Contemporary art spaces are now gaining a firmer foothold among local and expat art lovers, especially youths.
On one mid-June evening, in a 15 square meter room, 10 youths are sitting on the floor, intently watching a new film by one of the group members and listening to him recount his filmmaking experiences, in English, before asking questions. Artist-instructor Nguyen Tran Uu Dam, who has worked abroad for several years, would then correct the student’s use of words and presenting style.
This was one of the sessions of the week-long “English for artists” project initiated by Zero Station, one of several emerging contemporary art venues in HCMC.
The new incubator of artistic creativity
Most local contemporary art venues, including San Art and Dia Project, go to great lengths to hold free classes, workshops and talks between artists and the public, particularly youths, on a monthly basis.
It takes only a small room, a projector, an orator-artist and 10 to 15 participants to have a discussion, which can cover a wide variety of subject matters, ranging from graphic design to cartoons or simply explanations or interpretations of installation artworks.
Over the past two years, with the increasingly popular trend of art globalization and the impact of social networks, more local youths now find these venues an ideal outlet for their artistic creative power.
Participants come from a wide age bracket and various professions, including artists, art and architecture students, office workers, doctors, engineers and businesspeople, but youths make up the majority.
“Going to these art venues is just like turning on a kaleidoscope. Each session provides fresh images and perspectives and all facets deserve close contemplation and help nurture my artistic outlooks,” shared Thanh Thanh, a student at the HCMC Architecture University.
Apart from creating maximum interaction between artists and the public, these contemporary art venues also try to enrich their members’ artistic knowledge with various resources including books, magazines and films.
Nguyen Nhu Huy, director of Zero Station, said that once he screened an Iranian film at the request of only three youths, adding that films on art from other countries open new horizons and help shape local youths’ artistic outlook.
Similarly, Decibel Lounge and Saigon Outcast screen films on art followed by discussions and presentations at fixed hours, while San Art opens its reading room of more than 2,000 art books and magazines to its members every day.
Young art lovers not only sit still in discussions or workshops but also experience art first hand.
One early afternoon, the scorching heat couldn’t stop more than a hundred youths from taking part in a street art fair held by Saigon Outcast, located in District 2’s Thao Dien area and made up of two shipping containers.
The “Graffiting on the alleys” project, held by Zero Station, drew four youths from a group called Click 9, who took up residence and drew at the venue for 20 days.
They scribbled graffiti on the walls of the residential area where Zero Station is based.
“With limited space for graffiti in Vietnam, the project changes how the residents in the area think of graffiti, and helps us know how they feel as well,” shared Liar Ben, a graffiti artist.
Most contemporary art venues hold exchange programs in which foreign artists take residence at the venues for free and hold exhibits, talks and film screenings.
“Exposed to many artists with different perspectives, I wavered quite a lot at first regarding my filmmaking concepts, but after this struggle I gained the composure to learn and adapt myself to the changing world of art,” confided Minh Quy, 23, an independent filmmaker who loves frequenting such venues.
These venues are also among foreigners’ favorite places.
“Contemporary art may seem unfamiliar to Vietnamese people, but foreigners, even kids, really appreciate and relish it. However, we hope our activities will appeal to more locals, as is intended,” said Tra Nguyen, from San Art.
“After five years of working with several contemporary art venues in HCMC, I think Vietnamese youths are now aspiring and eager to learn more about art. I believe that local artists and art enthusiasts will thrive soon if they stick to this model,” said Italian Antonio Rosciano, one of the “Live Performaners Meeting” directors.
Some of the contemporary art venues in Ho Chi Minh City:
- San Art: 3 Me Linh Street, Binh Thanh district
- Dia Project: 227 9A Street, Binh Thanh district
- Zero Station: 288, Nam Ky Khoi Nghia Street
- Saigon Outcast: 118/1 Nguyen Van Huong Street, District 2.