Where The Sea Remembers, The Mistake Room, Los Angeles, July 13 - October 12, 2019
Where The Sea Remembers is a project—comprised of an exhibition, a program series, and a website—that explores contemporary art in and about Vietnam through the practices of artists who live and work there and across its diasporas. This project marks the launch of an institutional initiative aimed at fostering exchanges and collaborations between The Mistake Room and independent peer institutions in Vietnam. The goal of this work is to create opportunities that cultivate and support an emerging generation of Vietnamese artists, writers, and curators in order to encourage the creation of scholarship that expands what we know about local and regional art histories and how we come to know it.
The result of ongoing conversations with artist friends and colleagues in Vietnam and others living elsewhere who are invested in the country’s artistic communities, Where The Sea Remembers is conceived as the starting point of an inquiry rather than its culmination. As such, it acknowledges and embraces its incompleteness in an attempt to re-imagine the function of the regionally-based exhibition format. Conscious that exhibitions have often throughout history been put to the service of nation-building, Where The Sea Remembers thinks of the nation not as a static geographic locale or even a diasporic imaginary but rather as a complex set of tense and evolving individual relationships between people and their ideas of a homeland. Thus, the artworks in the show and the contributions of program participants and commissioned writers are gathered as a dispatch of multiple perspectives rather than as a defining survey.
The project’s title is largely inspired by the name of a song widely known amongst people who fled Vietnam after the end of the war in 1975. Written by poet and musician Trịnh Công Sơn, Biển Nhớ, or The Sea Remembers, was often sung as a farewell by those staying behind in the refugee camps to those who were discharged and relocated. The song’s famous refrain, “Tomorrow you leave,” foregrounds the painful separation of exile, yet as scholar Yến Lê Espirituhas written, its invocation of a place—its mountains, sands, and willows—creates a bond that forever connects those who have gone to the lands they left behind. It is here, between the countries we knew and the homelands we choose to inhabit that Where The Sea Remembers locates a contemporary experience of nationhood. One that is always forged by partial choices, acts of distancing and affiliation, and creative tactics of world-making.