When Contemporary Art is Memory

Dernier ajout : 21 octobre 2015.

When Contemporary Art is Memory

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By Myriam Dao | Translated by Alisa Clements link to the original French version AAFV

The artist of our contemporary lifetime is not necessarily a “contemporary artist”. If modern art undermined academicism, then contemporary art goes further still, deconstructing discourses and references, not only those of art history, but also those of society. In this, the contemporary artist is certainly “Postcolonialist ” in the sense of Postmodernity. Some date the birth of contemporary art to 1945 (G..A. Tiberghien). It is not so much the contemporary artworks as the way in which they are exhibited that defines a new paradigm in rupture with the Western-centered model, often considered as universal (Thomas McEvilley). In summary, it is the curatorial attitude, the fact of organizing artworks with a stated objective (Khai Hori at the Palais de Tokyo, with “SecretArchipelago”, or Okwui Enwezor with “All the World’s Future” at the Venice Biennale 2015), which gives the “art contemporary label” It seems today that curators and contemporary artists draw their arguments from politics and history, as well as from philosophy and anthropology.

When the official or family memory is failing, there is a duty to invent. The contemporary artists of Viet Nam and the diaspora that we present here take up this issue. All attempt to make the unspoken visible and/or deconstruct representations of conflict – illustrated in the press “ad nauseam” – substituting metaphorical or poetic visions, assuming their subjectivity. Whether they are from North or South Vietnam matters little : art is a plural language. Thus, from Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh City, from old Europe to Los Angeles, the artists have inherited fragments of history that they must make visible and transmit.

Lê Brothers, Hue, Vietnam, born in 1975

The Lê brothers were born on April 3, 1975. The mere mention of this date in their biography introduces the idea that history traverses their lives, and thus a fortiori their art. War and loss are at the core of their videos, installations and performances, which aim as much to question as to restore a form of peace. In “The Game” (installation, performance and video), the duo, who play on their twinness, adopt two uniforms that could be those of two opposing camps, except that here they are identical. The artist duo speaks here with its body, its creativity, its desire for peace and unity. The game, that of war, turns here into an artistic game : the two brothers have replaced weapons with flowers. With “The Bridge II”, the artists focus our attention on the sense of loss caused by the partition of a country, as was the case with Vietnam, but also Korea and Germany. The Lê Brothers exhibited in Paris at the Palais de Tokyo in 2015, in the context of “Secret Archipelago”, a “Singapore season in France”, selected by curator Khai Hori.

Nguyen Thi Trinh, Hanoi, Vietnam, born in 1973

In her films, Nguyen Trinh Thi does not hesitate to exhume anonymous archives, in order to poetically deconstruct past and present Vietnamese ideology. Her training : journalism, photography and ethnographic cinema in the United States. Her work was selected for the Biennale of Contemporary Art of Lyon, as well as the Jeu de Paume in Paris, where she will exhibit “Letters from Panduranga” from October 20, 2015 to January 24, 2016. With “Landscape” in 2010, she develops the idea that landscape is a mute witness of the history.

Liza Nguyen, Germany, born in 1979

This photographer studied in France and Germany. Her works explore memory and the relationship between aesthetics and ethics. “I have only touched the subject of history,” says the artist, who presents a series of photographs that depict handfuls of soil collected in Viet Nam on the scenes of the bloodiest conflicts : Cu Chi Dien Bien Phu, Doc Mieu My Lai Khe Sanh, and Kon Tum.

Trinh Mai, California, USA, born in 1978

After training in painting, her work takes a turn when she discovers her grandmother’s photographs in the family archives, which she decides to integrate into her works. Since then, her work has drawn not only from the family archives, but also from those of the University of California. Her installation, “Quiet,” exhibits faces painted with India ink onto white veils, based on the photographs of thousands of records indicating the disappearances. She paints these faces in order to signify that the missing are not just names, but flesh and blood, people with dreams, people with love. “Boat Folks” documents her own family’s escape by boat. What inspires the artist : “looking to the past, finding her roots. ”

Myriam Dao, Paris, born in 1963

“The important thing about memory, remembrance, or oblivion, is then not so much the truth as the play of symbols and their circulation,” writes Achille Mbembe. “What remains in our imaginary of French Indochina, apart from the glamorous vision that we have ?” Myriam Dao asked with “Made in France - Maps”. In order to decolonize the imaginary connected to this territory, she produces palimpsests of words on maps to deconstruct the representations. Necessarily subjective, this geographical map, “Made in France,” is made from raw textiles – including hemp, whose production under the Vichy Government had dramatic repercussions – and is based on texts of colonial and postcolonial authors, among which those of Frantz Fanon. “Made in France - Maps” outlines a mapping of a country – that the artist knows only through her readings – according to four parts, Scents, Resources, Destruction and Occupation, to produce sensitive, quantifiable, intelligible, and memorial maps. The artist observed that the history of French Indochina during World War II is quite unknown, although it was – like other French colonies – occupied by the Vichy Government, and then by the Japanese. This is the point of view of a French artist toward this colonial period, hence the title of the series : “Made in France”.

We would like to mention two creative platforms, one in Hanoi, Nha San, and the other in Ho Chi Minh City, San Art.

Nhà Sàn Collective, Hanoi, Vietnam
Nguyen Phuong Linh, an artist born in 1985 in Hanoi, took over from his father who created Nha San Studio in 1998. Since its revival in 2013, this experimental venue, a kind of research laboratory in contemporary art, offers performances, art talks, and workshops. Nhà Sàn Collective catalyses contemporary art here and now.

Sàn Art, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
A contemporary art platform since 2007. Its director, Dinh Q. Lê is an artist with international stature, whose works are found in collections around the world. Sàn Art is a place for the production of works, exhibitions, conferences and training. On the one hand, it wants to promote the local art scene, on the other, it provides opportunities for residencies for international artists, thanks to partnerships. Interdisciplinary is to rethink the link between art and society.

We also need to mention juror and curator Okwui Enwezor for the prestigious Venice Biennale 2015 : Tiffany Chung with her abstract maps, and the artists of The Propeller Group collective who pose questions about weapons and their destructive power.

About the author :

Myriam Dao is a visual artist and independent researcher. She teaches visual arts and art history, and is a regular contributor to contemporary online art journals, including Afrikadaa.com and Visuelimage.com