Guy (that’s his name) talking about the Mayan calendar, pen on paper, Cristina Nualart, 2005
Guy (that’s his name) talking about the Mayan calendar, pen on paper, Cristina Nualart, 2005
The beginning of a new year may just be another Gregorian marker, but it’s as good excuse as any to smile and get going. Oomph! Spanish feminist magazine Revista Píkara has published my gif of a fab fictional duet between two powerful lesbian voices: Big Mama Thornton and Lesley Gore. Switch between the two video links to hear a home-made mix of lyrics that intersect rather well.
This simple animation is based on my drawings of lesbian singers Big Mama Thornton and Lesley Gore, two fabulous musicians who give patriarchy a piece of their mind. The original drawings were created for my artist book Sphynxation, which features 3 pages of the two divas.
Big Mama Thornton sings Hound Dog:
Lesley Gore wrote the brilliant feminist track You Don’t Own Me:
After nearly 3 years, I finished this layered drawing. It didn’t take 2 years of work, but perhaps I needed that time to reflect on my disappointment at what I perceived to be the destruction of a cultural icon. In 2011 I witnessed the demolition of the market in Saigon known as Cho Van Thánh. I’d grown fond of the rusty old letters on what appeared to be a greyish modernist building.
In fact, the large, covered market was built in 1994, during the Doi Moi period, when Vietnam was implementing the economic reforms that would reshape its route to progress. The geometrical details that reminded me of 1960s architecture took on a poignant meaning. After the war, the country had been so isolated from the rest of the world that the designs it produced had not evolved for a whole generation, they were frozen in time.*
Diggers have become an interesting artistic subject matter for me. A Vietnamese friend told me that some people refer to them as ghosts, and that when passing in front diggers, many Vietnamese will remain silent omeprazole 20 mg. Diggers are scary. In this rapidly developing land, they can destroy ancestor’s graves, and there was a time when the Vietnamese government wouldn’t allow the relocation of graves. Ancestor worship, a popular belief system throughout the country, requires visits to ancestors tombs, to pay respect.
This subdued image pays respect to the defunct market, symbol of a faded era that has been left behind, much to the relief of many in Vietnam, who are instead embracing the introduction of a market economy.
Cristina Nualart. The Ghost of Cho Van Thanh. 2011-2014.
Pencil, watercolour, acrylic, house paint and gold leaf on Saunders Waterford paper, 76 x 56 cm.
* A similar thing had occurred in Spain after the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939). According to Antigüedad del Castillo-Olivares (2011), Spain was left out of international developments in architecture for over 10 years, and it was only when the country’s economy started to improve, from well into the 1950s, that architecture returned to a ‘normal’ stage of progress.
This article was published in Word Vietnam magazine, January 2014, p.16.
In Vietnam, it is rare to see exhibitions of the most prominent Vietnamese artists. The stars of the country’s artworld are in high demand in art fairs, biennials and museums of other parts of the globe. In her career spanning little over a decade, Tiffany has, on average, exhibited 1 solo show and 2 groups shows every year, and participated in 1 biennial or triennial every 2 years. Her art has travelled from cities across the US, to Asia, Australia, Europe, and the Middle East.
The last time Tiffany’s paintings and sculptures were shown in Vietnam was 5 years ago, at Galerie Quynh, HCMC, where her new show An Archeology Project for Future Remembrance can be seen until 10 January 2014.
This exhibition is possibly the first in Vietnam that shows the type of interdisciplinary research that is making waves in intellectual circles. At some point in the second half of the 20th century, the modernist admiration for the instinctual genius of the artist gave way to a trend for intelligent artworks that demonstrated the artist’s ability to articulate theories and illustrate concepts. Saigon resident Tiffany Chung’s brainpower seems to be switched onto hyperactive all the time.
Tiffany speaks with energy and sharp insight. Her research is a solid back up for her unapologetic opinions. For a long time, she has been a good friend of Erik Harms, assistant professor of Anthropoly at Yale. In the Dong Khoi space, the collaboration between the artist and the anthropologist is presented linearly. Excerpts from Erik Harms next book are glossy art objects. Selected passages of colonialist propaganda and historical descriptions of Saigon are also readable art. But the research is not just text, it is drawn into the maps and crafted into the sculptures.
