May 29, 2005
Renaming - Remaining
Now it's Istanbul, not Constantinople
Been a long time gone, Constantinople
Why did Constantinople get the works?
That's nobody's business but the Turks
- Lyrics from They Might Be Giants, "Istanbul Not Constantinople"
Will the Real Anti-Colonial Name Please Stand Up?
There is a stimulating short article on today's BBC, City names mark changing times. The article covers the movement toward changing the South African city name of Pretoria to Tshwane, after a black tribal leader who ruled long before white colonization. Yet, according the article, Pretoria may in fact be an anti-colonial name itself with South Africa's last apartheid President FW de Klerk once associating Pretoria with the Dutch Boer struggle against the British Empire. In a comment to the article, a reader questions why there hasn't the same momentum to change the name of Soweto, which in fact means South Western Township.
Some other recent city renamings:
Harare (Salisbury), Zimbabwe
St. Petersburg (Leningrad), Russia
Yangon (Rangoon), Myannmar
Mumbai (Bombay), India
Chennai (Madras), India
Kolkata (Calcutta), India
Renaming - Remaining
The renaming of cities is an interesting phenomena. Almost all cities, over time, have been renamed. From New Amsterdam/New York to the city that I live in, Saigon/Ho Chi Minh City. Saigon and HCMC largely remain interchangable in common parlance. While HCMC, or more correctly TP HCM (Thành phố Hô Chí Minh [City of Ho Chi Minh]) is always used for official transactions and documents. How complete is the real or perceived transformation of a city when a new name is instituted? Throughout Vietnam, the renaming occurs down to the street level. Ironically, the street name for Alexandre de Rhodes in HCMC has not been changed, the missionary responsible for the entire transliteration of the the Vietnamese written language from Chữ-nôm script to the Roman alphabet. (Nom, coincidentally, is a latin root meaning name, as in nomenclature)
The fact is that renaming is everything and nothing (as Borges might have said). My own short history of 30 or so years might read: The orphanage of R. Streitmatter-Tran (Trần Trọng Đạt) was once located on Ly Tư Trọng Street (Gia Long Street) in Hô Chí Minh City (Saigon).
Borges begins his story with "I do not know which of us has written this page."
Resize - Realize
In the Todd Solandz film, Happiness, the father tells his son that it's not the length but the thickness. But what if the length and the thickness are one in the same? As reported in Thanh Nien News, "Vietnam's largest book to be published". Then what counts? Exactly.
"Another manikin, Rescue Randy, is described as offering realistic training in extrication of the wounded. One version weighs 145 pounds, while another weighs 165. The company has not said whether it plans to make a heavier model." The new heavier and realistic models are to reflect the ever increasing weight of the average American. It says current models still fall short since the average American weighs 188 pounds! When you're through with the mannequin, you can doll it up in Homeland Security's new fall/winter collection. Read more in the Sunday New York Times "It's a New World, and Everybody Gets to Play..." Ugh.
May 28, 2005
600 Images - Los Angeles
The Los Angeles exhibition opens tonight, May 28, 2005, at The Brewery Project. Woo-hoo! My series of 10 photographs document a moment in the life of a Saigon-based transexual. - RST
The Brewery Project presents 600 Images/60 Artists/6 Curators/6 Cities: Bangkok-Berlin-London-Los Angeles-Manila-Saigon. Curators/artists Varsha Nair from Bangkok, Judy Freya Sibayan from Manila, Sara Haq from London, Karla Sachse from Berlin, Maryrose Cobarrubias Mendoza from Los Angeles and Sue Hajdu from Saigon developed an unprecedented exhibition impressive in the total number of artists involved (ten from each city), the number of images exhibited (600 images), and with the least possible resources.
This network of 6 curators in 6 cities have explored the possibilities of curating entirely through the net, one exhibition of 600 city-images by 60 individuals - artists, photographers, architects, and graphic designers, who they have invited to participate. The set of 600 (b/w) digital images will be reproduced by each city and exhibited simultaneously in June 2005 in several cities/galleries around the world.
600 Images/60 Artists/6 Curators/6 Cities: Bangkok-Berlin-London-Los Angeles-Manila-Saigon takes advantage of cyberspace as a dematerialized and democratic space allowing for 1) borderless crossings 2) freedom from the tyranny of real space and real objects 3) digital information to be rhizomatically transmitted, trafficked, circulated and networked to all parts of the world and 4) great speed of access amongst a vast number of actors who live in different localities but are connected intensely via the net.
