This Saturday, exhibitions in two venues, Atelier Wonderful and Saigon Open City, featured new works by students - many currently studying at the Ho Chi Minh City Fine Art University. It was refreshing, not so much in that the work was particularly strong or new, but for the young energy and ambition that pervaded gatherings. There was a solid sense of pride among the young. And if you live in Vietnam, you know that students are rarely this bold. They are not accustomed to being given the freedom to express their opinion.
Thao, a first-year student at the university shared her recent video work. It's interesting that she took one idea, that is using her hands to communicate stories, and recycled this device through three videos. The videos were screened on monitors and projected onto the floor of Atelier Wonderful and then followed by an artists presentation where she and friends facilitated an very honest and open dialogue. The work, technically, had many problems. Many agreed that the coupling of pop music to the work was problematic. Thao, herself, acknowledged that she ultimately was not satisfied with the work but would work to improve the concept and execution of future work.
Later that evening, several other university students presented installation based work in the studio spaces at Saigon Open City. There wasn't a lot of innovation in the installations were certainly far from being site specific - the work could have been installed anywhere without a significant change in meaning. But many were labor intensive and heart felt. Others activited their installations through performances and audience participation. Other installations used prerecorded sound and lighting effects.
The kicker is that the Ho Chi Minh Fine Art University to this day refuses to incorporate installation, performance and video into their curricula despite the wide student interest in these forms. The reluctance and indeed opposition to contemporary art practices reveals the core of the problem facing art education in Vietnam - that is that the instructors are not accountable to the students. They needn't education themselves, nor is their interpretion of "what is art" open for debate. Also, the education system is unwilling to invest in new teachers or retrain their existing faculty.
For example, Thao used her own camera to make her video work and the Atelier Wonderful to make final edits. In fact the Ho Chi Minh City Fine Art University has several workstations, a 3ccd PAL video camera, a video monitor and tape deck - all of which are locked up onlyto be used for recording university ceremonies and official events. Students do not have access to the equipment nor are there teachers at the school that can teach courses in video art. I taught a contemporary video art course at the university in 2003 and midway through the 2nd semester, my course was put on indefinite review (meaning I was fired without actually saying so). There has not been a contemporary art course at the university since.
The students are eager to learn. They are seeing international work and are filled with questions and need critical feedback. Until the university can reform, they will be getting a large part of their education at spaces outside of the university. Precisely because these spaces are the only ones that will allow to freely experiment.
Guy Debord, artist and leading figure of the Situationist art movement, one lamented in an essay about the poverty of student life. This preceded the 1968 student riots in Paris. Burn baby burn.
Posted by on May 6, 2006 10:09 PM | Permalink