Artworks decorate neglected riverbank site

An area in Hanoi's Phuc Tan Commune by the Red River has been revitalised in recent days after a group of artists decided to install art in the former dumping ground.

The group is trying to turn the area at the foot of Long Bien Bridge, which is mostly frequented by homeless people and scrap-iron dealers, into an attractive spot for local youths and tourists.

Artworks decorate neglected riverbank site
Vu Xuan Dong and one of his colleagues work on the installation work titled Boat. VNS Photo Le Huong

Sixteen artworks made from recycled materials have been placed along the old wall, which was built 20 years ago to prevent people from encroaching on the river bank.

Among the most eye-catching pieces, the installation titled Thuyền (Boat) by Vu Xuan Dong made from 10,000 used oil bottles seems to float along the old wall full of graffiti.

“This project calls for works using recycled materials,” he told Việt Nam News. “I gathered used plastic bottles and cans and asked other people to help to collect them as well.”

“For a green, clean and beautiful world, I would like to encourage people to join hands to save the environment,” Dong said.

“And these thrown away materials can still be used to make artworks for local audiences,” he added.

Artworks decorate neglected riverbank site
The CIty by a River installation work made of barrels by Nguyen Ngoc Lam. Photo courtesy of Nguyen The Son


Art researcher Tran Hau Yen The contributed the installation entitled Bức Tường Danh Vọng (The Wall of Fame) with images of metal windows and doors of old Hanoi houses.

“In some of my long-term research on the effect of Long Bien Bridge on Hanoi’s landscape, I have realised the important role of metal in architecture decorations,” he said.

“This work reflects houses which are disappearing. They have either completely disappeared or have faded in contemporary life. These images reflect doors, balconies, windows in houses of various important figures in Hanoi in the past. They are poets, painters and building contractors who have made considerable contributions to the city.”

Artworks decorate neglected riverbank site
A child by the installation work Circles by Trinh Minh Tien. Photo courtesy of Nguyen The Son

 
The said he wanted to describe a legend when someone kisses a frozen ruined city, the city would be awakened.

“This is a fiction that the once glorious Hanoi will rejuvenate,” he said. “The same as how this space near Long Bien Bridge will be livened up by the project.”

Acting as the curator for the project, artist Nguyen The Son, a lecturer from the Hanoi Fine Arts University, was asked by the Hoan Kiem District’s People’s Committee to turn the old dumping area into an artful destination.

Artworks decorate neglected riverbank site
Street Hawkers, an installation by Nguyen The Son. Photo courtesy of Nguyen The Son


They spent more than a month turning the dusty wall overlooking the river into an artful space. Running along the wall is a bumpy cement road full of rubbish and dog shit.

“We have tried to co-ordinate with the local community from the beginning,” he said. “We introduced the project, artists and works to locals. They were very happy and excited about the artworks. Most of the people think this is the backside of the city. Not only residents here, but people from other areas in the city also bring rubbish to dump here.

“That’s why we try to use rubbish and recycled materials in our works,” he said. “We encourage locals to collect used bottles and other materials for us to use in this project. We hope to change people’s attitude towards the environment. Many people have joined our project from the beginning. They can be proud of the artworks and their living environment now.”

Son himself has two installations at the site, named Gánh Hàng Rong (Street Hawkers) and Phù Điêu Đông Dương (Bas-Relief of Indochina).

With various images of women selling things, carrying their basket on their poles made from metal covered with a mirror, Son describes trading scenes on this riverside in the early 20th century.

Son said a nearby tea shop was part of his artwork as well.

 

Two bas-reliefs made of concrete covered with ceramic depict two famous paintings by popular painters Vu Cao Dam (1908-2000) and George Khanh (1906-unknown) on people working in a harbour area.

With the two parts of the installation, Son wants to create a dialogue between two generations of artists on labourers in Vietnam.

Son said this was the first project of its kind gathering so many artists and the artworks could last up to five years.

“This can be considered the first long-term community art project made from recycled materials in Hanoi,” he said.

Son has also hosted other art projects like the wall paintings at vaults in Phung Hung Street and contemporary art project in the basement under the National Assembly building.

Two foreign artists who have joined the project are Spanish fashion designer Diego Cortiza and Australian painter George Burchett.

Cortiza, who has been inspired by Hanoi in his Chula trademarked items, made his Colours piece out of bamboo chicken cages taken from the nearby Long Bien Market. The chicken cages have been turned into lanterns that light up the colourful dragon on the wall.

Burchett made an elephant, which has been famous in the history of Vietnam for centuries.

Artworks decorate neglected riverbank site
George Burchett by his metal elephant, which can be moved by people. VNS Photo Le Huong


“Now the elephants are in danger,” he said. “They are actually on the verge of extinction. So we have to do something about it.”

The other installation named Sống Xanh (Living Green) by Burchett describes people acting for the environment. Some of them carry signs encouraging people to keep the environment clean.
All of Burchett’s works can be touched.

“Children can play here and interact with my works,” he said. “I love Hanoi and I think not only artists but also anyone can make the city cleaner, greener and more beautiful.”
Hoang Thi Nga, who owns the tea shop that is part of Sơn's work, said everybody living nearby liked the project.

Artworks decorate neglected riverbank site
A resident takes photos for her children at the site. VNS Photo Le Huong


“I think the artworks are beautiful, which decorate the local surroundings and improve our living environment and make the city more beautiful,” she said.
She said locals are trying to protect the artworks.

“When children play, we tell them not to damage the works,” she said. “We always clean up the site so that more people from other areas can come to enjoy the art.”

Artworks decorate neglected riverbank site
Installation Nha Noi (Floating Houses) by Le Dang Ninh with lights at night. Photo courtesy of Nguyen The Son

Pham Tuan Long, deputy chairman of Hoan Kiem People’s Committee said in a longer plan, the land plot opposite the wall, next to the river, would be made into a flower garden.

“Authorities hope this open space and contemporary art will turn Phuc Tan dumping place into a scenic spot of the city,” he said. VNS

By Le Huong

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