung together in an asymmetrical galaxy.
Part of something bigger then ourselves, like planets and asteroids in outer space, our movements and actions affect one another deeply.
We should be mindful of this, Phuong says, and tend to our own space, rather than pursuing vain dreams and straying from the “universal system of order.”
Regardless of Phuong’s intentions, the display gives off an eerie vibe. The ceramic fingers are constantly pointing at the viewer, making one feel as if they are being warned or gently admonished.
Another ceramic work by Phuong is called “Black Hole,” which features a locked dark room, the inside of which can only be viewed through several slits in the wall outside.
This is Phuong’s attempt to excite our curiosity in the same way that real black holes have done since they were first discovered. Scientists can only speculate on what lies inside these powerful cosmic mysteries that have long inspired stories of time and space travel.
As far as Phuong is concerned, there is not just one, but several lively entities inside a black hole that create a sense of order and meaning and Phuong’s dark, spooky room is metaphor for our wondrous universe.
 “Black Hole” creates a sense of order and meaning in a dark, mysterious universe. Photo: Thuy Linh
An impressive “Brown Movement”
For the past month, well-known Polish artist Ludwika Ogorzelec, Korean artist Yun Woo Choi, and French artist Thierry Fontaine have been in Hanoi as part of an artist-in-residence program called “Month of Artistic Practice” organized by Heritage Space, a non-profit cultural space.
The program is based on Vietnamese artist Tran Trong Vu’s idea called “Brown Movement” that explores how established foreign artists and young Vietnamese talents work and interact in a new environment.
“I made a lot of friends here,” said Korean artist Yun Woo Choi, adding that Vietnamese people seem to be happier than South Koreans, finding more meaning in ordinary life and not just focused on becoming wealthy.
Yun Woo Choi’s works at the exhibition reveal great skills and thought.
Preoccupied with the multi-dimensional complexity of space and reality, the artist uses seemingly useless old Vietnamese newspapers and cardboard to create, in one work, a beautiful resemblance of a city, and in another, a human face.  
Both works, which appear flat and two-dimensional when viewed from some specific angles, unfold as complex, three-dimensional wholes when viewed in their entirety. This reminds us not to stay locked in one familiar plane but traverse all the boundaries.
Space is also the source of inspiration for Ludwika Ogorzelec, whose work seeks to visualize the unseen intricacies and movements in space. To Ogorzelec, space isn’t empty or invisible, but tangible enough for her to move around.
For his part, Thierry Fontaine defaces the human face, the symbol of materiality, to suggest what can’t be expressed by the senses.
Young Vietnamese artists are also interested in the human face and identity and explore such themes as loneliness and the need to put on many masks in social life.
Yun Woo Choi said that though they create impressive works, Vietnamese artists should move away from realistic, figurative art to more conceptual, abstract pieces because contemporary art is about ideas and expressing those ideas to others.
 French artist Thierry Fontaine defaces the human face, the symbol of materiality, to evoke what can’t be expressed by the senses.
 “Pickier” than usual
Skilled, though not too original in ideas or styles, the 409 works being exhibited at the 2015 Vietnam Art Exhibition at the Vietnam Culture and Art Exhibition Center (commonly known as the Van Ho Exhibition Center) provide a good picture of Vietnamese art.
According to the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism and the Vietnam Art Association, which organizes the event once every five years, while Vietnamese graphic art is seeing some breakthroughs in modes of expression and printing techniques, painters and contemporary artists are struggling to renew themselves, and sculpture is becoming more appealing to popular tastes.
Though not spectacular, the sculptural works at the exhibition are indeed memorable, with their earthy themes and the fine human contours and expressions that they capture.
Art critic Nguyen Quan said there was still the usual atmosphere of tiredness, despondence and scatteredness in the national event, but this time around the organizers did seem to be “pickier” in their selections, choosing fewer works to exhibit, making it easier to spot different artists.
Whether these artists have true distinctive styles is another question. Painter Ly Truc Son observed that the works being exhibited show Vietnamese artists’ solid skills and techniques, but there are few true individual styles.
 Tran Tuan Nghia’s “Sublime”. Sculptural works stand out at the 2015 Vietnam Art Exhibition . Photo: Thuy Linh
A familiar postmodern vision
It may be difficult to stand out in a crowd, but with solo exhibitions, you have all the space you want to showcase your style.
Le Quy Tong’s “True Blue” exhibition at Manzi Art Space features a collection of paintings which all share a common blue color palette.
First using photographic images of historical political meetings and events, the artist then edits and manipulates those images by pixilating, blurring and painting over them, and other methods to create distance and raise doubt about history and historical images, provoking viewers to ask what is “true,” genuine and what is false.
This is good - the postmodernist rejection of truth and history.
But there remains a question which Le Quy Tong, who Manzi hails as “one of Hanoi’s most dedicated and resilient creative forces,” may want to address: What, then, will be a new, wholesome vision of life once we reject the past?
Four interesting art exhibitions in Hanoi
Le Hoang Bich Phuong’s “White, Black & Gold” ceramic installation exhibition: Japan Foundation, 27 Quang Trung Street, from December 4-25
Month of Artistic Practice - Brown Movement: Heritage Space, Dolphin Plaza, 28 Tran Binh Street, from December 13 to January 12
2015 Vietnam Art Exhibition: Vietnam Culture and Art (or Van Ho) Exhibition Center, 2 Hoa Lu Street, from December 9-23
Le Quy Tong’s “True Blue” painting exhibition: Manzi Art Space, 14 Phan Huy Ich Street, from December 13 - January 11

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