Ngo Thi Thanh
Filmmaker and Critic
As a means of engaging in the questions of her time, Ngo Thi Thanh uses her “camera as a pen”. Though her work as a filmmaker and critic only really began about three years ago when she decided to leave her job as a high school literature teacher, the young artist is using a form that tackles ‘true thinking’. The ‘essay film’ is the medium through which Thanh explores gender, its social construction, and its flexible nature.
The genre of essay film is difficult to define being neither strictly non-fiction nor fiction, though Thanh entitles her first work Fiction. The work presents a tapestry of various platforms of reality that are periodically ruptured with abstract images. Issues of gender stitch the work together, with one central image of a motionless female body onto which an indecipherable text is projected. As a portrayal of self perception, Thanh explains, “My knowledge, what I read, what I watch, everything that I take in from the outside frames me. It frames me and creates a gap between me and my body.”
Gender theorist Judith Butler and the documentary filmmaker Chris Marker are two people who laid the foundation on which Thanh’s work now stands. Through these two minds, she is inspired to question her environment and her identity, something that she says she rarely did before, and then explore those questions from behind a camera, layering images and texts together for her ideas to come to realisation.
Thanh is an example of the many young filmmakers who have taken workshops and courses through DocLab at The Goethe Institut, and are seriously pursuing documentary and experimental filmmaking as a form of thought and expression. A core value of DocLab is making things personal, the effect of which has been a wave of independent thinking inserted back into a field of art where traditional genres have dominated for years. — Kaitlin Rees
Vu Ta Linh
The ever-present questions — What is Vietnam? What does Vietnam look like? — are ones that young fashion designers like Vu Ta Linh are concerning themselves with. International trends of using natural and organic fabrics and the popularity of tribal prints blend into the work of a new generation of designers who want to explore and establish something uniquely Vietnamese in fashion design.
Linh, who completes his two-year programme at the London School of Fashion this summer, has a final collection that incorporates the burlap, wool and hemp fabric typical of ethnic minority clothing. And as someone highly sensitive to colour, the ethnic prints inspire him with their brightness. Linh folds these traditional elements into modern designs of loosely draped layers of clothing that embody serenity.
After six years of studying fashion in academic settings, Linh is ready for some experience outside of school. He plans to work with a local company for a while before establishing his own brand to “let the world know that Vietnam has popular designers.” His target market is Japan, which is another source of fashion inspiration with designers like Kenzo and Yohji Yamamoto.
It is a complicated negotiation that must be made in the fashion world between what is happening on the outside with current international trends, and what needs attention on the inside to ensure some aesthetic elements that are culturally distinct. Linh says that while many of his peers have similar notions of locating Vietnamese tradition in their styles, there are several different approaches taken to doing so. Linh’s work serves as one such thoughtful and aesthetically pleasing model of how to manoeuver through this complexity. — Kaitlin Rees
Cao Duc Toan
In his simple white outfit and under the sparkling stage lights of the Opera House, Cao Duc Toan has won the hearts and minds of the audience. His performance embodies the spirit of dance and his movement, both delicate yet strong, is laced with silk.
At the age of 29, Toan is at the cutting edge of contemporary dancers and choreographers in Vietnam. In 2008 he received the top National Young Dancer award for his performance, Bamboo Soul, which he staged with his brother Cao Chi Thanh. And in June his work with students at the National Dance Contest in Danang won him first prize for contemporary dance choreography.
“It’s the feeling of the music, the feeling of the characters,” says Toan. “This is what you need to catch, which is difficult. Once you have got that part, everything else is easy.”
He adds: “My work tells a story. It’s part of my own experiences, or experiences that others have gone through. I want my work to be familiar and easy to understand, so that every audience may see a part of their life in that performance. That’s the way I communicate with them.” — Hoa Le
Vo Trong Nghia
Vo Trong Nghia is living a green dream. He wants to see a greener globe and is serious about it. Through architecture and design he believes he can make it become reality.
