New higher level at Artvietnam Gallery 2009 ← Back to the portfolio
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Vietnam is one of the fasting growing economies in SE Asia, racing towards aprosperous future like a missile seeking light after centuries of darkness. An
unharnessed energy is transforming the very foundation of societal values just as certainly as it is the physical landscape.
Nguyen The Son, Chinese scholar, artist, and a keen observer of life’s vagaries, now offers us a body of work that reflects upon on this maelstrom of change. “I am a young person born in modern Vietnamese society. My memory of my childhood is lined just a little with the Doi Moi (Open Door) renovation policy,”Son, who is 31 years old, observes. “Conflicts emerge when nonstop development is mixed with the culture and the society. A tension emerges between values—those of traditional society and the values of the West, the new,imposed values of perceived progress and internal spiritual values.”These new values appear rapidly and continuously. For the Vietnamese, as for so many before them who have traveled the same path, this creates a kind of submerged storm of confusion and alienation. So does the constant change toward “the modern” shake society’s very foundation. For Son’s father, a bicycle was an item of great value. In Son’s youth the object of choice was the Honda Dream motorbike, and today they include a Lexus, a million dollar villa, trips abroad, designer clothing—in all, a never-ending stream of material goods.
Where lies value in such a condition of incessant change? What face does it wear? These, in effect, are Son’s questions. After centuries of suffering come
rhetorical broadcasts from village megaphones promoting national unity and slogans advocating virtuous ways of living. Amid this cacophony, the Vietnamese now search for new voices of wisdom and insight. Son attempts to address this problem in society in the series of works here titled “New Higher Level,” that phrase familiar to anyone exposed to official propaganda. “My way in making art is the responsibility of the young generation
of artists to make a real new higher level,” Son says, “to try to discover and recognize the real value of life in humans, art, music, and literature.“ Using Chinese ink and natural pigment on silk, the traditional medium of Vietnam, Son paints bamboo scaffolding wrapped in striped construction netting
and appears to suggest that the modernization of the country is covering and obstructing a valid, still-living past. Megaphones dangle from concrete light poles hung with a maze of hundreds of wires, the voice of the past suspended by the current of the future. It is against the background of these questions—questions concerning established and arriving values—that we must view Nguyen The Son’s paintings.
In his chosen media and in his imagery we find the very conflicts that beset the Vietnamese psyche today. Socialist megaphones hung from industrial age towers, each done in ghostly grays and blacks and set against a background of traditional landscape, all of it rendered in natural pigment on silk: it is by coming to terms with such works that we understand what NT Son means when he titles this exhibition “New Higher Level.” What is being built in Vietnam today is far more fundamental than anything we see, he tells us. The built environment, indeed, reflects the larger project—that is, the construction of a new Vietnamese identity, a new self. NT Son describes this phenomenon the only way one can— with the precision of the poet or the painter.