Cristina NualART

Tag: Books

Cambodia’s hand painted signs in a book


My friends from Very Ngon Homewares were on a recent business trip to Cambodia, and kindly brought back for me a book I’d wanted for a while, Hand Painted Signs of Kratie by Sam Roberts. Sam and I share a love for crafted things, like hand painted advertising. Here’s a paragraph from the book:


As I received the book, I heard that the ‘last’ hand painted sign in Saigon has now gone from Hai Ba Trung street, replaced or overpainted by a less captivating image than the original one.



How to make art with someone else’s artist books











Vietnam was the first country chosen for the daring initiative made possible by the Hong Kong based Asian Art Archive. A selection of the archive’s art books, magazines and catalogues arrived in San Art gallery, Ho Chi Minh City, to be edited by the public, before moving on to other Asian countries for more people to explore the interventions, and add their own.

This interactive proposition may smack of relational art theories, or remind one of Hans Ulrich Obrist’s loan for the  Interarchive exhibition, but is actually founded on the ancient Chinese tradition of literati, whereby a painting is not the work of a single individual, rather, it is the work of a scholar. Collector’s seals and calligraphy poems are superimposed on the landscape painting created by the literati. Effectively, this millennia old tradition is a collaborative editing process. With this in mind, publications on contemporary Asian art were given to the people, as a potentially risky, potentially enriching, tactic for engendering collaborative editing.

The exhibition opened in February 2011, and I went to have a play. A few fun hours later I’d produced a number of interventions that intersected existing drawings in my sketchbook with images I found in the books. Tran Minh Duc’s art mural based on maps of HCMC had not taken off yet, but maps and location seemed to be the dominant ideas for me too, helped by fate, recent life anecdotes, and by meeting some architecture students there. See photos of my ‘editions’ on the left.

Lena Bui, also artist in residence, discussed with me her insightful ideas on the conflict of powerful family traditions versus the desire for independence –and a sex-life- amongst young people in Vietnam. Her slashed and embroidered canvases are cuttingly open about the social dynamics at battle.

A week or so later, I embarked on an educational project, collaborating with an international school and the gallery. Imparting ideas of ripping up books with young children, in a country rife with breaches of copyright, may be a risk, but the challenge held great promise. A small group of children enjoyed the laid-back space and comfy cushions, and created their own versions of images in the books, some of which were assembled into a book that was left on site. Tran Minh Duc, artist in residence, was working on his wall installation inspired by maps of HCMC. In turn, this inspired little Lucio to create a floor installation, complete with train tracks and vehicles. Art is ageless. GIS

Evening events during the duration of the exhibition gathered HCMC art-lovers for more art and ideas sharing. Artist Tammy Nguyen, who the gallery had invited for an editing process of the book ‘A History of Art in 20th Century China’ in collaboration with a writer, involved the public in responding to images from the archive displayed on a big screen. Drawings circulated and were re-edited several times before coming together as pages in a collective book.

The project now moves on. San Art held a closing party this weekend, and Susanna and Linda from the Asian Art Archive collected impressions and feedback, and the edited books, in preparation for the next city that will develop the process. The final hours of Open Edit in HCMC were as alive with ideas as when the initiative opened, but with many ‘edits’ scarred across the pages. Ironically, the closing party was itself edited by government censors, who prohibited a DJ from playing and prevented any improvisations during an artist’s performance. Just before leaving, I was leafing through a book on Ai Weiwei, marred with poignant interventions (I later found out they were cut by artist To Lan Nguyen). We hope the Chinese government opens it’s ‘editorial’ censorship on the living artist.



Layers of Culture

‘It is work that the artist produce outside the demands, pressures, and expectations of others in the process of wrestling with their own selves and in the serenity or turbulence of their own solitude; that work that they produce when they have no need to be serious. It is in such work also that we find the truest moments of an artist’s career and his or her most relevant contributions to culture. Which is why, for the Zairean popular painter , it is referred to as work made for our own.’

Olu Oguibe in The Culture Game, 2004

Olu tells that African scholar T. K. Biaya in a conference in New York in 1995 explained that African artists made two types of art to sell: work conceived with certain devices suited for Mungo -the Western art buyer- and artwork made leisurely and free from constraints, that the artist would also show to local art lovers.

