Thuistezien 173 — 10.02.2021
In length of the exhibition ‘Judea’ at West Den Haag from 2016, the Australian born and Amsterdam based critic, curator, and researcher Vivian Ziherl invites Arin Rungjang and Nguyễn Trinh Thi for a conversation in which she seeks to reach an understanding of what it means to translate works across regional contexts and the exchange rates among cultures. As a founder and director of the arts and research foundation Frontier Imaginaries, which researches the significance of the frontier position within the global era which, Ziherl’s research is very much in alignment with the subjects and topics that are dealt with in the exhibition. Rungjang is a Thai artist as well as the curator of the exhibition and the Vietnamese artist Trinh Thi is participating in the exhibition. Followed by a number of questions asked by Ziherl and the audience to the two artists, the viewer becomes, on a personal level, familiar with the making of the exhibition as well as the included works.
When he was invited to do the exhibition, Rungjang already had a plan for it. In fact, he intended to do a project related to a book about Ayutthaya by van Jeremias van Vliet, four years prior to the realization of the exhibition. As explained by Rungjang, ‘Judea’ is the phonetic version of Ayutthaya since the Dutch were unable to pronounce the real name. The city is introduced to the West in the 17th century in a book made from personal notes by Jeremias van Vliet who used to live in Ayutthaya. The book was stolen by the British empire during the Second World War and disappeared for several years until a Japanese professor found it and bought it for his own project. He translated the book to Japanese and it was only at that point that Thailand became aware of the book which happened to be the only written proof of the existence of Ayutthaya.
Having no training as a curator, Rungjang explains how he combined artworks from artists with whom he shares a connection with, on a friendly and a spiritual level. They may all share the same circumstances or subject, and even though he did not explicitly want to represent colonialism in his work, he acknowledges that it is an underlying condition of the artists’ history which is also the case with his own work presented in the exhibition.
The case is similar for Trinh Thi. With a work dealing with many layers of themes and questions related to the Vietnamese culture and society, Trinh Thi explains how her work is mostly a personal journey of discovery which, eventually, carries enormous underlying subjects relating to the destruction and structure of power — colonialism, she says, is not only between countries, but also between societies and even within yourself. The question of how cultures are translated through art across regions is prominent in the work of Trinh Thi. When being asked how her work is received by the Vietnamese government, Trinh Thi explains how the culture, art, as well as press freedom is very controlled which forces artists to find different, less exposed ways of exhibiting. This explanation stands in large contrast to the platform on which she shares her work in the prominent rooms of the previous supreme court building in The Hague.
Text: Rosa Zangenberg