The Past Moved, 2010
Charcoal on paper backdrop and 8 photographs
Drawing installation: 300 x 200 x 241 cm; Photographs: 50 x 75 cm each
“The Past Moved” is one of my ways to note the so called history. I use this word “so called history” to mention a hurry development of a country that has just got thru the war, and had been closed to the out world during such a long time. Therefore, they have tried by all means to escape the poor, and to delete any images that remind the poor of the past and the present.
The location where I was inspired for this work is the slum dog of right in front of my apartment building. It used to be a complicated area for those immigrants who are from every rural part of the country. So things in this area always wearing a look of unsteady even thru decades.
Develop that fact of “provisional”, I then draw the slumdog by charcoal on paper and installed it at a corner of my studio for a photo shoot. I invited the residents to come to join. They were so surprised when they saw their area presented in my studio. After a light shock, they got back normal then posed naturally for the photo shoot as the area is belongs to them.
Also, I invited some of my friends who are from different parts of the city to come for the photo shoot, they took quite long time to pose themselves perfectly with that background since that place is where they are not belongs to.
That reaction of every one who joined in the project, I decided to present my work “The Past Moved” as a conceptually multi-pronged. I hope that any one who see that background of that slumdog can relate it to his own past that passed, or a place where the truth and the unreal are both really moved to the past.
Bùi Công Khánh’s The Past Moved (2010) is an interdisciplinary project in which time, space and history interweave.
With the spreading urbanisation, many old streets and slums would be gradually replaced by generic modern high-rise buildings. However, it does not mean the population of that area would become richer or live a more comfortable life. Bùi Công Khánh recorded a slum in his neighbourhood in Ho Chi Minh City before it slipped into the past. In his studio, the artist reconstructed the facade of a working-class street in his vicinity through drawing and painting, and then invited the residents to stand in front of “their street” in the studio for a photograph. A motorbike driver, a food vendor and a second-hand bookseller, among others, are happy to have found their own street in an imaginary artistic space. As a result, The Past Moved transfers from an installation into an art performance with the participation of the residents who were not aware of their “making art” and making history.
While the residents of that particular neighbourhood are at home with “their street”, the non-residents treat the scene as an exotic photographic backdrop when it is displayed at museum. These voyeurs’ photographs indicate their “claim” of being visitors or tourists of a place. Inevitably, The Past Moved transforms its context accordingly to the gaze and engagement of the audience. For its changeable connotations, The Past Moved implies the possibility of different interpretations of art as well as history.
Boitran Huynh-Beattie obtained a PhD in 2005 in art history from the University of Sydney, specialising in Vietnamese art. Since 2005 she has worked with the Australian National University, Melbourne University, University of Wollongong and Casula Powerhouse Arts Centre, Sydney, on various projects and exhibitions related to Vietnam’s Diaspora. Boitran curated Fragments of the Past (2003), Voices of Minorities (2007) and Nam Bang! (2009). She was an adviser in Vietnamese contemporary art for Singapore Art Museum in 2007-2008. Huynh-Beattie has been awarded a 2011 Asialink Residency to carry out her research in Vietnam, “From Saigon to Sydney: The Modernist (1954-75) Saigonese Art and Vietnamese Australian Heritage”. She is the art historian and researcher for the Witness Collection.
“ The Past Moved” has been selected among the 15 finalists at the Asia-Pacific Breweries Foundation Signature Art Prize 2011 competition, Singapore Art Museum. Norminated by Boitran Huynh-Beattie
Article by curator Iola Lenzi
The Past Moved is a conceptually multi-pronged multi-media piece that examines the potential for both passive observation and active involvement in the recording and making of history. Centering on citizens’ confrontation with the change of geography and meaning of their urban environment resulting from encroaching modernisation, the installation brings together portraiture, performance and the street-as-photo-studio-backdrop. Through posed interaction with the graphic interpretation of my local street-corner, I invite my Saigon subjects to think about and perform the changing cityscape, each participant’s involvement in the piece different according to perspective. My local lane, with its pavement businesses, improvised Buddhist shrines, dangling electrical wires, and propaganda-dispensing megaphone, is due to be demolished to make way for a new steel and glass tower-block. Thus, in tribute and as documentation, I design a charcoal-on-paper human-scale set reproducing my patch of city and ask my friends and neighbors to sit for a photograph against this fictional backdrop of soon-to-be-razed community life. The piece preempts history, looking back to the future in a way that triggers the audience to think as much about this particular fragment of the past –a Saigon street’s imminent transformation and sanitization-, as about the way in which we write it, perceive it once written, and whether it is important now, and later. Putting graphics, performance and photography to work as documentary tools, I use the traditional photographic studio and its role in the formalized recording of a person in place and time to re-think a common-place visual-historical methodology and transpose the past geographically and temporally, so broadening the work’s reading.
The Past Moved was exhibited in Singapore’s Esplanade during the Making History show curated by Iola Lenzi in May 2010.
photo by Phan Quang