Friday, September 24, 2010

Ho Chi Minh Trail by Stephanie Hsu

Blog Post #3

Ho Chi Minh Trail is an art project launched by the Long March
Project, a collaboration between artists, writers, curators, and
scholars that was founded by Lu Jie in 2002. Act 1 of Ho Chi Minh
Trail is currently being exhibited at Long March Space in Beijing's
798 Art District, with Act 2 to be exhibited as a part of the upcoming
8th Shanghai Biennale at the Shanghai Art Museum. Having the
opportunity to visit Beijing's 798 Art District last weekend, I was
able to see Act 1 of Ho Chi Minh Trail and begin learning about the
ongoing organization of educational programs and exhibitions to which
the project belongs.
As the headquarters of Long March Project, Long March Space provides a
modest gallery space that fulfills a multidimensional purpose—to
engage creative thinkers both physically and conceptually with the art
being displayed. The entrance of the gallery leads to two larger
rooms, which display the works of a group of established artists—Chen
Chieh-jen, Liu Wei, Xu Zhen, Wu Shanzhuan, Wang Jianwei, and Zhang
Hui. I entered the left-side room first, prompted by the text on the
wall, which gave me an introduction to Ho Chi Minh Trail as a metaphor
for a historical path connecting lived experiences, individual
memories, and collective imagination. Statements including "Taking on
the burden of history is not an act of retracing historical memory,
but a restless attempt to position the present in history" informed me
of the project's efforts to use art as a vehicle through which to
understand the past and its relevance to present issues.
Among the works, Wu Shanzhuan's installation, a c-shaped sculpture
surrounded by a border of cautionary stripes, takes the focus of the
room by laying claim of its conceptual function:
"imagination=perspective x projection x cloud3." This seemingly
lighthearted play on perception was then shadowed by the ominous
Lining the edges of the sculpture in backwards text, these words
seemed to point towards the irony of contemporary knowledge as having
been gained through the brutality and human cost of war.
With the wall caption's description of Ho Chi Minh Trail as aiming to
"rehearse rather than produce," the smaller back room of the gallery
contextualizes the exhibition as merely a "rehearsal" in a six-stage
progression that includes "field research" and "physical journey."
Photos, videos, and books displayed in the casual, almost office-like
setting seem to act as records of the previous stages of the project's
development, documenting the human exchanges, research, and physical
travel between China, Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia that paved the way
to the artistic production being shown. Nguyen Trinh Thi's
experimental film "Chronicle of a Tape Recorded Over," depicts the
collective telling of a story that is at once fictional and
non-fictional, by individuals that the filmmaker herself met during
her travel along the actual site of the Ho Chi Minh Trail.
Though the individual works of Ho Chi Minh Trail evoke complex and
provocative ideas, the exhibition failed to convey the relationships
between them in a coherent and cohesive fashion. Optimistically
speaking, perhaps as a "rehearsal," the exhibition is intended to be a
true work-in-progress. Hopefully, the "theatre" stage of Ho Chi Minh
Trail—which will be exhibited beginning October 24 during the 8th
Shanghai Biennale—will attest to its claim as the final performance.

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