Eventually, what this project involves are individuals, not nations; restaurant/cafe galleries, not super museums; the production and circulation of only social and culture capital not economic capital. It does not define places and spaces as in the binary notions of the local and the international; centers and peripheries. Thus, no hierarchy of power is established or maintained. All 6 cities are local. All 6 cities are centers.
First Look/Double Take
Nam and I just received our final medium-format photographs in Saigon for our exhibition in Dublin, Ireland. We're really quite pleased with them. We'll be shipping them off this week to the curator, Brian Duggin, of Pallas Studios. Our installation will be a part of the group exhibition, Offside, which will run at the Hugh Lane Galleries from July until October, 2005. Portrait-oriented, each photograph is one meter wide - the largest I have worked with to date. The photographs are one component of the installation.
The Jungle Book: Part 1 - Discoveries
Part I: Discoveries
As reported in today's BBC, there has been, perhaps, another discovery of Japanese soldiers found in the jungles of the Philippines, speculated as belonging to the Panther group during WWII. The two men, now in their eighties, have been reported to have made contact with a Japanese national collecting war remains on Mindinao Island. If the story turns out to be true, it would be an amazing story rivaled only by the earlier discovery of the 1974 case of Lieutenant Hiroo Onoda discovered on the Philippines island of Lubang, who only refused to surrender once his former commanding officer was flown to the Philippines to verify that the war was over. Some have estimated that there exist as many as 40 former Japanese soldiers left over from WWII in the Philippines. Do these discoveries only surface every 25 or so years?
Apparently. Cambodian families were found living wild in remote jungle where they had been hiding since 1979 from Vietnamese troops who left the country 25 years ago in 2004. During my visit to Phnom Penh earlier this year, I was told about this incredible event. Apparently, only three members retained the ability to speak Khmer.
Clad in strips of bark and woven leaves, the ragtag band of Khmer families who fled the killing fields of Cambodia 25 years ago trekked out of the malarial thicket in crude sandals hacked from the rubber tread. They had no idea the tyrant Pol Pot was dead, that the Vietnamese Army was gone or that the civil war that had forced them into hiding was long since over.
They were discovered only when trying to cross into Laos through the Cambodia's Ratanakiri Province.
"They are like wild people, they know nothing," said Kham Khoeun, the governor of Ratanakiri, who collected them from Laotian authorities. "They have received no information from the country and the world."
What role does the media have in the sensationalized "outing" of those who wish never to leave the jungle. The specific language in popular press is also an indication of the complex phenomena of "discovery". As one headline reads, "Lost tribe bypassed by history". How can anyone be bypassed by history?
"It is against this hell of the paradox that the ethnologists wished to protect themselves by cordoning off the Tasaday with virgin forest... The Tasaday, frozen in their natural element, will provide a perfect alibi, an eternal guarantee". - Jean Baudrillard, Simulacra and Simulation
What is the media's eternal guarantee? As reported in CNN, "Amazon loggers clash with lost tribe" or ABC's "Uncontacted tribe spotted in Brazil". It's strange for the uncontacted to be getting world syndication, particularly for a tribe that has at the most 8-10 members. Expect yet "undiscovered" boy bands to be adopting new PR strategies.
May 24, 2005
That Joke Isn't Funny Anymore
But that joke isn't funny anymore
It's too close to home
And it's too near the bone
It's too close to home
And it's too near the bone
More than you'll ever know ...
- The Smiths, That Joke Isn't Funny Anymore
Seriously, The Joke is Dead by Warren St. John in today's New York Times is a fascinating read into the obsolescence of a narrative form, perhaps with insights extending into the extinction of other narrative art forms. In the article, St. John speculates as to a number of reasons for the death of the joke: shortened attention spans without the patience for the set-up, the dominance of the observational style, an adversity to risk, increased political, cultural and sexual sensitivities and correctness, and perhaps, the atomic bomb, ADD, the Internet and even women. Yes. Women.
Women, it appears, were far ahead of their time, favoring the personal and observational style over the joke, whose intrinsic form required distance and often mean-spiritedness. While men were cranking out jokes in locker rooms, women were honing humor into its modern form. This evolution of contemporary humor saw the form, "Two men walk into a bar..." morph into "I was walking down Broadway and..."
But then again, the death of the joke might have begun a slow painful death in the Ancient Times. "Scholars say that while humor has always been around - in ancient Athens, for example, a comedians' club called the Group of 60 met regularly in the temple of Herakles - the joke has gone in and out of fashion." There was also Plato's Cave, which some have argued to be a concept for a future cinema. Our passive cinematic gaze requires no interaction, a requisite of the set-up form that is the joke. The action automated and media controlled.
