Tran Duy Hung

As part of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, technology is being used to digitalize arts and all things cultural, thereby creating new ways to connect Vietnam’s culture with the world.   

Near the end of last year, within the framework of the Vietnam Festival of Creativity & Design (VFCD) 2020, an exhibition named “No Rain Without Clouds” was organized simultaneously online and at the Vietnam Women’s Museum in Hanoi. The event revolved around multidimensional stories of our culture and identity. Thanks to this digitalized exhibition, art-loving audiences anywhere could easily access contemporary Vietnamese art works. With just a few clicks, visitors could “step into” an impressive 3D realm and move between virtual forms of the paintings, videos and sculptures, all while listening to background music written specifically for this virtual space. “No Rain Without Clouds” promoted Vietnamese art internationally by applying advanced technology (such as 3D-scans) to digitize more than 70 currently-owned works of art, adding to the online art experience.

"Folklore Juice" (2010) by the artist Bui Cong Khanh part of the exhibition "No Rain Without Clouds"

State cultural institutions have conducted increasingly successful experiments with this technology. Faced with the unpredictable impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic, the Vietnamese Women’s Museum focused on digital media to maintain a public presence: promoting interactions on social media; enhancing user interface experiences on their website; and making and sharing short films about their activities online. Many artifacts were digitized and the three scheduled exhibitions for the year were staged online. The number of visitors to their website grew encouragingly, while the response from both domestic and foreign audiences was entirely positive. Step by step, the museum has cooperated with private firms to commercialize the artifacts they are preserving to target international markets.

With the same focus on reaping benefits from digital data, the Vietnam National Institute of Culture and Arts Studies (VICAS) is building a portal enabling access to the institute’s enormous volume of films, images, and research into more than 800 types of intangible cultural heritage. This is a long-term project supported by private enterprises and international organizations. The general public and Vietnamese and international cultural researchers will find it easier to access precious heritages, which could be lost if VICAS’s archives are not digitalized in time.

DomDom - The Hub For Experimental Music & Art organized a virtual artist-in-residence

As for the film industry, the Vietnam Film Institute (the largest film-archiving unit in the country) also has plans to digitize and promote its materials. Projects implemented in the past two years with the British Council and TPD Centre for Assistance & Development of Movie Talents have created a buzz, introducing to the public many lesser-known Vietnamese films, screened in 2K digital version with sharp images and excellent sound quality. British filmmaker Esther Johnson is producing a documentary about Vietnam’s daily life and culture, in which she uses digital film materials from the Vietnam Film Institute about traffic in many parts of the country over many decades. Her film is to premiere in 2021 at several international art festivals.

In the music field, international projects such as Saigon Supersound (Germany) and Sublime Frequencies (USA) have been collecting and digitalizing Vietnamese pop and rock music vinyl records and cassettes from the 1960s-1970s. From these digital files, a number of anthologies have been released to the public, helping people to better access and understand Vietnam’s musical heritages. These records are not only for conservation purposes but also inspire modern artists like Ho Chi Minh City’s Saigon Soul Revival Group to interact with and modernize vintage music. This group gained attention at home and in Europe with their debut album last year.

In addition to materials and artifacts, experiences and identities can also be digitalized. DomDom – The Hub For Experimental Music & Art organized a five-week “virtual artist-in-residence” program with Kioto Aoki, a Japanese artist. Although the Covid-19 pandemic prevented her from attending the program in Hanoi, Ms. Aoki explored the city’s sights and sounds through a series of video calls. From her computer screen, she “met”, spoke to, and worked with many local artists and musicians, and had the change to explore Hanoi’s squares, parks, markets, temples, factories, and art shows, etc.

Japanese artist Kioto Aoki's virtual artist-in-residence program

There’s also the case of the young artist Nhung Nguyen, who “painted portraits” just from hearing the sounds of Ba Dinh Square or Nguyen Thai Hoc Street in the form of live recordings from these streets processed with music-making software. These “portraits” have been posted and promoted on online platforms like Bandcamp and Soundcloud. Ms. Nhung’s compositions contribute to a clearer sense of place about Vietnam.

With the recent surge of digital activities, we can look forward to a prosperous future full of new opportunities for Vietnam’s culture and arts.