Story: Do Thi Tham
Photos: Nguyen The Son

A space that takes a diverse approach to heritage through contemporary art forms has recently been unveiled, revealing an attempt by contemporary artists to communicate with the values of heritage, culture, art and architecture built up throughout the nation’s history.

“1901 - 1911” “1805 - 1832” “1886 - 1891” – Photo relief - ARTIST: NGUYEN THE SON

An art project named “National Assembly House Tunnel” was officially completed in late 2018. In just over three months, brand new pieces of art, made to fit the terrain of the tunnel under the National Assembly building, were brought to life. This is the fruit of the remarkable efforts of artist Nguyen The Son, the curator of the project, together with 14 other artists, and more than 100 technical assistants and skilled workers from Hanoi, Thai Binh, and Hue.

The project utilizes three areas in the tunnel: the main basement, the passageway, and the parking basement. The entire space, which is more than 500 meters long, is now fully occupied by extraordinary artworks, delivered to spectators in various forms such as lacquer installation, open graphics, multimedia installation, video art projection on silk, photo relief, interactive copper carving, and kinetic iron installation. Together, they transform the tunnel under the National Assembly House into an interactive art space, against the background of  contemporary art practices.

Cội nguồn dân tộc Việt (The root of Viet people) by Trieu Khac Tien, delivered through a lacquer installation

The main basement accommodates multiple series of artworks by the 15 artists, all neatly placed in wall recesses. As each piece comprises 3-5 modules of a considerable size (over 1.5 meters tall and two meters wide), most of the artworks on display have an overwhelming length, offering spectators a unique experience. Each work bears the distinctive mark of its creator. All appear in harmony, exploring a common theme: The desire of modern artists to have a dialogue with and creatively reflect upon the historical, cultural and artistic heritages of past generations. For example, Mảnh ghép thời gian (Pieces of Time) by Nguyen Xuan Lam with 240 “pieces” of lacquer paintings is inspired by relics of the imperial city dating back to the Ly-Tran dynasties. Hóa thạch sống (Living Fossils) by Vuong Thao, a work of installation art made of transparent composite blocks, conveys the message: everything fossilized shall last forever. Meanwhile, Nguyen The Son challenges visitors’ gaze with his seven-meter-long artwork 1700 – 1736, which is delivered through photo relief, recreating the famous Ding Bang communal house of Kinh Bac with charming architecture and excellent wood carving.

The passageway features a collection of images representative of the works exhibited in the main basement. The third area – the parking basement – brings together four creations depicting a dreamy journey into the past. Among them, the series of artworks named Hành trình lịch sử (Journey through history) delivered through a kinetic iron installation by Nguyen The Son, Vu Xuan Dong and Pham Khac Quang drums up a lot of interest. Spectators may have the feeling that the patterns of ancient means of transport, which are cleverly made from iron and steel, are moving and leading them into an interactive space on a trip back in time, with horse-drawn carriages and dragon boats perfectly blended with classical wood patterns.

Vọng niệm (Reminiscence) by Phan Hai Bang, delivered through trucchigraphy (paper embossing)

The works on display represent the artists’ efforts to communicate with and reflect their creative views of the heritage values that have accumulated throughout the nation’s history. The interaction that unites the ancient and contemporary spaces is like a journey that connects the flows of inspiration, from the glorious historical strata of the past to the novel mindset of today’s contemporary artists.

This art project under the National Assembly building is considered an important hallmark of new aesthetic forms. Also, it is arguably the first space in Vietnam with a fixed set of dedicated works made from a variety of materials. This brings hope of a Vietnamese contemporary art museum in the near future, which shall be a perfect successor to the Thang Long Antiquities Museum and Pre-Thang Long Antiquities Museum under the National Assembly House.