Art: the useless profession for curious people

The artist network, a-n, kindly sent me a kilo of a book on art education to read over the summer and comment on. The review of the book is here.  The word limit for the review meanst that there is no room for some of the nice little sentences about being an artist  that I underlined. Below are quotes by some of the artists who contributed to the book, whose views I subscribe to:

  • ‘Credentials don’t exist in art, it’s the work you’re doing, and how it makes sense at the time you are doing it, or maybe later on. Even that’s not decided… ’ John Armleder
  • ‘We don’t have to call artists “artists” anymore, they can be anything… It’s a slightly politicized thing: are they just like everyone else? Well of course we’re just like everyone else, it’s just that we have this desire to make visible things that usually aren’t visible, and therefore it’s a kind of useless profession.’ Phyllida Barlow
  • ‘Art is a kind of job that no one asks you to do. You become an artist for all sorts of reasons, but when I examined my soul, I think I’ve probably become an artist out of curiosity.’ Pavel Büchler
  • ‘As a culture we don’t spend enough time looking and describing, articulating what we see, because there is so much ambiguity now.’ Graham Crowley
  • ‘What art really does, is it redevelops notions of success. I’m suspicious of commercial success, If people are able to withstand current, dominating notions of traditional success,for me that’s successful.’ Rainer Ganahl


Leading the creative process

‘Painters and writers share a common moan about the fear of the empty page. There is the blank canvas, the “tabula rasa.” There is nothing out there in the world. But the fear of a blank page is not really an anxiety about having no ideas: it is an anxiety about how to start; how to invade this empty space with your first, terrible, inadequate gesture. Before you take action, there are only your thoughts, your ideas, your visions, jumbled about in the cave of your head. But of course that is quite a lot. The real problem is, actually, how do you start this piece of work?’

Piers Ibbotson, The illusion of leadership, p. 144

Creative Economy

I have recently come across this excellent article on art and business in Arts Professional which explains why artists need to look at new models of making money so that it’s not all raked into the coffers of a few.

For the last 6 months, I’ve been reading, little by little, John Howkins The Creative Economy (Penguin 2007), which I’m enjoying at a leisurely pace – it’s not a read-in-one-go blockbuster (that’s my excuse), although it is a well structured, interesting yet easy book.

I was very amused by the interview with Bob Geldof, as expounder of a creative person who gets down to business. Howkins says that ‘turning an idea into a business, an operation, requires both the original idea (‘something from nothing’) and the hard work to make it happen.’ What’s funny about this is Geldof’s response, that everything boils down to two questions: ‘Why?’ and ‘Why not?’

Sounds like the story of my life, though I warn you that this is good advice in many spheres, but it can also make you fat (so keep the balance and always ask both questions).

Femme daze

Late last year, I read a very funny article by Lucy Mangan in The Guardian, pointing out –in case you hadn’t heard because feminism is so hush-hush and underground these days- that feminism is not as cool as it used to be, and that female empowerment is sometimes confused with female (especially celeb) power(trips).

If you did want to research a bit of feminism, you young thing, or brush up your rusty knowledge of Betty Friedan et al, you delightfully informed more mature person, you might consider, as I did, going to your nearest public library to check out what’s happening in the underground, hush-hush, feminist scene. Then, if you discover, as I did in my local library at that time, that they DON’T have any books on feminism, then we must call another demo in which we can pretend to burn bras and do other pseudo-historical actions to protest for this new conspiracy to keep women out of the knowledge industry.

Yes, I was so stunned that I could not even protest, when the female assistant in this London library told me that they did not stock any publications on feminism. Instead, I chose to think that she didn’t know what I was talking about (‘these young women ain’t heard of such stuffy stuff’, I though in disgust…) and I proceeded to scrutinise the shelves in search for misplaced volumes. The worse part was when it dawned on my that she did, in fact, know what she was talking about, and that no feminist theory had a place anywhere in the library, not even in the philosophy section, or (oh, dear) in the self-help shelves of this public service! A new conspiracy theory is born.

I urge you to rush to your local library and find out if it stocks books on feminism, for my new personal research campaign. Oh, you may find, as I did, that ‘girl power’ does exist in public libraries, in the form of Gerry Halliwell’s children’s stories. Maybe the generation reading those now will one day have public and free access to other seminal works on equality and justice!

Celebrate International Women’s Day on Sunday (hey, it’s just for one day. The rest of the time it can all get brushed under the carpet again…)

P.S. On a subsequent visit to my local library, after I recovered from my shock – I was really aghast, I made a point of mentioning that in my humble opinion, not having any books on feminism did not reflect well on the public body. I’m pleased to say that a few weeks after that, they had two copies of ‘introduction to feminism’ type books on the shelves. Result! Moral: go girls, and ask for what you think you should be getting from the public arena!


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Unless otherwise specified, text and images © 2017 Cristina Nualart

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