Forty-year-old artist Nguyen Ngoc Dan has spent the last decade obsessively drawing and painting Viet Nam's maze of overhead wires, telegraph poles, loud speakers and traffic lights. His work has been displayed at several exhibitions, where it has won admirers for its intricate detail and creativity. Vi Nguyen talks to him about finding beauty in the most unlikely of places.
Inner Sanctum: When did you begin using electric connections as the subject for your art?
It was in 2002. Like most artists, it took me ages to develop my subject and creative style. I painted scenery, flowers and sea, especially sea landscape. At times I spent two months with fishermen and around tourist ships. I had some success, but not much.
I was born in Hai Phong City, but my wife is from Ha Noi. After moving here, I start to pay more attention to the streets, city's life, and people. Once, while waiting to pick my wife up, the spider web of tangled wires above caught my eyes.
Inner Sanctum: What was it about the wires that attracted you most?
The habit of an artist is to observse things carefully. One day, on one typical street corner, the image of a knot of electric wire crossing through space produced a cool feeling inside me, especially when it involves a vigorously changing city like Ha Noi. I like all overhead wires, including television and telephone wires and electric cables. They are chaotic, complicated, overlapping, but inspiring enough to portray. As you know, these wire networks have only started to develop in the last decade or so. They represent the language and products of a changing and modern urban area.
Returning home, I pondered for a long time before starting work on my first sketch of wires.
Inner Sanctum: It is said that you know by heart the wiring systems, high-voltage poles and traffic-light systems in Ha Noi, Hai Phong and HCM City. It that true?
I dare not say I know by heart, but it is true that I memorise much about them. You know, an artist can not limit the space for creativity to his own room. When I saunter, I keep my eyes on the wiring. It has become a habit. I now wander to out-of-the-way places seeking ideas, taking my pencils and paper with me.
Generally, the street wiring system in Ha Noi is in a class of its own. In some places, it is tied into bundles. In others, concrete power poles seem to bend under the weight of the heaps of wiring.
Inner Sanctum: What do you look for?
It depends. In fact, if there are only overhead electric wires, they don't mean much. But I like the backgrounds behind. They can be flamboyant, busy schools, walls covered with advertisements - and hotels and shops in the Old Quarter. Therefore, I usually visit places at night when the wires are lit up by street lights, or sparkling in the rain.
Inner sanctum: Are you ever bothered while pursuing your unusual quest?
No one has ever done anything to me. However, they are uncomfortable seeing a man sitting in front of their house, staring at their windows or rooftops.
Inner Sanctum: Could you give us a comparison between Ha Noi's electric wires and other places'?
My home city, Hai Phong, is developing quickly. There are times, when I think they will become as tangled as those in Ha Noi, but not now. In Ho Chi Minh City, they are numerous, but the city is large enough to absorb them. In Hue, there are much fewer wires. In general, those in Ha Noi are the most complicated.
Inner Sanctum: Can you tell us about your exhibition Pho (Streets) last year? What was its true purpose?
To an artist, the biggest happiness is to be able to pursue creativity. It has taken me many years to collect my ideas, put them down as art and selling them. Therefore, when an exhibition finished, I feel excited and pleased. However, money really does not matter. — VNS