This exhibition seeks to highlight the role and contribution of artist friendships in furthering the development of experimental languages in Vietnam, since 1975. As an educational display, it gives recognition to how ‘friendship’ continues to further the testing and encouraging of ideas among artists, beyond what was officially understood, taught, or predominantly exhibited in Vietnam at that time, believing their art worthy of more than catering to ideological/formal and touristic (commercial) demand.
Conceived as an ‘exhibition as introduction’, it provides a general map of activity outlining at least 20 artist groups, from across Vietnam, focusing primarily on the visual arts. This endeavor was initiated particularly for the local audiences of The Factory, aware that access to the history of contemporary art in this country is incredibly limited, due to Vietnam’s lack of diversity in cultural infrastructure operating with comparative and interdisciplinary experience and expertise.
As an exhibition, ‘Spirit of Friendship’ will be by no means comprehensive of the breadth of such artistic activity across this country, rather it is conceived as the first chapter of an ongoing research project of The Factory, desiring a deeper and broader exploration of Vietnam’s art history, so as to better understand from whence we come and from here, where and why do we move forward.
This exhibition’s chronology will chart from 1975 until the present-day, where evidence – such as quoted testimonial, documentary photographs and videos, exhibition catalogs and artwork from a few of the artist groups themselves – will illustrate the rise of experimental artistic activity across the country. From the utilization of domestic living rooms, to the re-appropriation of traditional architecture; from public activation of artist studio space to the bar-cum-studio; from the hostel as art host to the occupation of diplomatic zone as site of artistic production – what we observe in this landscape is an entrepreneurial flair for strategic survival as artists strive to be heard in a context greatly underestimating their role in society. Curatorial focus inside this exhibition will share how artists study the lives of artists before them, as a means of learning, and paying homage to their legacy; while also highlighting the practices of particular artist groups – Salon Natasha, Nha San, Group of 10 and San Art – for their facilitation of differing means and modes of making, thinking, talking and disseminating artistic ideas, thus influencing their community’s capacity to participate and understand the experience of art as a conduit with which to grapple differing perceptions of contemporary life.
Sustaining a shared motivation of ‘mutual’ contribution as a group of friends laboring together is not easy however, for when the financial realities and career opportunities of life become all too overwhelming, it is often only friendship that fires the tendrils of collective endurance, and even then it can be fraught with differing levels of commitment and belief. This exhibition visually focuses on the memorable moments of kindling trusting friendships through art; while its associated public program of talks and debates will look for critical reflection and observation of the struggles of sustaining such grass-roots infrastructure, desiring a constructive discursive space where endured dilemmas are shared, debated and given hopeful insight for creative improvement.
‘Spirit of Friendship’ is the beginning of an endeavor (with dedicated website at www.spiritoffriendship.org) that celebrates our artistic community’s resilient ingenuity, which has sought innovative means of building audiences for art. This exhibition is marked by individual reflection of artistic labor between friends, in turn evidencing how these perspectives are propelled by, and operate in response to: the tension between internal and external social assumptions; between those who remained and those who quit the game; between honesty and (self)censorship; between ambition and earning a livelihood – these being but a few of the persistent dilemmas that continue to characterize Vietnam’s experimental art scene.
List of artist groups who will participate in ‘Spirit of Friendship’:
Gang of Five | Group of 10 | Salon Natasha | Hanoi Triad | Nhà Sàn | a little little blah blah | Wonderful District | Zenei Gang of Five | The Propeller Group | HanoiLink | Sàn Art | OM | New Space Arts Foundation | Hanoi Doclab | Hanoi-Saigon Sculpture Group | Phụ Lục | Chaap Collective | Art Labor | Then Group | XEM | Sao La | Chaosdowntown