The concept of ‘the self’ forms a recurrent strand throughout history. Reaching back tens of thousands of years into human history, cave paintings and petroglyphs (such as Chauvet Cave, Ardèche Valley, in France), show the roots of our innate desire to understand who we are. Self-portraiture is thus a common way for an artist to reflect and express who they are. Since the invention of photography in the 1800s, technology has influenced and challenged the way artists think about the self, as narrative and identity. The idea of ‘the self’ was no longer just a photographic likeness. Turning away from realistic representations of the human figure, artists moved increasingly towards abstraction, with a conceptual perspective.
In Vietnam, the story of abstraction and conceptual art is a relatively recent phenomenon. The development of artistic expression has been greatly impacted by the colonial influence of the French and the political upheaval of the Vietnam War. For much of the second half of the 20th Century, the visual arts in Vietnam was predominantly social realist in expression, with artists limited to particular topic and style. After Đổi Mới (economic reform) in 1986, Vietnam was flooded with new waves of information, economical exchange and cultural influences, to which artists had a chance to learn and compare different perspectives and styles of art making. Particular art initiatives, such as Blue Space in the South and Nhà Sàn in the North (founded in the 1990s), pioneered a new era for experimental art, emboldening new opportunities for local artists to play with differing ways of articulating their identity, responding to a global environment that is culturally diverse, technologically advanced, and conceptually multifaceted.
Since 1986, artists in Vietnam are increasingly finding innovative and interdisciplinary ways to express who they are today. In the exhibition “I, Me, Mine”, 5 emerging artists are featured – Trần Kim Hoa, Đỗ Nguyễn Lập Xuân, Hoàng Nam Việt, Xuân Hạ (Grandmadeadxh) and Yatender – in the newest addition to the Saigon Artbook (SGAB) canon, co-organized by The Factory Contemporary Arts Centre and inpages. These artists take us on a journey, exploring the cornerstones of the ‘self’ – place, connection, appearance and perception – examining how these continually interweaving elements shape the artistic and emotional expression that becomes fundamental to human character. The audience will be drawn into diverse approaches to ‘self-expression’: from Kim Hoa’s “Bonsai” painting series and her “Women” installation capturing the complexity of womanhood via the reflection of herself in a mirror; to Lập Xuân’s “Nothingness”, a conceptual performative installation, situated between a psychology of the self in absolute reality, and a mental inquisition, where possessiveness is confronted and re-interpreted via a study of the subconscious. While Hoàng Nam Việt’s light-box installation titled “brighten up” gives three expressions of survival and self-preservation, examining the postures of one character as habit, character and perception, while Xuân Hạ’s “Virtual Realm”, a silk painting series hanging perpendicular to the wall and the animation “Immerse” whisper her introvert emotions. Yatender’s “2-1’ installation is privately displayed in a separate area of The Factory, told through film and photography via the dating app ‘Tinder’, capturing random moments of her desire to escape the narrow worldview of circumstance and reach across great distances to touch something real.
“I, Me, Mine” is a collection of ‘self-portraits’, through differing media, declaring “I exist”. Accompanying this exhibition at The Factory, the 7th Edition of Saigon Artbook continues their commitment to publishing with a dedicated and lovingly crafted exhibition catalog with an experimental printing technique. This book will be launched on the 17th June, at the first artist talk which kicks off two months of associated public programs designed to investigate the artistic preoccupations behind ‘I, Me, Mine’.