His projects focus on nature-friendly, energy saving residential and office constructions as well as restaurants and public spaces. To achieve his goals he tries to make use of natural materials, mostly bamboo. Lightweight and fast growing, it is also great for its strength. And with the use of such materials he can transform a skinny, 40sqm four-storey house into a living space full of natural light, greenery and airflow. All with only a small increase in cost.
It’s not just houses that have benefitted from his touch. One of his most notable constructions is a giant restaurant with a rounded water front bar in Binh Duong Province, built entirely from bamboo, cane and other sustainable materials. All put together without a nail in sight.
“My philosophy is to create unique, simple, yet energy saving structures,” he explains. “It’s not easy and not always appreciated — local people are used to the idea of complex and sophisticated structures as a symbol of beautiful design.”
Yet, as the multi-award winning architect is discovering, his ideas are catching on.
“At the moment I’m making dozens of green, residential houses, but I believe that soon the number will reach hundreds and even thousands.”
He even believes that one day, every single house in Hanoi will have a roof garden. And why not? The benefits of going green are not only self-evident, they’re becoming fashionable, too. — Hoa Le
Le Quy Tong
Born in Hue in 1977, Tong has made a name for himself in the Hanoi art world since graduating from the Hanoi Fine Art University. His work opts for a ‘messy’ aesthetic applying the paint with obvious violence and allowing it to drip down the canvas at certain points. The effect is one of speed, change, industry, insecurity, violence and anxiety.
Some critics have highlighted nostalgia in Tong’s work owing to the subject matter of antiques, steam trains and Long Bien Bridge, claiming that he seems to seek to hold onto the past through his works. Yet nostalgia suggests a longing for the past that Tong’s brutalized portraits or non-idyllic renderings don’t reflect.
Since one of his biggest exhibitions in 2008 titled Rose Coloured Days, which one critic points out, could easily have been called Grey Days, Tong’s work has been able to command prices of up to VND400million. Many of his pieces can be seen and purchased at the Apricot Gallery (40B Hang Bong, Hanoi). All a just reward for providing a zeitgeist of today’s Vietnam. — Douglas Pyper
Pham Huy Thong
Thong’s solo exhibition in the The Bui Gallery in 2010 is still making waves nearly two years later. Social commentary is rife in Thong’s work, a result of his upbringing in a family of journalists who would nightly discuss social issues at the dinner table, and also of Thong’s own brief journalistic career.
His renowned exhibition, Womb Brothers, depicts young and foetal children, often as a clear social critique and with an unabashed historical bent. His piece The Fall of Saigon shows babies with briefcases of money being airlifted off a tower built of cash by a Bentley helicopter, while another shows an ark-like boat at sea with a large tree growing out of it bearing a foetal fruit. Evidently, Thong is capable of seeing issues with both judgment and sympathy.
He describes his work as being a social commentary, yet overridingly patriotic and optimistic. This October, Thong will be exhibiting his latest series of works in Ho Chi Minh City.
To see his blog go to www.thonghello.multiply.com. — Douglas Pyper
Ta Huy Long
Ta Huy Long is quite rightly one of the most highly regarded illustrators in Hanoi. Known for his modern re-interpretations of traditional folk art, Long has illustrated a number of books on folk heroes like Ngo Quyen and Ly Thuong Kiet. However, it was his solo exhibition of watercolours at L’espace in November 2009 that really set him apart from the crowd.
Long’s obsession with folk art came from being left home alone when he was younger. He explains how he felt surrounded by silent antiques. On them the odd flying and dancing images of leaves in ponds, flowers, waves, clouds, fish and birds captured his imagination. The results of this clearly influences his paintings and illustrations. “I want to open strange, beautiful windows through which our youth can view the world,” he says.
Says artist Pham Cam Thuong: “Ta Huy Long’s paintings talk intense patience and perfect craftsmanship. His manner of working is the opposite of being spontaneous… the way he pays attention to every little detail is inspiring, just like a watchmaker knowing his every step in building a watch mechanism. Not a lot of painters work in such way.” — Douglas Pyper