Soft blows: Vietnamese artist Tran Luong’s red scarf – Guggenheim video interview

In a video interview produced by the Guggenheim in July 2013, Vietnamese media artist Tran Luong speaks about his involvement in the institution’s UBS MAP Global Art Initiative.

Produced during Tran’s involvement in MAP, Lập Lòe is a video work that was inspired by the artist’s childhood as a Young Pioneer in North Vietnam. The work is an abstraction of an earlier performance series called Welt in which the artist invited participants to whip his bare body using an icon of the Young Pioneer Movement, a red scarf.

Click here to see Guggenheim UBS MAP Tran Luong video on

Tran Luong was inspired to make Welt when his son came home from school one day wearing a red necktie. In remembering his own experiences with the scarf, he realised how easily the meaning of an established cultural icon could be distorted. “We are small boys during the communist time,” Tran says. “We [were] fighting with [the] red scarf because we do not have any toy or form of entertainment for children at that point in war time.”

Tran decided to expand on this observation through a series of performances. For the art events, collectively titled Welt, the artist invited audience members to interact with the red scarf. Participants were instructed to whip Tran with the scarf and it was used to tie the artist up, pulled from both ends like a rope and used like a rucksack, among other actions.

As the performance travelled to eleven countries, many interpretations of the red scarf began to emerge. Under a different political framework, audience members did not necessarily view the red scarf as a symbol belonging to the Young Pioneer Movement. According to Guggenheim curator June Yap, “the meanings imbued in the scarf were completely extreme.”

In the new work, Lập Lòe, “what we have is an abstraction, a reference to [this] performance,” Yap says. Lập Lòe features in the inaugural Guggenheim UBS MAP Global Art Initiative alongside other mixed media artworks by 22 artists and art collectives representing ten countries in the region. The three-channel video work was shown in New York before traveling to two other exhibition venues in Southeast Asia.

More about Tran Luong

Tran Luong was born in Hanoi in 1960. He graduated from the Vietnam University of Fine Arts in 1983 and, according to Nora Taylor, author of Painters in Hanoi: An Ethnography of Vietnamese Art, the artist witnessed the transition of Vietnamese culture in the context of the socioeconomic reforms of Doi Moi.

Tran Luong, 'Lập Lòe', 2012, three-channel colour video with sound, 9 min. 47 sec. Photo credit: Holger Biermann. Image courtesy District Kunst- und Kulturförderung.

Tran Luong, ‘Lập Lòe’, 2012, three-channel colour video with sound, 9 min. 47 sec. Photo credit: Holger Biermann. Image courtesy District Kunst- und Kulturförderung.

During this time, Tran shifted his focus from painting abstraction and nudes, rebellious genres before the Doi Moi reforms, to an artistic practice in video and performance. Joseph Hoff, author of The Gang of Five: The Long Road to Asserting a Vision, reasons that this is because western modernist styles were becoming commercially popular in North Vietnam, while the public display of self, embedded within the practice of performance art, was still taboo in Vietnamese culture.

In 1998, Tran co-founded Nha San Studio, the first independent art space in Vietnam. The space was an important platform for Vietnamese new media artists because, as Vietnamese art historian Dr Boitran Huynh-Beattie observes, the universities and academies at the time were focused on traditional techniques such as painting and the visual arts. Most new media art practitioners were autodidacts and Nha San Studio offered a space for experimentation and exposure to like-minded communities abroad.

In 2000, Tran became Director of the Hanoi Contemporary Art Centre. Through the support of institutions in Europe and the United States, Tran has been able to exhibit widely in his career, and is on the curatorial team of the Singapore Biennale 2013.

This article was written by a participant in our art writing diploma programme. Do you want to write for Art Radar, too? Click here to find out more about our Diploma in Art Journalism & Writing.

Colleen Chen


Related Topics: Vietnamese artists, performance art, video art, video interviews with artists

Related Posts:

Subscribe to Art Radar for more on contemporary Vietnamese artists