The drawings on vellum paper, velvety and translucent, are based on historical maps or futuristic maps projecting urban plans of areas yet to be built. The gleeful layers of the drawing, minute doodley patterns in pretty colours, deceive us into thinking they are imaginative fabrications. Their hidden research tells other stories. The maps – a trademark of her art practice – critique the political decisions that shape borders, lead to wars, construct artificial communities or displace people. The six map drawings in this show are specifically about areas in South Vietnam, mostly referencing the forced evictions of people who lived on land the government wants to turn into a fancy financial district. The 3 channel video art also comments on that issue.
The gem of the exhibition is the hanging installation Stored in a jar: monsoon, drowning fish, color of water, and the floating world. The piece was commissioned by the Singapore Biennale in 2011. On glass puddles, dozens of miniature houses, houseboats and boats are aligned with neat gardens reminiscent of a middle-class American suburb.
Detailed architectural models are inspired by traditional Asian design and materials. Rather than glorifying colonial architecture, Tiffany’s art admires older vernacular architecture. Not for sentimental reasons, however. The design of her mini housing project is informed by in depth research, adapting ideas from all over the region, from Japan to Thailand as well as Vietnam, and crafting the models with cutting-edge technology. The modern and the traditional coexist.
The overall magical appearance of this calming and poised artwork is a plan for a portable model of sustainable urbanism. Wooden houses, some on stilts, have solar panels and rainwater collectors. One of Tiffany’s pet topics is climate change. The evidence, she illustrates, is that the Mekong region will be in knee-deep trouble in coming decades. Floods will increase their devastating capacity, so we should prepare for it. Perhaps creating floating communities.
I make slow art because I like to explore each idea with lots of documentation and different materials. But this type of labourious drawing just can’t be finished in a matter of hours. The good news is that, little by little, over the past month this work has grown a fair bit. Regular visitors may remember the first sketch from 2011.
|Release||:||December 7, 2016|
|Production Company||:||Mars Films, Vendome Pictures.|
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I make pictures like I read books – I have lots on the go at the same time. This close-up detail of the acrylic paint and the pencil on the watercolour background of this drawing from the Chemical Flowers series is finished, but it’s friends in the series are not mature enough yet, so this big sister is waiting till they can all be introduced to polite society together.
I found this picture of a Christmas card I made as a child. It’s funny now to see all those lit candles and box of matches all over the floor, with children walking around obliviously. I assure you that my family was very careful and such reckless fire hazards were entirely the product of my imagination. I wish you all a bright and imaginative end of 2012 and a happy new year!
Colombian artist Johanna Calle just opened her exhibition of material-happy drawings in San Art, Saigon, where I spoke to her before she returns to her homeland today.
Although the exhibition carries the title Irregular Hexagon, as did the previous exhibition in this international collaboration between Vietnam and Colombia, it is mere coincidence that such a formalist expression suits the works.
Johanna’s explorations center around environmental and social concerns. The haptic drawings comment on biodiversity, land ownership, and the domination of habitable space by the powerful. The titles of the artworks -for example: Perimeters, Native Trees, Shadow- are minimalistic and strangely literal. Strange because this artist has a history of making text art. Indeed, many of the pieces on show are drawings made from words, or at the very least letters. Playing with text is part of the art making process, more than the labelling of the art.
The flattened bird cages below, spray painted gloss grey, are called Perspectives, not as a reference to drawing linear perspective, but to describe what the work literally shows: the compression of a 3-dimensional habitable space (albeit a prison) into one where the inhabitants are so close to each other, or to the confines of the space, that distance is annulled. The back wall is so close to the front wall that there is no room to walk around. The intense urban density of Ho Chi Minh City, which I examined in DomestiCity, surprises even a native of Bogotá, a sprawling capital of 8 million people.
The cages-turned-drawings squawk of the unfairness of a system where land speculation has locked millions of people out of the possibility of having a home, let alone a spacious home. Perhaps their rattling appearance will echo of the precarious tin shacks tightly clustered between ‘real’ buildings or toppling over canals all over Ho Chi Minh City. The critique works for both Vietnam and Colombia, Johanna notes.
Evading such claustrophobic dwellings, the artist turns to nature, or the lack of, and presents us with intensely cerebral trees, made not of natural materials, but entirely of distinctly human language: written words. Typewritten on an old Vietnamese typewriter , the printed letters are an unspaced mass of Vietnamese and English words. The artist started typing up a coherent, existing piece of writing, but her subconscious inability to make sense of the new culture she finds herself in, turned the letters into illegible chaos, much like unplanned urban development wrecks havoc with nature.
The paper she uses for the pieces shown above comes from Colombian ledger books. They are used as hand written archives of property ownership. Johanna explains that many illiterate farmers, not being able to check what they are signing in these records, can be cheated. The system is not only inherently biased towards rich people who can afford to buy lots of land, it also allows for unfair dealings, where the underdog loses out.
