Saigon Open City - A proposal by Rirkrit Tiravanija and Gridthiya Gaweewong

Series of exhibitions and events focusing on Liberation, Unification and (Re)construction

Rationale :

Saigon is not the place to hold the Biennale, rather, the city provides a unique opportunity to bring together the ideas of contemporary art and the rich culture of one of Asia’s principle cities. We would like this engagement to be both for creation of new art and it viewing side with art from Saigon’ past, an engagement in turn sustainable in the daily life of the city. We would like to introduce the idea of this event and exhibitions and these that follow as an “Open City”.

The concept of the Biennale is past. There are many Biennales around the world, but only a few Biennales are successful with a sustainable and appropriate for their context. Most of them were unsuccessful or short-lived because they were pre-mature, operated or launched without appropriate infrastructures or failed to get support from the artistic community, or failed to engage audiences or did not have long term strategies or clearer artistic goals.

The most significant reason why we would like to undertake “Saigon Open City” is to explore ‘for whom, and why’ one city, place, or community should establish the idea of a biennale exhibition? Who will receive the benefit from this kind of mainstream contemporary art event? Will its existence make sense and relate to its physical location ?   Are the location and audiences ready for the Biennale? What does it mean in this context? What is the relationship between contemporary art in the life of people in the city ?  

We would like to introduce the idea of sustainability of contemporary art in everyday life, not by organizing one major international exhibition every other year, as represent in the form of ‘Biennale’, often disconnected from its specific location and the cultural life. We would like to propose a series of exhibitions as events that will be work in progress, in content and in building audiences and artistic personnel,  which we would like to call, ‘Saigon Open City’.

Saigon Open City, as a metaphor of the potential of the new city, which recently open itself to the world, will serve as a forum for artists of all disciplines to interact, exchange ideas and support new initiatives. It will be an alternative to the existing model of international art exhibitions, e.g. Biennales and Triennials around the world, providing artists with an opportunity to re-think their cultural marketing, and organizational processes. It will also try to foster and cultivate a contemporary art infrastructure and  audience in Vietnam and the neighboring region.

Objectives : 

• To provide a forum for Vietnamese artists to interact, exchange ideas and work with regional and international artists from all disciplines, generations and background
• To promote an understanding of contemporary art and culture as a life long educational process.
• To set up the infrastructure for local art administration to build up in a sustainable approach.
• To empower the spirit of artistic community within the Vietnam art scene and to facilitate the collaboration between local art institutions and the community.
• To expand and deepen public awareness and appreciation for the diversity of contemporary artistic styles and practices.

Project Description

Saigon Open City is a long-term art and cultural project consisting of exhibitions and special events that will run within two years period from January 2006 – December 2007. It will address the significance of modern and contemporary art, looking at visual strategies and historical contexts in Vietnam from the liberation period up until the present. Saigon Open City will contextualize and juxtapose these strategies and contexts with  regional and global perspectives. The exhibitions will be based on specific, thematically – based chapters. The three different chapters will focus on the issues of liberation, unification and (re)construction. 

The first chapter, Liberation, is scheduled tentatively for during 2006. It will survey visual arts, which dealt with everyday life during liberation period in Vietnam. It will simultaneously look at the art created in Vietnam along side that produced by regional and international artists. The second chapter will focus on the Unification, and the third chapter will focus on (Re)construction, the current situation in Vietnam.

Open City will run for about two years, starting from January 2006.  We want to bridge the gap between three-generation of artists and audiences, by promoting an awareness of contemporary art to the general public, through a series of proposed events, lectures, workshops and educational programs. The artistic directors will collaborate with three local curators, who specialize in each period. While on the other hand collaborations with Artists as well as professionals in the visual arts scenes from the neighboring as well as the larger global perspective, will also be engaged in the process of Open City. Through a series of workshops and lectures during the periods of each chapter of Open City, will be an opportunity and venue for exchanges and exposure both from and by the local artistic community as well as the international and regional arts community.  From the three chapters we will present, we would like to bring a greater perspective to both the greater public audience as well as the artistic community, to understand a greater sense of contemporary art and its importance and its function in society.