Which is why if the Internet killed the art of letter writing found in the likes of Twain, Groucho Marx, and H.L. Mencken, its simply mauled the joke.
"Whatever tenuous hold the joke had left by the 1990's may have been broken by the Internet, Mr. Nilsen said. The torrent of e-mail jokes in the late 1990's and joke Web sites made every joke available at once, essentially diluting the effect of what had been an spoken form. While getting up and telling a joke requires courage, forwarding a joke by e-mail takes hardly any effort at all. So everyone did it, until it wasn't funny anymore."
May 21, 2005
Language Reform: Talking not Walking
What do the words viet-tard, vietnahm, and vieto have in common? They have absolutely nothing to do with Vietnam. Brush up on your street slang at urbandictionary. This is not a site for the easily offended, fundies be forewarned. And no, I did not submit the entry you will inevitably click. Urban Dictionary is user compiled and demonstrates the amazing versatility and play of language. Word.
Education Reform: Walking not Talking
Another story about the urgent need for educational reform in Vietnam rang out like a proclamation that the earth was in fact round. This type of story comes out in intervals, meanwhile little has changed.
To successfully carry out the country's industrialisation and modernisation process, higher education has to be renewed as quickly as possible, emphasised Prime Minister Phan Van Khai at a meeting of the National Education Council held yesterday in Hanoi. (VietnamNet, 21/05/2005)
Meanwhile, language classes at the Alliance Francais, British Council, Goethe Institut and private language schools are preparing the students for NOT continuing university level education in Vietnam but abroad! Regionally close Australia and Singapore remain targets with those with financial means. Students are languishing in Vietnamese universities. “Sending students overseas is not an efficient way” says Thomas Vallely, the new director of the Vietnam Education Fund of the Fulbright program, (the VEF is a US scholarship that enables technical and science students to study in the US, whereas the original Fulbright was only open in economics).
Meanwhile, "Vietnam will establish an additional 110 universities and colleges in the period to 2010 with an effort to raise the number of tertiary institutions to 354 throughout at that time, up from the current 244, according to a plan of the Ministry of Education and Training (MoET). [United Nations Development Program (UNDP)]" Hopefully there will be significant improvements to the existing ones first.
And universites alone do not make the student. See earlier posts on bookstores and libraries in Vietnam.
May 19, 2005
The Design of Dissent
Friday, June 3 - Saturday, July 2, 2005
School of Visual Arts presents The Design of Dissent,
an exhibition of over 100 political posters and other graphic art from around the world, curated by SVA faculty, board member and legendary designer Milton Glaser and graphic designer and SVA faculty, Mirko Ilić. The exhibition celebrates the launch of the publication The Design of Dissent: Socially and Politically Driven Graphics, with forward by playwright Tony Kushner, published by Rockport Press.
It's refreshing to see that an exhibition of Design for the Real World (referring to the title of Victor Papanek's influential 1971 book, still in print in over 23 languages). The School of Visual Arts is doing something important here, but MIT has been doing it for years. Take a look at Krzystof Wodiczko's Interrogative Design Workshop (IDW). The class changes its focus each semester, from Public Space and Fearless Speech: Technologies of Protest and Disagreement (Fall/2002) Designer as Democratic Agent (Fall/2003), and Questioning Memorials (Spring/2002). I had the pleasure of attending three semesters of IDW as a student, developing such projects as Sound Interventions and The Hydra Project. Sound Interventions also continued its life as Project NSDS on the rtmark funds. The kicker is that while MIT offers great courses to question power, the defense department remains one of MIT's largest patrons.
May 18, 2005
Late night in the office and a huge cockroach wizzes by my head. Then another time before I realize its a bat. Something's telling me I ought to go home earlier.
If you've never seen a one close up, which was me before tonight, here you go. You'll need windows media player to view this 30 second video clip (540kb).
May 16, 2005
In Brookline, Massachusetts there is a restaurant called Fugakyu. A restaurant with good sushi but a strange name.
The Yale Vietnamese Student Association printed "What the Phở?" t-shirts. The phonetics even merit a side note in the dictionary of food.
"The word "phở" is sometimes used hilariously in slogans such as "What the phở?" and "phở-king" because it sounds similar to the word fuck. (Phở is actually pronounced as 'fuh' in English or 'feu' in French.) In some areas, Phở King is a name of an actual restaurant."
