»Off Spaces« was an open studio initiated by Nguyễn Quọc Thành, Bùi Kim Dĩnh und Lukas Zerbst that aims to fathom antipodes in transcultural relationships – with art. By working in close corporation they claimed to negotiate cultural division in the resulting work.

During the exhibition time visitors had the opportunity to meet the artists and the curator, watch their working progress and discuss about the work. Among an opening event an artist talk was provided, that encountered a lot of interest.

Curatorial text by Bùi Kim Dĩnh:

»Interested in abandoned and forbidden spaces, Thành and Zerbst have developed their needs of understanding Nhà Sàn Collective as a particular peripheral space and its surroundings. From that idea, ‚OFF SPACES‘ had been realized as a visual display of Zerbst’s artworks and Thành’s research materials.

As an artist-run space without juristic body, Nhà Sàn Collective’s space had inspired Zerbst to create his work titled ‚OFFSPACE‘ as a site specific installation right in the exhibiting space of the gallery. By extending the metal studs which functioned to hang the ceiling-panels and the neon lamps, Zerbst had created a sculpture in a way of redefining the form and shape of the gallery. The ceiling-frame seemed to be pulled down to the floor so that the hidden side of ceiling was exposed. Confronting with the position between outsider and insider, Zerbst saw Nhà Sàn Collective from multiple perspectives.

Experiencing underground activities with local artists of Nhà Sàn, Zerbst reflected this space from his insight as well as out sight. ‚SCULPTING AN EYE‘ is a video installation with a hammer, a hole and a projection has watched this exhibiting space from outside and projected it on the wall of the gallery from inside.

A double reality had been shown at the same time in one space had questioned the viewer about the space’s existence from different viewpoints. The unseen view had been showed and opened multiple layers of interpretation about the view and being viewed on/of a person or an art space as an active, at the same time, also as a passive object of viewing.

In the combination of sound and images recorded on the artist’s action of breaking a hole on the wall of the exhibiting space, a lens of a camera could be recalled in a way of thinking about an eye, which watched out the outside as well as inside of this space. A CCTV or self/censorship might be recalled in this particular situation of art and culture in Vietnam.

In the meantime, as one of many other Vietnamese, who have almost no idea about their history excerpt a pseudo-history which is hard to believe, Thành was deepened through legends, myths of spaces in Lương Yèn area, where Nhà Sàn is located. In searching for unknown factors, he has discovered this area used to be an important gate of the city along the Red River bank fell into neglect during economic reforms in the late 80s, but it is now bursting with new development under recent gentrification.

The research has led him to re-discover layers of history, construction of myths and legends, as well as local customs and traditions that had not been exposed before. The findings were based on public information such as press and tourist information, expert’s opinions and researches, short fictions, blogs, amateur videos on youtube, and also private talks, though unnecessarily in accordance with official state narratives on history of Vietnam.
Instead, the research reveals, among others, mechanisms of glorification of victories and nationalization of histories despite of gender
and sexuality issues in the background. One can make absurd questions: What story of Trưng sisters rebelling against Hàn domination in 40 AD has to do with Vietnamese-American war?

it a coincidence that cover of Susan Sontag’s “Trip to Hanoi” features young women operating Soviet made light artillery, and Vietnamese triumphal story about young women from people defense force shooting down American aircraft F111 with the same artillery in 1972? Would issues of gender and sexuality identification has potentials of disrupting nationalistic and patriarchal narratives, as in case of national hero Lý Thường Kiệt who was an eunuch living in forbidden Thăng Long citadel in the 11th century. This omitted aspects of his life were appropriated and revealed in a vivid style by Yaoi (boy love fiction) bloggers as a reflection of the future generation a millennium later.
The location-focused approach appears to be not limiting but rather has possibilities to expand research areas in both space, time and social issues. Although the focus on textual form in this presentation has challenged many visitors. Ones were delighted to read romantic fictions that referred to once famous city’s “Black Ferry” station. Others were overwhelmed by too many, sometimes conflicting information in the walls that surrounded them. Some simply rejected form of textual information in exhibition room.

Those materials of Thành’s endless research with overwhelming information and texts had displayed among Zerbst’s concreted visual works. Thereof, the open studio also unveiled the working process of the two artists and reflected two artistic personalities: one was in action with the focus of producing concreted
artworks and the other was always questioning and opening to unknown destinations. An antipodal bridge has been built.«

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