American artist Mark Cooper has recently joined seven Vietnamese artists in an exhibition in downtown Ha Noi titled Yu Yu Vietnam Blue.
This event is part of the official 20th anniversary celebrations of relations between the US and Viet Nam. After the closing date on January 9, a part of the artists' works will be shown at art events in the US.
Culture Vulture talks to Cooper on the event and his work.
Could you tell us the concept of the exhibition?
The concept is collaborating and the idea is when everyone works in his or her own voice, we put all the voices together. That means some of the parts are greater than the individual parts and the conversation between the parts is interesting. Furthermore, the metaphor of everyone working together to make something greater than the individual parts is transferred to all parts of life.
How have you carried out the project?
From the very beginning, I met with the museum authorities, and thanks to David Thomas and the Indochina Arts Partnership, who helped introduced me to the people including Nguyen Anh Tuan [an independent curator], we spoke with the universities, and the US embassy. I also came several times to Viet Nam. We sometimes worked together in a studio, no English, no Vietnamese, we just trusted in each other. They would do something and I would respond. We also communicated through Internet, emails, discussed ideas and showed our works.
It really started a year ago. And a lot of work have been done in the past six months. I think the advantages are that things happen when you work collaboratively. For example, the piece with traditional silk painting and my ceramic cloud forms as sculptures underneath talk to each other. One of the important things I have learnt is that the collage installation is where all parts talk to each other, and when the viewer and research prove that this engages with the viewers' mind they understand the work differently than a lonely painting that has a story with a beginning, middle and end. So I think it is a very exciting way to work.
What do you think about Vietnamese artists?
They have been terrific. They have also been generous and open. They are aware of international art works and what other people are doing. Five or six days ago, all of us gathered in our studio to take pictures before we went to the exhibition. It was for the first time I saw many of the artists' work and it went well beyond my hopes and expectations. It was amazing to see what they have done. I mean, who would think of submerging my objects in ice-cream and let it melt and put that on a video and get a painting from it? Or submerge my ceramic in liquid. That is amazing. I am the person who learnt much from that. I think it engages the viewers.
You have been to Viet Nam several times. What is your impression of the country?
The people are warm and gracious. When they want to get things done, they get it done very quickly. They are hard-working. The country is beautiful. I love Viet Nam. I think it is an amazing country. I have been to Ha Long Bay, Hue, Hoi An, Da Nang...villages outside Ha Noi, where people make puppets, ceramics and paper art.
Do you have any plans to co-ordinate with Vietnamese artists in the future?
Absolutely. First of all, this first event coincides with the 20th anniversary celebrations of open relations between Viet Nam and the US. So it is a kind of celebration that way. But I already included some of the collaboration with Vietnamese artists in exhibitions at the Seattle Museum (Living Computer Museum) in July and August, and some of exhibitions at the Kemper Museum in Kansas City in March of next year. I have summer media plans of important museums to show the works. Hopefully, some of these would travel to other parts of Asia as well. — VNS