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Text published in (Re) Collecting The Vietnam War, The Asian Amercican Literrary Review, Volume 6, Issue 2: Fall/ Winter 2015
(Beyond, Section directed by Chương-Đài Võ)
At a time of economic progress, Vietnam sees its landscape change, cities increase their peripheries and construction sites expand. Traditions and practices merge with signs of globalization, creating hybrid forms. People quickly adapt and constantly invent. Motorcycle rivers flow into the streets of major cities and the intense pollution becomes like a drug. The noise is incessant, and images abound at all costs. By night, electronic music takes over and promises new horizons for future generations. It is with this bustling and vibrant energy that I experience Vietnam.
Born to an unknown Vietnamese father and a French mother, I went to Hanoi in 2006, in search of my roots. It was then that I painted my first abstract paintings and designed minimal sculptures, inspired by geometric patterns found on the streets. To my eyes, the material of daily life such as the ubiquitous tarpaulin appeared as popular emblems, alternative flags to the yellow star on red background. I reinterpreted these objects in homage to the students, workers, soldiers and vendors who animate the city every day¹.
I began to travel to Vietnam annually, sometimes with fellow artist Emma Perrochon. We kept an inventory of objects created by street vendors from new, reused and repurposed material. We established a documentation of signs that were disappearing with gentrification. Among these objects, we chose those that interested us for their sculptural qualities, their incredibly simple and economic formal logic. The inventory led to an exhibition in Geneva in 2012, titled Cosmotopia (Eternal Tour).
Some of the objects we created are an assembly of found forms and custom made items. We grafted our ideas onto existing objects to multiply their potential. We covered varied topics such as the use of food; practical and mundane materials; and spiritual practices, beliefs and superstitions. We looked at traditions and local practices to generate new interpretations.
There remains an ambivalent nostalgia for Vietnam among foreigners, as seen in feelings of guilt (even shame) about French colonialism and the US backing of South Vietnam. These traces of the past in the minds of travelers today reappear as touristic clichés and exotic fantasies. We played with these preconceived ideas to try to break below the surface, as seen in our two-person exhibition in Hanoi in December 2012, at Tadioto titled What Delights the Spirits.
Back in Dijon, France, we organized a large group exhibition in collaboration with Sébastien Leseigneur. We brought together work by European artists who had traveled or live in Vietnam. The exhibition Éternel Viêt-Nam played with the collecting of souvenirs and personal anecdotes, offering an offbeat travel book, a tribute to Vietnam, its history and its people.
This work, which for me generates discussion and debate between East and West, motivates my travel between Asia and Europe. It is a way for me to engage as a métis, to situate myself in the reality of always being in-between. Being a descendant of the colonized, colonizers and collaborators, I seek memory as an act against collective amnesia, and art as a way to give form to what cannot be said.
Vietnam remains for me an experimental ground where everything is possible. Whether it is an exhibition in the most fashionable nightclub² or within the stall of a street vendor in Saigon³, art is not yet institutionalized and everything can be invented. This is the perfect setting to imagine new forms, to rethink both creation and its diffusion.
Frédéric Dialynas Sanchez
1This resulted in two three solo exhibitions: Works and Patchworks both took place in 2007 at Suffusive Arts Gallery in Hanoi, and Xin Chào took place in 2011 at OÙ in Marseille, France.
2 Red, collective show in two parts at The Observatory, Ho Chi Minh City, 2014
3 UFO in Saigon, experimental project at 109 Cao Dat st. Ho Chi Minh City, 2014