Which brings us full circle back to fakkyuu, as it appears in an article this week's Sunday Times (UK) entitled, 'Japanese used to swear by code of good manners. Now they just swear.'
sans type thing
a thousand words
People from all walks of life parade through a field with the singular vision of ... allergy relief? Doesn't the propaganda poster and the advertisement for American pharmaceutical corporations share the same visual vocabulary?
Where the adage, "A picture is worth a thousand words" (propaganda) to "A word is worth thousand pictures" (stock photography search engines) becomes "A thousand words is worth a picture worth thousands of dollars" (advertising).
For more propaganda art than you can handle, go to 6park
May 13, 2005
blood soap blogs booyah
Blood and Soap
A collection of short stories (several of which are one sentence long) by Linh Dinh is a gem. At times a combo of Borges (language lust), Calvino (Dinh is working on his first novel in Certaldo, Italy) and Barry Yourgrau (wacked out dreams as word craft). Ignore the first story, Prisoner with a Dictionary. The idea is clever, but its style does not match the others. It reads like a high school creative writing exercise. I'm glad I didn't stop reading at the beginning. Linh, what were you on?
How do you configure all these new modules like technorati tags, flickr photos, links, etc? Beats me. Instead, check out some of these:
+ EastSouthWestNorth current events asia
+ supernaut art/design
+ danwei media and advertising in china
+ design observer collaborative blog by some of the best creative critics
+ Vietnam Visual Arts art culture in vietnam
+ bay area love ♥ vn art design
+ tawalas vn language arts culture criticism
And check out the motherlode of arts inforamation for download at UBUWEB. In the sound section: Early radio to Fluxus, categories from Conceptual, Contemporary to Ethnopoetics. You can download historical art texts, speeches. This is an arts research goldmine.
P1 in NY
1/2 of project one is in New York. Bui Cong Khanh has completed his arts residency at the Vermont Studios. Ly Hoang Ly has begun her new arts residence at the Cave Gallery in Williamsburg. Ly and Khanh will open their exhibition together with ceramacist, Pham Thi Thu Nga:
May 14th 2005 : 10am – 5pm
Presentation: 2pm – 3pm
Warren Weaver Hall
New York University
251 Mercer Street (corner of West 4th St)
Our last video project, missed connections, was screened in Vermont and is slated to shown in Nantes, France at Onoci later this summer. As for the other members, Uyen is currently working on her Fall/Winter 2005 Collection which will unveiled this summer's fashion show in Hanoi. I'm working on my installation for the Hugh Lane Gallery in Dublin and Hau preparing paintings for entry in national exhibition.
May 06, 2005
Middle Kingdom of Design?
Get It Louder commercial by Ou Ning and Cao Fe
Get It Louder, China's first curated design event takes place across three cities (Shenzhen, Beijing, Shanghai) among several venues from April through June.
I wrote earlier last month of the increasing sophistication of Thai design (Thaipography and Playground) . It seems that China has the one-up. Check out the website and a first-hand account of the festival on Design Observer.
I have discussed with colleagues here in Saigon the possibility of curating a contemporary typography exhibition here, showcasing work both produced locally and award-winning international work. We could also provide a forum where designers can discuss specific problems related to design in Vietnam, for example, Vietnamese typeface design.
Here's an excerpt from Rick Poyner's account of the ongoing event in China:
More interesting was the work that seemed to have something to say about China today and where it stands in relation to its past. A set of skateboards was decorated with images of smiling workers and the slogan “The People’s Republic of Skateboarding”. A T-shirt by a designer based in Shanghai bore the legend “Worker, Peasant and Soldier” (in English) next to a drawing of the trio. The worker and the peasant appeared to be kissing, which would never have happened under Chairman Mao, while the soldier looked the other way.
May 01, 2005
Lost in the Crowd
It's interesting to note the international coverage of the 30th Anniversary celebrations in Vietnam and the world, from the "liberation of Saigon" to the "fall of saigon", or in some quarters in Southern California, "Black April". There is coverage throughout the web. Here's two images I found particularly interesting.
(Photo: Associated Press)
Above we see the former flag of the Soviet Union. This is not an unusual sight, but look carefully. Is that Ho Chi Minh, THE CONDUCTOR? This has got to be doctored image.
The second image comes from the San Jose. I am going to save my commentary about this imagefor a later post, but it is suffice to say, that denial works in both directions.
Downtown Ho Chi Minh City was crazy. It took me over 1/2 hour to get out of the center of the city (which usually takes two minutes). My new pants got caught on someones motorbike during a traffic jam and ripped the bottom hem. Argh!
I returned home late evening and was greeted by a GIANT spider . What does THAT mean?