Tuan Mami is a contemporary artist, born and raised in Hanoi. Presently, he is living and working in Vietnam.
His works are often research-based projects, addressing the concept of restructuring, and are composed in specific communities to address the problems of life, the meaning of social situations, and interactions.
Tuan Mami shares that in his art practice, he constantly explores means and methods of evolving with reflective questioning, and social research. He often works with and values the art of interdisciplinary experiences including various forms of expression, such as Installation, Video, Performance…
To him, the creative process is a journey filled with learning, research, and exploration to tackle an idea from many different angles. Throughout his process — from the initial inspiration to the final product — the contemporary artist allows the real experiences and incidental encounters to guide him.
In the art world, with endless possibilities, how do you navigate?
Perhaps I believe in the beauty and niceness of life, and one’s compassion and benevolence. I also believe in purity, and that there is awareness in all of us which compels us to contribute and create a world that is beautiful, pure, and natural.
What are three problems that you care about the most at this moment?
The ecological environment: I have been working on several projects related to resource extraction and the destruction of nature around us, like the project ‘In One's Breath, Nothing Stands Still’.
Community psychology: For many years, I have devoted myself to studying the psychology of Vietnamese migrant groups. I explore elements of local and cultural attachment, as well as the necessity of change and adaptation to a new life.
Political power or new colonial issues: This is mainly about the adoption of geopolitics, and power-economic control to achieve political agenda. For instance, the study of indigenous communities living along the Cambodia-Vietnam border, or the conflicts that arise in obtaining natural resources that, in turn, creates the deepest divides between the spiritual and material world of humans today.
What motivates you to continuously participate in the founding of communal art spaces like Nhà Sàn Collective, Á Space…?
As an independent experimental artist, I’ve found it quite difficult for young and independent artists like myself. Partially, this difficulty stems from the lack of economic and facilitative support, the absence of non-profit display spaces, and the lack of human resources such as curators, critics, art researchers, and so on. These are the crucial supporting factors that help young artists gain experiences and freedom to create and exchange their ideas.
This is probably the primary reason I look for opportunities to create a certain environment, in order to contribute to the art community in Vietnam. To me, a healthy, diverse, and lively creative space is also a huge necessity for society.
You graduated with a degree in fine arts, but your work now focuses on the display, experience, and performance elements of art. What drew you towards contemporary art?
I discovered contemporary art, performance, installations, and videos back when I was a sophomore at the University of Fine Arts in Vietnam. Perhaps, it was fate that the idea of contemporary art and I cross paths through lectures and discussions of the Goethe-Institut, or of Nha San Studio.
At that time, I discovered the great creative possibilities in these new forms. Not only that, it helped me return to who I am at my core. That was when I got to create art based on my emotions, the world around me in a direct, close, and freeing manner that releases you from any stereotypes or cliche patterns that I used to rely so heavily upon.
What have been the most challenging times in your career?
Sometimes, I can’t find the answers to how I can portray emotions or address real problems in a work of art.
Or when I begin to approach new communities and environments, unsure of what I really want to research.
Or when I lack money or resources to delve into a certain idea.
What is your longest-running project? Why did it take that long?
The longest-running project of mine to date is probably ‘In One's Breath, Nothing Stands Still’. I started my research and field trips in early 2014. A research project located around the mining area of a stone waterfall in Ha Nam. I witnessed the devastating destruction it had on nature, climate change, impact on the ecology for not only the creatures that lived in the forest but also on the lives of the indigenous people in the region. It made me want to do something.
I wasn’t just interested in that place from a sociological point of view, but it also had a special and intimate connection to me in the sense that it was my family’s hometown. Ever since childhood, all my memories have been tied to this place, and I’ve connected with the landscape and the indigenous communities here years before these miners showed up.
I thought to myself, as long as the people here are still struggling and fighting for their survival and the preservation of their home, and as long as these horrifying destructive machines still exist, I will continue to pursue this project. My hope is that I could do something meaningful.
If you were to change one thing in the world, what would it be?
Perhaps, the world is moving too fast. I want things to happen more slowly so that everything can connect in a more harmonious and at the same time, sustainable way. That way, the relationship between humans and the natural world can grow closer to coexist in a natural, beautiful way.
Translated by Dieu Linh