[LOCATION]Flutgraben e.V., Am Flutgraben 3, 12435 Berlin
[CURATORS]Nhà Sàn Collective
[ARTISTS]Nguyễn Văn Song, Nguyễn Duy Anh, Síu Phạm, Nguyen Tan Hoang, Vu T. Thu Ha, Quynh Dong
Video art festival on the former border dividing East and West
D’EST Cycle #2: Screening Chapter “The Hometown Sky is as Blue as a Song”
Image: Síu Phạm, Sing an Idle song, 2019.
D’EST Cycle #2: Screening Chapter Trời quê hương trong xanh như lời hát [The Hometown Sky is as Blue as a Song]
curated by Nhà Sàn Collective
with Nguyễn Văn Song, Nguyễn Duy Anh, Síu Phạm, Nguyen Tan Hoang, Vu T. Thu Ha and Quynh Dong
Guests: Phan Đông Thái
June 9, 2023, 8.45 – 9.45 pm
June 10, 2023, 9.45 – 10.45 pm
December 9, 2023, 10.30 – 11.30 pm
Videotapes of Paris By Night, a musical variety show produced by overseas Vietnamese, being passed around like treasured assets. Propaganda music blaring from the public loudspeaker system in the morning. ABBA songs on the cassette players at the newly-launched cafe shops. Booming karaoke at every gathering. Those were the sonic moments of 1990s Vietnam when one recalls about Đổi Mới. Đổi Mới (Renovation) is usually thought of in relation to the economic reforms initiated by Vietnamese government in 1986 with the aim of shifting from centrally-planned to market-oriented economy. This shift, we reckon, could be approached as a process of relearning and recognizing Vietnam as a diverse society where economic and cultural variables have always been interdependent, interconnected—across space and throughout history. However, it was not until the era after Đổi Mới that such complex diversity could be openly discussed.
Lively sonic memories of that era ripple through the music resonating from our screening program. Love songs, patriotic songs, songs that were once ideologically forbidden, bolero songs, karaoke songs, contemporary folk-pop of today as well as punk rock and gospels. In this diversity lies the coexistence, nonlinear across space-time, of bodies faced with constant upheavals amid interwoven streams and layers of images. Bodies of people, of the ecology, of the city, of the hometown, of the sea become connected in states of floating and suspension: in wait, in dream, in sleep. Such states allow us time to revisit memories of hidden, repressed, or misinterpreted histories, to imagine and thus reshape the social landscapes.
Featured in our selection are moving image works made from 2000 till now by Vietnamese-born artists, living in Vietnam, USA, and Switzerland. As the films unfold, the collective and personal experiences of this era of socialist-oriented market economy, of monetizing and spiritualizing, of globalization and localization echo through a never-ending stream of songs, creating a music of desire, nostalgia, sex, death, humor and chaos. Similar to the color blue – which treats the lines between contrasting sentiments – and which from a synesthetic perspective sounds like hope, but also suggests an ineffable sadness. Our program navigates a new memory of home, appearing “as blue as a song.”
Nguyễn Văn Song, À Í A, 2016, 5’
“Near my village most land has been sold, saved for the modest graveyard off in the distance.” A self-produced music video by Nguyễn Văn Song, featuring himself, to the track of a contemporary folk pop song, its title an onomatopoeia for the humming sounds in northern Vietnamese lullabies. The artist, donning a white-collar worker’s ensemble of white shirt and dark trousers, daydreams in a flurry of superimposed footage of a bygone agrarian landscape with flocks of storks, paddy fields, cows and buffalos. There is a tinge of whimsical irony in the song’s grievous laments, how one chose to sing of irreversible urbanization, and the rough hems of a homemade video.
Síu Phạm, Sing an Idle Song, 2020, 6’
Spaces are constantly overlaid over one another, like a window, a crack. A middle-aged man plays the guitar while singing a sorrowful song; the sea. Deluged roads in a tropical country; a sleeping woman. A garden; an unfamiliar spirit. Lines of poetry. We don’t know where to hold onto, for everything is restless. From the song, many questions echo: “What are you singing?”
Nguyen Tan Hoang, PIRATED!, 2000, 11’
The video unites two moments of Vietnamese history — the aftermath of 1975 and the normalization of diplomatic relations between Vietnam and USA — in a vivid gay sex dream of a teenager. This subversive dream-memory fuses yellow music love songs and Western film music and splices together bodies of Hollywood famous actors, gay porn stars, Asian gays refugees and Vietnamese divas. Languages, subtitles, songs and body-sea images mingle, collide, loop.
Nguyễn Duy Anh, In Bloom/ Vườn hoa nhà anh Bính, 2019, 13’
Bính’s family has run a flower farm for a few generations. His flowers bloom under the shadow of the cathedral in front of his house, and to the sounds of gospel songs. Night falls: the film sheds off its cinema verite approach, a cross pollination of dreamlike, artificially manipulated music and images of desire transpires.
Vu T. Thu Ha, Shut Up White Boy, 2002, 13’
When a white young man brings his newest Filipino girlfriend to an Asian restaurant, weird happenings ensue. The film by Vu T. Thu Ha and her team of Asian American queer women artists, among them punk rock musicians, shows a racialized dream-comes-true nightmare of revenge, desire, lust and fun. Made in 16 mm B&W celluloid which flattens skin colors to shades of grays, the film also fuses Vietnamese/Asian love songs and punk rock into the same sphere of fantasy and retribution.
Quynh Dong, My Everything, 2012, 16’
In this performance, a music video is played live in a loop. The artist makes everyday gestures, washing her face, making phone calls, eating instant noodles, and puts herself into the words of the sad love song titled Nếu (If), interpreted by Đông Nhi and Noo Phước Thịnh. Here Quynh Dong appropriates the vocabulary of the female character in sad music videos. She is interested in questions such as, repetition in performance, theatrical as a tool and portraying stereotypical imagery.