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Wednesday, September 9, 2020

Visiting with the Southeast Asia Artists-in-Residency Program Alumni: Nguyễn Kim Tố Lan

Continuing our weeklong feature on WAM’s Southeast Asia Artists-in-Residency Program (SEA-AiR), Rachel Parikh, Assistant Curator of Asian and Middle Eastern Art, talks next to Nguyễn Kim Tố Lan about her experience as a resident artist at WAM in 2018 and what she’s been working on since.

Based in Ho Chi Minh City, Lan is a multidisciplinary artist that works with various media to create enhanced interactive experiences. She helped found the Sao La Collective, an independent artist collection in the southern region of Vietnam. 

2018 SEA-AiR alumna, Nguyễn Kim Tố Lan.

Rachel Parikh (RP): Why did you want to participate in WAM’s SEA-AiR Program?

Lan: To me, WAM's SEA-AiR Program provides a great opportunity for both artists and audience participation. I was invited by Nhung Walsh who oversaw the Indochina Arts Partnership (IAP) at that time and I was thrilled to learn about this program designed for Southeast Asian artists. It means a lot for the diverse community in Worcester as well as the artists who attend. I also love that the program is organized at an art museum, where artists can learn and be inspired by the collections and history.

RP: What was a highlight of your time at WAM?

Lan: There are so many! The very warm welcome from Mr. David Thomas (founder of the IAP) and Vivian Li (former Associate Curator of Asian and Global Contemporary Art); the welcome dinner at James Welu’s (Director Emeritus at WAM) home, listening to his stories, and seeing his famous ice-cream cart; the tour of Worcester; and participating in the StART on the Street Festival.

I also appreciated Matthias Waschek’s (Jean and Myles McDonough Director of WAM) tour of the Museum, talking about the collection, and showing us the Conservation Department. 

However, my most precious memory was when my fellow resident artist, Thế Sơn, and I stayed with the immigrant Vietnamese families. I loved listening to their personal histories. I am grateful to Vivian for her help and support of my work and assisting me in finding background information for ongoing projects.

Lan’s work at the StART on the Street Festival 2018.
 The umbrella consists of cellophane panels depicting scenes reflecting,
 as Lan states, the “home inside of us."

RP: That’s so wonderful! You mentioned Vivian supporting your work. Did the residency have
an impact on your work and/or artistic practice, then?

Lan: Yes! The residency gave me a chance to discover a different cultures and environments, broaden my views, and the opportunity to concentrate on my art and visit contemporary art collections in America. The program opened new topics and directions in my artistic practice and inspired me to go deeper into history and mythology. I became more interested in immigration. I also had the chance play and work with different materials and experiment with new techniques as well.

Those are the things I was looking forward to achieving through the residency.

RP: It sounds like the residency was such a rewarding experience for you and I am thrilled to hear it! You mentioned WAM’s collection several times. Were there any objects from the collection that inspired you?

Lan: I would say the Hunt Floor Mosaic. I found it interesting in the way it connects with space and architecture through its huge body; the way it was created for the floor; and how the mosaic functioned as art itself. The forms of ancient art such as stained glass, mosaic, fresco, and their function regarding place, community, culture, and religion, have always attracted me. Besides that, I am also interested in the migration process and the story of an object moving from one place to another place, through time.

Worcester Hunt Floor Mosaic, Roman, Antioch, early 6th century, cubes of marble and limestone
 embedded in lime mortar. Excavation of Antioch and Vicinity funded by 
the bequests of the Reverend Dr. Austin S. Garver and Sarah C. Garver, 1936.30

RP: Any others? Or favorite objects?

Lan: I loved this small painting, Houses in Riegsee, by Gabriele Munter. I was drawn to the strong, bold colors. I also love how Münter was a passionate female artist who had a great art career and even some influence in Kandinsky’s art! She was one of the few females who dared to be an artist at that time—I find that inspiring.

Gabriele Munter (German, 1877-1962), Houses in Riegsee, 1909,
oil on pressed board. Stoddard Acquisition Fund, 2018.40

RP: What have you been working on since your residency?

Lan: When I returned to Vietnam from the residency, I felt more energetic and found more inspiration and materials for my art practice. However, I am a slow worker. I prefer to give it more time as well as looking for an appropriate time and space to fit some of the ideas. Through my artist collective, Sao La, we created a local space called "Cù Rú Bar." Last year, we moved it to Dalat, a highland city covered by nature as we want to have some distance with the mechanical urban life, and have more interaction with elements of nature. It took quite a lot of time since we had to build up everything in a new city.

I am still nurturing that project together with my fellow artists by running the space and gaining new knowledge about nature as well as exploring the human relationship and its survival concept with nature. I am also eager to learn new skills and love to experiment by switching my artist role to a farmer sometimes. To me, these experiences link with the uprising idea I worked with during my residency—examining the significance of the moon in culture and religion.

The Southeast Asia Artists-in-Residency Program is supported by the IAP Fund at WAM, the Southeast Asian Coalition of Central Massachusetts under Ahn Vu Sawyer, The Crawford Foundation, and Robert and Minh Mailloux.

—September 9, 2020


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