Young artist develops visual art in Việt Nam

March 05, 2023 - 09:33
Cao Hoàng Long is a young contemporary artist in Việt Nam who has become a popular name in visual art with many exhibitions organised in the country.
Cao Hoàng Long. — Photo courtesy of Cao Hoàng Long

Cao Hoàng Long, 23, is a young contemporary artist in Việt Nam. In his works, he uses video, sound, light and Internet. Long has become a popular name in visual art with many exhibitions organised in the country. Việt Nam News reporter Thu Ngân talks with Long to understand his career and visual art.

Inner Sanctum: Would you please introduce yourself and the motivation that made you decide to become a visual artist?

My name is Cao Hoàng Long. I am a visual artist and founder of CABE - a design studio based in HCM City.

My material is mostly digital but also sculpture, painting, and projection mapping. For me, when it comes to creativity, there is no limit.

Becoming a visual artist, I think, is a faith. My first digital performance was purely by accident. After I met Seba (Sautel Cago), a French graffiti and digital artist on the street, we had a performance together at the French Cultural Centre in HCM City. And things kept growing in me. Combining with my knowledge of art and design, I chose visual art as my main focus to practise.

My first show took place in November 2011 with limited knowledge and never doing anything for the crowd. Thankfully the show was a success.

After the show, the audience came and told me about what they saw and felt. Some of those things were intentional, and some things I didn't expect. Since then, I have realised the importance of art and creativity, as I have the ability to elicit questions and feelings from the audience through each work. It does mean something to me and my audience. They also find their own answers or perspectives.

Inner Sanctum: What challenges did you face in becoming a visual artist, and please tell us about exhibitions that you have done so far?

I cannot only do art and live well.

After I graduated, I had a job at an agency. There have been two sides of me, when I worked during the day as an art director, and when I created my own stuff as a visual artist at night. Money, organisation, and mentoring were my problem at the beginning.

So far, I have done a few exhibitions and visual performances at Vincom Centre for Comtempary Art (VCCA) in Hà Nội, The Factory Contemporary Art Centre (HCM City), Jam Gallery (Bangkok), and Richard Koh Fine Art Gallery (Singapore). I also collaborated with fashion designers Nguyễn Hoàng Tú and Đàm Tiến Cường to make their fashion shows and turned them into exhibitions. Mostly I have done group exhibitions, but I’m planning for a solo one soon.

Inner Sanctum: What has been the most memorable project for you?

The most memorable project for me was the collaboration between CABE studio and the C.Dam brand of designer Cường that took place in 2022. In this project, both Cường and I poured all our resources, knowledge and skills into our profession to present to the audience a fashion show with an arrangement that can be said to be a dream. Conceptual and visual elements were deepened and expressed with contemporary languages such as sculpture, visual art, and installation. These are the languages that I have cultivated and studied over the years.

Inner Sanctum: Compared to your first project, have you noticed any change in the way audiences respond to your work?

Compared to my first project, this is a big step forward for me. The way I see a performance, a work has become more multi-dimensional, both in terms of technique and my own dialogue in the work with my audience. Regarding technical aspect, my colleagues and I create a space with the intention of leading the audience, like when entering the space, what will the audience feel, from where to where, everything is intentionally arranged. The next thing is the visual impression.

Let’s take the “Inflowing" project (in collaboration with designer Cường) as an example, in which I came up with the rice grain-shaped ship, from logos, drawings, 3D to a real cube right in front of the audience's eyes. This ship can evoke different feelings from the past, present and future from the audience with questions raised about the wet rice civilisation of Việt Nam. At the same time, the aesthetic is also focused when I use modern and familiar ways of handling materials such as mica, LED, and chrome.

Inner Sanctum: What are the key topics that you focus on, what are the main things that inspire you in creating artwork and what are the main materials you use in your art works?

I have a feeling for Vietnamese culture, also Asian culture in general. By watching the artworks, the stories, and poems from the past, I feel some connection there. It’s one part, another is the reality, what I have been through, what I see in the society, love, life, pain. I also do meditation, and the principles of Zen Master Thích Nhất Hạnh inspire me a lot. Sometimes I see myself as material for my artwork, all the feelings I have. It’s like a conversation between me and the audience.

My primary material is digital. I use software such as C4D, Adobe Illustrator, Photoshop, and Resolume Arena. Besides that, I also have done some experiments with acrylic colours, fabrics, and vinyl toys. I use digital material because it is my main job as a creative director and designer, the other materials are something that are physical to create on-screen. Somehow it refills my emotions and feelings when I work.

An artwork of Cao Hoàng Long and his partner. Long is a young contemporary artist in Việt Nam. — Photo courtesy of Cao Hoàng Long

Inner Sanctum: Your main topic is culture. Do you have any plans to make use of art to help young people understand and love culture and heritage more?

In my artistic practice, I always want to bring the link between the past and present that I see to the public. Hopefully through this approach, young people can find more inspiration to learn and explore their origins. Art to me is like a language or expression that can reach the audience through feeling, so that both me and the audience have deeper empathy and exchange about this life.

Inner Sanctum: What do you predict will be the changes in the creative industry in Việt Nam in the next 5-10 years?

In my opinion, multi-materials and the breaking of limits between genres such as fashion, cinema, product design, along with new platforms like the web and metaverse are the future of the creative industry. At the same time, the multi-dimensional experience for customers in exhibition spaces will also be a new approach for brands. The combination of creators in different specialties and artificial intelligence will be the bridge to create creative products that are different and comprehensive in terms of expression. I do not limit myself to one type of material but want to use materials and tools as a way to bring me to the concept that I want to convey.

Inner Sanctum: What are the difficulties that a visual artist faces in Việt Nam?

There’s no such clear way for visual artists in Việt Nam. We don’t have many playgrounds, courses, exhibitions, or investments in this field here. Despite that, I still believe that visual art will become something that people can understand and follow in the near future.

Cao Hoàng Long and his team and partners create many artworks. In the near future, he wants to grow up with his team, CABE, to share his vision and skills to develop a good organisation. Photo courtesy of Cao Hoàng Long

Inner Sanctum: What are your plans for the future?

In the near future, I want to grow up with my team, CABE, to share my vision and skills to develop a good organisation. I also want to reach out for more opportunities to work with other creative partners in different fields by hosting programmes. Besides that, I will open a new studio in Hà Nội this year to develop my artwork.

CABE studio is a team that is always ready for new things, experimenting with new things, bringing art and ideas into every product created. It is a difficult direction, when we want to reconcile art with business. For CABE studio, creating an iconic image is important to our clients. We believe that when creating an iconic action, image, or symbol, it is easy to inculcate that into the customers’ mind. To do that, we are small fish, with the mindset of a creator and a business person, and will always be able to understand the right problem that the customer is going through and approach it with a new and creative way.

One of my favourite quotes is: “Being on the edge isn't as safe but the view is better.” Going between two things that do not belong together in the Vietnamese market is a challenge, yet we believe that there is beauty in it and a new horizon to be explored. — VNS