Where The Sea Remembers

July 13 - October 12, 2019

Public Opening Reception: Sat. July 13, 2019, 6-8pm

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. 


The Exhibition 

 The exhibition introduces a recent history of Vietnamese contemporary art. It takes the year 2007 as a point of departure—marking Vietnam’s entry into the World Trade Organization (WTO) and a peak in the country’s Đổi Mớireforms that began in 1986 with the goal of creating a socialist-oriented market economy. Along with easing restrictions on foreign investments, the privatization of state-owned enterprises, and the arrival of multinational corporate conglomerates, Vietnam also softened its borders—allowing for expanded tourism, professional exchanges and broadened travel opportunities for Vietnamese citizens. This facilitated movement also gave way to returnees—foreign-raised Vietnamese refugees who returned to settle in their homeland. Among them were artists, who alongside local stakeholders helped found new independent spaces for the cultivation of emerging talent and the production and presentation of contemporary art. With a host of new industries burgeoning in the country, a reinvigorated institutional circuit, and broadened access to a global intellectual and peer network, conceptual art practices flourished—paving the way for a generation of practitioners invested not only in painting and sculpture but also in video, installation, and performance. 

 Rather than prescribing an encompassing thematic framework, artists’s interests function as the structuring devices that organize the presentation of works in the exhibition. These interests include the role of technology and media in the construction of a socialist-oriented market economy; the re-interpretation of history through the construction of personal mythologies; the refugee experience and futurism; and the body and performativity. Through these interests, the artists in the show also unveil an expanded way of considering artistic production from the region beyond the well-known themes of war, displacement, and trauma. 


Alongside the exhibition, a series of programs including artist- and curator-led walkthroughs, screenings, and conversations will be staged throughout the run of the show. The anchor programming components for the project will encompass two full-day convenings. The first, scheduled for Saturday, October 5th, 2019, will focus on film, video, and moving image based works from Vietnam. The second, focusing on performance and the history of art institutions in Vietnam will take place on Saturday, October 12th, 2019. These experimental gatherings will bring together an expanded group of artists, writers, curators, and scholars whose work is committed to Vietnam. Details on program participants and schedule of events will be announced on the project’s website in late July. 


A website created specifically for the project will go live in mid-June. The website will include a selection of short videos about the artists in the exhibition as well as interviews, short essays, and newly commissioned writings. The website is meant to be an editorial platform that contextualizes the project and provides multiple perspectives about the contemporary art scene in Vietnam. Updated throughout the run of the show, the website will exist after the exhibition as an index of the project. 



Where The Sea Remembers is organized by The Mistake Room and Anna Borisova and curated by César García-Alvarez, TMR Executive & Artistic Director, with Nicolas Orozco-Valdivia, TMR Associate Curator, and Kris Kuramitsu, TMR Deputy Director and Head of Program. 

Special thanks to Tuan Andrew Nguyen, Van Anh Huynh Ngo, Galerie Quynh, Zoe Butt, and Christopher Myers. 

 This project is made possible through a major gift by Stephen O. Lesser. Additional support is provided by the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts. 

The Mistake Room’s programs are made possible with the generous support of its Board of Directors, Big Mistake Patron Group, International Council, and Contemporary Council. 

Participating Artist List

Born 1983, Paris, France
Lives and works between Ho Chi Minh City, Paris, and Los Angeles

Ngô Đình Bảo Châu
Born 1986, Vietnam
Lives and works in Ho Chi Minh City

Võ Trân Châu
Born 1986, Binh Thuan, Vietnam
Lives and works in Ho Chi Minh City

The Propeller Group
Founded 2006, Ho Chi Minh City

Nguyễn Phương Linh
Born 1985, Hanoi, Vietnam
Lives and works in Hanoi

Sandrine Llouquet
Born 1975, Montpellier, France
Lives and works in Ho Chi Minh City

Thinh Nguyen
Born 1984, Bao An, Vietnam
Lives and works in Los Angeles

Tuấn Mami
Born 1981, Hanoi, Vietnam
Lives and works in Hanoi

Trong Gia Nguyen
Born 1971, Saigon, Vietnam
Lives and works between Ho Chi Minh City and Brooklyn

Tuấn Andrew Nguyễn
Born 1976, Saigon, Vietnam
Lives and works between Ho Chi Minh City and Los Angeles

Nguyễn Văn Đủ
Born 1986, Ba Rịa-Vung Tau, Vietnam
Lives and works in Ho Chi Minh City

Phan Thảo Nguyên
Born 1987, Vietnam
Lives and works in Ho Chi Minh City

Phan Quang
Born 1976, Binh Dinh, Vietnam
Lives and works in Ho Chi Minh City

Thu Van Tran
Born 1979, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
Lives and works in Paris

Trương Công Tùng
Born 1986, Dak Lak, Vietnam
Lives and works in Ho Chi Minh City


Histories of a Vanishing Present (2019-2020) explores how a generation of artists born at the cusp of the global turn inherit pasts that don’t directly belong to them. Through the lens of postmemory, this cycle tackles a new relationship with identity politics forged by a millennial generation of artists for whom ideas of nationalism, cultural heritage, and historical trauma are radically different than for their predecessors. Why do military dictatorships in Latin America, the legacies of the Cold War, the activist histories of the LGBTQ and Civil Rights movements, or independence movements in Africa shape conversations about the work of a global generation of emerging artists whose sole relationship to these moments is the place of their birth, the color of their skin, their sexual orientations, or the familial histories they contend with? At a time when ideas of identity are being revisited in charged and polarizing ways, how can we rethink subjecthood not as a predefined category but as a tense and ongoing process of becoming? This cycle considers identity as situational—as a negotiation between the stories of those who came before and the responsibilities of those who are expected to inherit them.

Video Credit: Vanya Volkov. The Mistake Room Inc. Copyright 2019. Image Credits: (a) Phan Quang, Re/cover no.2, 2013, Digital C-print, 39.3 x 66.9 inches. Image courtesy of the artist and The Mistake Room, Los Angeles. (b) Nguyễn Văn Đủ, Slaughterhouse #7, 2016, Paint on paper mounted on canvas, 63.4 x 83.8 inches. Image courtesy of the artist and The Mistake Room, Los Angeles. (c) Phan Thảo Nguyên,Voyages de Rhodes, No. 46, 2014-2017, Watercolor on found book, 9.25 x 12.2 inches. Image courtesy of the artist and The Mistake Room, Los Angeles. (d)Trương Công Tùng, When the virtual becomes the actual and the actual become the virtual, 2018, Iron, keyboard keys, canvas, time, weather, 51.2 x 55.1 x 11.8 inches. Image courtesy of the artist and Galerie Quynh, Ho Chi Minh City, and The Mistake Room, Los Angeles. (e) Left: Võ Trân Châu, Green, 2018, Used clothes, thread, 93.3 x 60.2 inches. Right: Võ Trân Châu, Blue, 2018, Used clothes, thread, 93.3 x 60.2 inches. Image courtesy of the artist, Galerie Quynh, Ho Chi Minh City, and The Mistake Room, Los Angeles.