Where The Sea Remembers is a project—comprised of an exhibition, a program series, and a website—that explores contemporary art in and about Vietnam through the practices of artists who live and work there and across its diasporas. Approaching the idea of the nation not as a static geographic locale or even a diasporic imaginary, but rather as a complex set of tense and evolving relationships between people and their notion of a homeland, this project aims to re-imagine the function of the regionally-based exhibition format. Thus, the artworks in the show and the contributions of program participants and commissioned writers are gathered as a dispatch of multiple perspectives rather than as a defining survey. Conceived as the starting point of an inquiry rather than its culmination, the project embraces its incompleteness and aims to encourage further engagement with contemporary art and artists from Vietnam amongst US-based institutions.
The project’s title is largely inspired by the name of a song widely known amongst people who fled Vietnam after the end of the war in 1975. Written by poet and musician Trịnh Công Sơn, Biển Nhớ, or The Sea Remembers, was often sung as a farewell by those staying behind in the refugee camps to those who were discharged and relocated. The song’s famous refrain, “Tomorrow you leave,” foregrounds the painful separation of exile, yet as scholar Yến Lê Espiritu has written, its invocation of a place—its mountains, sands, and willows—creates a bond that forever connects those who have gone to the lands they left behind.
The exhibition features fifteen artists and collectives—many of who have never before exhibited in Los Angeles. It takes the year 2007 as a point of departure—marking Vietnam’s entry into the World Trade Organization (WTO) and a peak in the country’s Đổi Mới reforms that began in 1986 with the goal of creating a socialist-oriented market economy. Along with easing restrictions on foreign investments, the privatization of state-owned enterprises, and the arrival of multinational corporate conglomerates, Vietnam also softened its borders—allowing for expanded tourism, professional exchanges and broadened travel opportunities for Vietnamese citizens. This facilitated movement also gave way to returnees—foreign-raised Vietnamese refugees who returned to settle in their homeland. Among them were artists, who alongside local stakeholders helped found new independent spaces for the cultivation of emerging talent and the production and presentation of contemporary art. With a host of new industries burgeoning in the country, a reinvigorated institutional circuit, and broadened access to a global intellectual and peer network, conceptual art practices flourished—paving the way for a generation of practitioners invested not only in painting and sculpture but also in video, installation, and performance.
Rather than prescribing an encompassing thematic framework, artists’s interests function as the structuring devices that organize the presentation of works in the exhibition. These interests include: Media, Technology, and the Socialist-Oriented Economy; Intimate Mythologies & New Histories; Displacement & Futurism; The Body Performed
Where The Sea Remembers is organized by The Mistake Room and Anna Borisova and curated by César García-Alvarez, TMR Executive & Artistic Director, with Nicolas Orozco-Valdivia, TMR Associate Curator, and Kris Kuramitsu, TMR Deputy Director and Head of Program.
Special thanks to Tuan Andrew Nguyen, Van Anh Huynh Ngo, Galerie Quynh, Zoe Butt, and Christopher Myers.
This project is made possible through a major gift by Stephen O. Lesser. Additional support is provided by the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts.
Trương Công Tùng
Nguyễn Văn Đủ
Trong Gia Nguyen
The Factory Arts Centre, Ho Chi Minh City
Phan Thảo Nguyên
Võ Trân Châu
Where the Sea Remembers
Galerie Quynh, Ho Chi Minh City