True Gold #24

Sourcing images from mass media and archives, Le Quy Tong’s True Gold series transcends time and dissolves borders in a global study of political discord. Chronologically, True Gold begins with the triumphant 1945 August Revolution in Vietnam and ends with a dissident protestor at the 2014 Hong Kong Umbrella Revolution. The intermediate images reflect a widening gyre of unrest and revolutionary sentiment spanning the last seventy years, including photographs from the 1968 international anti-war protests and Total Freedom / anti-globalisation protest at the 2007 G8 summit. They appear faded, emphasising this passing through time and our removal from the original experience. Tong’s manipulations of each image create heavy distortions and eschew any clear reading of events. What we are left with is our own interpretation. (Maria Sowter)


“We set foot in Vị Xuyên martyrs’ cemetery, which had 1,768 (until July 2013) graves of the deceased from 1979 to the beginning of 1990, especially in 1984 and 1988. I recorded all the information about these 1,768 people, which were etched on their tombstones. From the information I collected, I used Google Maps to draw connecting paths from their hometowns to Vị Xuyên (where they sacrificed their lives and their remaining corpses were concentrated). I separated these paths from the maps, for all that’s left are the cold and meaningless lines. in other words, we can only see 1,768 winding strokes. Is there anything left but 1,768 routes which all lead to death at the same place?” (Phùng Tiến Sơn)

The decade long Sino-Vietnamese War, otherwise known as the Third Indochina War, from 1979-1991, finally cemented the land border between Vietnam and China. Intrigued by this lesser-known conflict, Sơn traveled repeatedly over a six month period to the Vị Xuyên cemetery, situated just over 250 km north of Hanoi in the Hà Giang province, to visit soldiers’ graves who had died fighting there. He then used the information of each soldiers’ birthplace, recorded from their headstone, to generate in Google Maps the 1,768 speculative journeys leading to the cemetery that later became the Soundtracks artworks. The familiar blue route guides were then abstracted and aestheticized; removed from their geographical context and colored red, the lines appear stark and erratic against their white background. The single dots that recur throughout the work indicate tombstones of anonymous soldiers, buried without identification. These marks fill the squares that are found in each work: in the hanging panels that have been arranged to imitate an aerial view of the cemetery land, and in the touchscreen display that forms the sound work of the installation.

Soundtracks‘ – the sound installation, combines these imagined trajectories with the military dirge ‘Hồn Tử Sĩ’ (To the Souls of the Martyrs) to create an interactive work that builds on the artist’s history as a musical composer, as well as his ongoing interest in technology. The song was used by the antagonistic governments of both North and South Vietnam and continues to be used today in official military and state funerals. Sơn used customized software to reconfigure the melody to each journey, distorting the sound by altering its playback speed, and creating 1,768 versions of the same song. The amount of distortion reflects how much the trajectory diverges from the shortest path – a straight line between the start and endpoints. Curves to the right slow down the sound, while curves to the left speed it up. Tempo, tone, and balances are subsequently engineered to follow the various contours of each path chosen by the viewer via the work’s interactive display. Path and song then play out across the screen: the original score’s solemn sound modified with a lurching, technological influence. Through this digital manipulation of sound, the artist initiates a space for quiet reflection from his audience, leaving them room to contemplate the overarching sense of futility with which the work engages.

The Unhappy Dragon

Nguyen Minh Phuoc, with his Unhappy Dragon, makes reference at once to both mythological elements as well as the Vietnam of today. His aerial series is composed of 16 plexiglass disks that float in air as a recomposition of the animal and possibly the dragon’s dance: upon each of which a Vietnamese face is imprinted. Surrounding each work, hundreds of newspaper cuttings that relate diverse facts and which therein symbolise the daily existence of a population. (Marie Terrieux)

Emotion Refuge

The main thread of the [work] is the idea of migration and the routes and halts until a destination is reached. The main piece is again a sculpture. The fabric the sculpture is dressed in comes from Indonesia and it references the pattern of the so-called refugee bag. There is a closeness and concomitantly a distance between the viewer and the sculpture which is exposed but at the same time sheltered by the walls around it. One can assume that this sensation is similar in the initial relationships immigrants experience in a foreign country.