The Ho Chi Minh City residency lasted only for only 3 weeks, thus the artist created many of the artworks before her arrival. On location, she made more pieces linking them, in their material and their content, to Vietnam, but maintaining the aesthetic simplicity that unifies the show. For these visual poem lookalikes she uses Vietnamese rice paper and Vietnamese publications, drawing trees common to South East Asia.
The delicate artwoks on view presents a discreetly whispered criticism of land use. In Vietnam, concerns about land often relate to the government’s lease of it, or expropriation of it. In Colombia, there are reports of uneducated farmers whose oral witness account in court narrates the history of what they have planted, and describes the trees in the plots whose ownership they claim, but who others, sometimes corruptly, contend. The trees from these stories of injustice and hope are the ones drawn by Johanna Calle.
This review was cross-posted on the Hanoi Grapevine.
Uniting my fascination with found materials, found art and multi-layering, I’m trying a new experiment. The ‘curated drawing’ shown here includes purchased drawings from an Indonesian artist, copies of copied artworks, pages from old Vietnamese books and a screenprint of my own work. I don’t think it’s finished yet, but it’s on the wall so I can think about it for a bit before I develop it further. A lot of what I’m making at the moment involves painting images on ‘found’ objects. The process now goes two-dimensional, which seems paradoxical since the 3D ‘collages’ are much more innovative. The creative process sometimes has to go back to rediscover old ideas.
Yesterday an annual art exhibition and silent auction helped raise money to give disabled people in Vietnam a wheelchair.
Arts For Mobility is an art and music event at the Saigon Opera. Prior to attending the classical concert, guests placed bids for a number of artworks and handicrafts donated by local businesses and a variety of people: from disabled children to Vietnamese artists with international projection. Ticket sales support the cost of organising such an event, and all the profits of the art auction go directly to the charity, which also benefits some disabled people by giving them employment.
When I first heard, I offered to donate an artwork, but I got roped in further. I was soon gently persuading my contacts in the art world of Ho Chi Minh City to donate pieces, writing the art text for the catalogue and hanging artworks in the semi-circular gallery of the century old Opera House. The stories behind the various artworks made the curating work very interesting. Disabled children from Te Phan orphanage, who had been funded with art lessons and art materials, showed some vibrant and well executed flower paintings. An abstract digital print by an interior designer coexisted with Vietnamese landscapes in traditional oil or watercolour. Glossy lacquered vases and screenprints on linen changed the texture of the show. Truong Cong Tung gave two contemporary ceramic paintings that sold quickly. Another popular image was created by an artist who sticks down hundreds of butterfly wings in different tones, arranging them to form a typical Vietnamese scenery. While there was no disclaimer to guarantee that no insect had been harmed in the process, the curious picture was so unusual that it became one the most hotly contested pieces in the auction. A very varied show!
Porcelain vases stand in line, with the theatre’s chandeliers in the hall in the background. On the wall are photographs by two Vietnamese artists. Tung Mai’s work focuses on the small gestures seen around this metropolis, the tiny joys that give beauty to HCMC.
Hoang Duong Cam has a strong international projection, but he recently exhibited in his home country at Galerie Quynh. His work is a pinhole photograph of a photograph of a Hanoian family in the 1972, the year his parents got married. He has overpainted it to symbolise his fantasies of products described to him by relatives and friends, but which he had never seen, as they were no longer available in the aftermath of 1975.
Phan Thao Nguyen trained at the Art Institute of Chicago. The prints she donated are inspired by the master of lacquer, Nguyen Gia Tri’s enormous painting Spring Garden, in the HCMC Fine Arts museum. These two screenprints on silk attracted the audience because of the mysterious images visible when backlit.
My textured collage from the 3 weekend trilogy series sold for more than enough money to buy one wheelchair, which I’m delighted about.
Although the accounting process of all items sold has not finished, it appears that this year’s exhibition was even more successful than last year’s, and that a good number of wheelchairs will be given to disabled Vietnamese as a result of this auction, which raised well over $1000. Thank you artists, volunteers and guests. It was well worth the effort!
Long, sad, disappointing story. The beautiful old and disused market, Cho Van Thanh, that I passed by on my way to work each day has been torn down. I nearly cried when I saw the diggers. Luckily, I had taken pictures before the lettering came off the top of the building, and so I’m starting a painting on it. This is a little study I’ve made.
Unless otherwise specified, text and images © 2017 Cristina Nualart
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.
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