Project Outline

Open City Chapter  1 :  LIBERATION 

Liberation will be the first chapter of Open City exhibitions. It will focus on social reality portrayed through the daily life of Vietnamese people during Liberation period, as well as the contextual influences which it had on the greater scheme of life on a global scale.  

Open City will start with art works produced by Vietnamese artists – the product of Indochina School of Art, the ‘Resistance Class’, Vietnam Diasporas, while in the same moment the exhibition will also focus on the conditions of artistic practices both in the neighboring region as well as on an international level. This chapter of the exhibition is intended to contextualize how society as a whole and its conditions is addressed by artistic practices, and how the theme of Liberation has resonated from a local daily condition into a global effect. The artists and their works will be presented in juxtaposition and contrasts with each other, whereby giving the audience an opportunity to visualize for themselves how different artistic methods and approaches are able to mediate or negotiate and reflect the conditions in society. 

The project will be dispersed in between different venues of already existing  cultural institutions within Ho Chi Minh City.  The institutions will in themselves vary from such spaces as the Ho Chi Minh City Fine Art Museum to the War Remnants Museum and the Woman Revolutionary Museum,  as well as such established contemporary art exhibition spaces  as the  Blue Space Contemporary Art Center and the newer and more recently opened private galleries in Ho Chi Minh City Area.  As the theme of the exhibition Open City, the exhibition would like to present to its audiences the possibility of engaging and understanding the already existing context, in which culture and contemporary artistic practices are exhibited, and how this engagement can be an important and fulfilling part of their contemporary daily life.

Open City  chapter 2 :  UNIFICATION 

Proposed Venue : Reunification Hall, Zoo, Saigon biennale warehouse, private galleries  (galerie quynh, Mai Gallery, Blue Space Contemporary Art Cener, etc.)

- “Reality was depicted by future tense.”   
Open City 2 will focus on the unification period and pre-open door policy (1975-1986). It is the most difficult period needed to be addressed due to bringing back together the North and the South. This period is the most important time not only to the country but also global community. It saw a change in the global political climate and the beginning of a new world order. The term “unification” will serve as a metaphor. We would like to introduce the audience the notion of artistic practices both public and private manners. It will be both direct collaboration with community and indirectly involvement, but open to public realm by individual artists.

To capture this period, in the local context, we would like to undertake research on Vietnamese artists whose work addressed the notion of ‘future-ness’. Concurrently, we will investigate the situation outside of Vietnam from global artistic community. We will examine their reaction to this important period, which later on translated into their artistic practices.  The idea of community-based, and public art project will be developed and presented. Projects will foster public participation. It should break the notion of ‘time capsule’ and try to open up the community’s expectation and familiarity with arts. 

- Conference  & Workshop

Open City chapter 3 :  RE- CONSTRUCTION

Proposed Venues : Warehouses, Existing spaces, public spaces and TV

“In art, amidst this rapid change and blossoming diversity, in contrast to the past fifty years, there is now only one Vietnamese art. The earlier divisions between traditional and modern, north and south, socialist and capitalist, representational and abstract, national and international are like the rest of the society, is on the move expanding, experimenting, seeking a future that is once modern and international, but remains very much Vietnamese.   

Re-construction will focus on Vietnam today. It will center around changes that happened gradually in every corner of daily life in Vietnam after Doi Moi. The country’s open door policy brought new opportunities for the Vietnamese resulting in urbanization, sub-cultures and repatriation.

This chapter will focus on artists of today’s generation. The exhibition will be a combination of existing works, works from previous chapter, and new commissioned works by young Vietnamese artists either local or Diasporas and international artists. They will be in response to this transformation to Vietnam of today. International participants artists  should have at least a first hand experience of the city, and culture, in order to produce the works accordingly.

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