Huế - Then Cafe in the former royal capital city of Huế is among eight recipients of grants from the Danish Culture Development and Exchange Fund (CDEF) to carry out and develop their activities during 2018.
Located at 63 Lê Trung Định Street, Then Cafe is a rare art and culture hub for the city’s artists to meet, exchange and work together. It has become a destination not just for Huế’s artists, as well as for those across Việt Nam and the world.
Its owner Trần Tuấn was born and raised in Huế, and graduated from the Huế Fine Arts University. His installation artwork Forefinger was displayed in the Singapore Biennale 2014.
Nguyễn Thúy Bình interviews artist Tuấn about Then Cafe and his plans in 2018 with the CDEF fund.
Is this the first time Then Cafe has received a grant from the CDEF fund?
This is actually the second time that the cafe has received it, and the fourth time that I have personally received it. We aim to promote participation from the community when it comes to art events, in order to connect art to the community.
I have twice received a grant from the CDEF for my individual projects – Altered Cloud artwork and the Golden Fingers exhibition.
What does Then Cafe plan to do with this year’s grant ?
We will expand and develop this year’s DASH project to create a residency programme for 10 young Vietnamese artists and six artists from other East Asian countries. The Vietnamese artists will be from Hà Nội, Huế, HCM City, and the central provinces of Quảng Bình, Quảng Trị and Nghệ An. The other East Asian artists will be from Japan, South Korea, Chinese Hong Kong, Indonesia, Thailand, and Cambodia.
The DASH project aims to build a creative space to promote new artistic ideas and address social issues, as well as providing a space for artists to collaborate and interact with each other. We’ll build appropriate facilities and action programmes to stimulate art projects that are based on the model of connecting artists to the community.
The main purpose of this project is to support specific artworks which pave a way to enhance residents’ participation in art activities, step by step connecting arts to the community. The project will challenge artists to put aside their regular role of being creators, and instead, to shake hands with the community for these common aims such as developing a public, democratic, and humanitarian environment.
The project will create a residency programme for invited artists to come to Huế City, and stay at the Làng Art Dorm where they can research the local social context in Thừa Thiên-Huế Province, and, finally, operate a work with the participation of the local community. Their artworks will be displayed at Then Café.
The project selectively invites foreign artists, who have broad experience in practicing arts with engagement from the community, together with young Vietnamese colleagues, to carry out field trips and create artworks along the way.
The knowledge and skills acquired by young Vietnamese artists from professional foreign artists will in turn become their own tools and experience, helping them to be more confident when practicing community-engaged art projects in future.
Art, itself, is originally diverse. Hence, DASH project is designed for the public to actively engage in arts and to find arts as an essential need. Through each project in DASH, it is expected that the public will be able to approach authentic arts without necessarily having to go to museums or galleries.
Could you tell us about the Làng Art Dorm where the artists will stay during their residency programme?
The inspiration for the Làng Art Dorm came from German artist Veronika Rahulovice’s observation, made ten years ago, that Vietnamese art is created in a village context. We want to set up an art village where the artists will create in the middle of nowhere.
With the support of Gakka Gallery, we officially launched the Làng Art Dorm this month. It’s a non-profit programme.
It was designed with the desire to create an open artistic community that can be accessed by artists and visitors.
The dorm has a common space with basic facilities for living, writing and producing work. Alongside this, it houses an overview of the history and culture of Thừa Thiên-Huế Province, and the possibility to meet with, explore and experience the local artist community.
The artists will have chance to discuss with curators and artists of Then and Gakka; offer support in existing research and practice writing. They can also support talks, open workshops and exhibitions, perform, and record.
How long have you run Then Cafe? and what is the biggest challenge in running it?
Then Cafe was established in 2011 as an independent, non-profit art space. I set up Then Cafe with the aim of fostering a connection between artists and the local community. It is also a destination for exchanging, creating and displaying artworks.
Then Cafe has received support from many young artists in Huế since it’s launch, and events held in the space have drawn in large crowds. A big challenge is that we are lacking in staff, the three main people running Then Cafe are Nguyễn Thị Hà My, Nguyễn Văn Duy and me.
Some other challenges are our lack of financial support from the local authorities. Although the local authorities aim to turn Thừa Thiên-Huế Province into a centre of culture, we have not received adequate support from them.
We hope that Huế’s cultural managers recognise that the city is a good destination for artists coming to create, largely thanks to a long and precious history and culture. Artists can stay, create, and experiment without having concerns such as high living costs like in Hà Nội and HCM City. Huế is located between Hà Nội and HCM City, meaning that its cheap and easy to transport artworks to either city to be displayed. - VNS