Tran Luong on the Gang of Five and Nhasan Studio

3:54 | Published on May 5, 2014 | 329 Views

Tran Luong discusses his training as a painter at the École des Beaux-Arts Hanoi and his involvement in the Gang of Five, a group of artists disenchanted with Vietnam’s culturally repressive environment. He then describes the growth of the country’s art market in the 1990s and his concurrent interest in performance and video as media less vulnerable to censorship. Finally, he describes his experience of travel, his decision to become a curator, and the founding of Nhasan Studio in 1998.

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I was trained as a painter in a very conservative school called École des Beaux-Arts Hanoi, founded by an Impressionist painter from Paris in 1925. The school was actually isolated, because of war all the time, and had no interaction with outside.

That’s why Gang of Five—Gang of Five is a group of painters that started in 1983. We were very hungry to do something new at that time. Vietnam was still a closed door—no art support, no market. Everything was ordered by government—everything should be romantic or propaganda.  So, rest was all kind of, you know, illegal. So, we really hated that kind of thing.

And our small group was watching what happened in Vietnam. We could not show work in a public place. We showed in our own studio, with no audience. We hung work every month. We drank wine and peanut. We talked about art.

So, 1990 was kind of gap—it turned from the “closed door” to an “open door”. We Gang of Five had our first public group show in a small gallery. So, we were surprised that it was not only something new in our own community, but also in writing, literature and filmmaking. They were also excited.

From 1990 to 1995, the market was growing fast, because of Vietnam’s open door—it was fashionable for people to come see a Post-Communist country.

So, after five years, it was apparent that the work turned, kind of, commercial and touristic. But radical work was, no way, it was still banned.

I saw that contemporary art was a really convenient form for us to escape from or sneak through, the censorship barrier, because you can do a happening performance. So, I turned to doing performance, and video—actually not yet video, because we needed equipment; we were still very poor—but performance, installation, and other art forms.

After that, I changed a lot. Because by that moment, I had enough years to travel around the world, and to see developed countries. Also, lately I traveled through our neighborhood, and somewhere with even harder life in a third-world country. So, it has helped me a lot to not only spend time for my own art.  So, I became a curator right after that.

So, I'm founder of Nhasan (“wooden house”), with dozens of members from 1998. We make a lot of crazy things, and much got banned by the government.

I feel that I tend to be more activist than artist—I don't care about my artwork much. And in the identity of contemporary art, and theoretical talk about the body of the art, and the people who are doing art, I think the duration and the processing of art is more important than the production.