by Le Binh and Miriam Glass
Vertical village: Living Together in Paradise by Nguyen Manh Hung. The installation was exhibited in Norway in 2009 and Germany in 2010.
HA NOI — A tall building breaks through the white clouds like a rocket and rises high up into the sky. People live close to each other in this building, peacefully and harmoniously.
The building is actually artist Nguyen Manh Hung's new exhibition, entitled Living Together in Paradise, which opened yesterday at the Goethe Institute in Ha Noi. The powerful and unique installation invokes nostalgia for Hanoians who once lived in apartment buildings.
The three-dimensional structure incorporates the space surrounding the sculpture into the artwork. This is not only the first time Hung has presented his model to Vietnamese audiences, but it is also one of the rare instances of a diorama presented in an art exhibition in Viet Nam.
It represents a "vertical village", Almuth Meyer-Zollitsch, director of the Goethe Institute, said at the show's opening. The 70cm by 70cm tower, standing at 3m high, combines modern architectural styles with the lifestyle of the past.
"I grew up in an apartment building and this experience influenced my life," said Hung.
He used cheap, recycled materials, such as waste paper, wood, and small pieces of cloth to create an impressive number of fascinating details. There are miniature clothes hanging on the balconies, little air conditioners on the building's walls, and even plants nestled in the rooftop garden.
One exhibition viewer felt nostalgic instantly: "The diorama is very interesting to remind the viewers at the exhibition about a lifestyle in the past. I used to live in these buildings when I was a small girl so it moves me."
The apartment buildings in Ha Noi inspired Hung's project, which was conceived of ten years ago but could not be brought to fruition due to Hung's lack of money and experience at that time.
"My fantasy buildings have little to do with urban life. They are much more like a complex village stacked upon itself," said Hung.
"My apartment building is a proposal for an improved living space. The people who live there should be able to grow vegetables in the city, to share everything with each other, to live together harmoniously. Like in paradise! It's about trust, not privacy," he said.
In 2004 he began to paint entire neighbourhoods. Five years later these drawings became a three-dimensional work.
Hung studied painting at the Ha Noi Fine Arts College, graduating in 2002. Since then he has become a major influence on the contemporary art scene in Viet Nam. He is currently the curator and artistic director of the Nha San Duc contemporary art studio.
His surrealist works have been presented around the world in numerous solo and group exhibitions. His apartment building installation was exhibited in 2009 at the Stenersenmuseet/ Stenersen Museum in Oslo and in the Gallery 3.14 in Bergen. From December 2009 to October 2010 the piece was on display in the galleries of the Institute for Foreign Relations in both Berlin and Stuttgart.
The exhibition is open to the public daily from 9am to 9pm until April 30 at the Ha Noi Goethe Institute, 56-58 Nguyen Thai Hoc Street. On April 15 at 6pm, the artist will be present at the exhibition to discuss his work. — VNS