Flowers as found in ‘Where have all the flowers gone’ song listed as one of top 20 influencing political songs is a song by Pete Seeger. The song’s lyric is inspired by Mikhail Sholokhov’s novel The Quite Flows the Don and with the three lines of the songs from an Ukrainian folk song. ‘Where are the flowers, the girls have plucked them. Where are the girls, they’ve all taken husbands. Where are the men, they’re all in the army.’ The song is listed as anti-war song in the era of 1960s. With the compose of neon light of flowers writing in rose color, the work brings the mood of peaceful light to the existence of flowers while in the background, the music and the lyric of ‘Where have all the flowers gone?’ keeps repeatedly played asking the question of physical plus virtual concept of peace. (Tran Minh Duc)

The Vacant Chair

‘The vacant chair’ is part of Bang Nhat Linh’s long term practice, in which, the whole process reflects “the surveys into the depths of memories, history, submerged psychological spaces, and of oblivion…”, in which “war memorabilia are taken from their original contexts to be placed within a new context, or they are positioned in a relationship with human as communicable and interactive objects…”

‘The vacant chair’ is a multi-layered video installation. It is an intimate narrative, whereby social issues derived from modern history of a turbulent Vietnam are unveiled: the wounds, tolerance, optimism, as well as the special relationship amongst those who remain. From a broader angle, it suggests an universal sense of existence and death, particularly the limited nature of the human race… On the other hand, through the act of transforming a powerful symbol of war into a symbol of love and loss, the work steps out of its geographical context to tell a universal story of all humanity. ‘The vacant chair’, therefore, is a song of humanity, and for humanity…

*’The vacant chair’ is a popular song during the American Civil War written by George F. Root in 1861 based on a poem by Henry S. Washburn. The song signifies the loss and emptiness of those who lost their loved ones in the Civil War, it specially gained empathy from both the North and the South of the United States during the war.

This is version 2/2 of the artwork, was on display at “SUNSHOWER: Contemporary Art from Southeast Asia 1980s to Now”– Mori Art Museum, Tokyo, Japan in 2017, curated by team of the National Art Center, The Mori Art Museum and 4 independent curators from Southeast Asia. Previously it was exhibited at Địa Projects Dong Khoi and Nha San Collective (Hanoi) in 2015 (curated by Le Thuan Uyen). Version 1/2 was presented in Exhibition “Mien Meo Mieng” at Builmusset, Umea, Sweden (curated by Tran Luong).


Sanctified Clouds

From afar, smoke has an irresistible charm, like beautiful fireworks. Modern Vietnamese history witnessed almost six decades of continual fighting (1930–1980). Flames burst on bodies, bridges, and towns. Smoke and haze of bombs resemble clouds, but also a deathly power. (RAQS Media Collective on Phuong Linh’s work at Shanghai Biennale 2016)

Almost 200 small masses of Sanctified Clouds fly over the wall, foam beautifully and shine in blue hue – the blue of peace, Oriental ceramics, and sacred mosaic paintings in Arabic temples. However, looking closely, we realize that these soft white are not clouds, but actually the masses of dust and smoke bursting all around. Phuong Linh collected images of bomb explosions, initially in the Vietnam War, and then gradually expanded to other conflicting areas in the Middle East. This expansion seems to be a reasonable progression along the history timeline, yet it is strikingly cruel when it demonstrates the repetition as never-ending acts of armed force in human history. To emphasize further the insensitive violence of bombing, Phuong Linh cut off the entire context of the photos, leaving only smoke and dust swirling in midair. When viewers are immersed in seemingly harmless and splendid clouds printed on pottery sheets, one suddenly awakens from the aesthetic illusion and realizes that he or she has fallen into a cloud of burning dust from hundreds thousands of bombs. When the exploded cloud dissolved, another explosion occurred to generate another cloud. They become immortal like saints.


Blind Map

The lacy pattern on the canvas was in fact created by the termite eating its surface when Truong Cong Tung put the roll in his rented house for a year. This work resembles again his repetitive motif of letting the object be destroyed, transformed and changed its original characteristic and function. It is a map not drawn by cartographer whose eyes are focusing in each details of the geographical land but by the termite colony that occupy and represent their road of living and ruining.