VietNamNet Bridge – Old, but very poetic… the communal buildings (in Vietnamese, nha tap the), which have reappeared through the reliefs and sophisticated drawings of Nguyen The Son and Tran Hau Yen The, have greatly impressed the public in Ha Noi since their exhibition opened some days ago.
3-dimensional: A relief features old apartment blocks in Ha Noi. — VNS Photos Bach Lien
’Living museum’ in Ha Noi
The two artists, who are both teachers at the Viet Nam University of Fine Arts, have shown the public the city of Hanoi like a living museum, which preserves memories of the past and the rhythms of the present.
All residents of Ha Noi will have seen these communal buildings at least once. However, it is unlikely that many have taken time to stop and watch the living buildings that are all around us today, yet which tomorrow may disappear without a trace.
The exhibition is called Changing Faces (Bottom and Face)
Following a long-term series on “The changing city landscape in the transitional period”, this exhibition is a further addition to the two artists existing research on a very distinctive face of the city today – that is the ‘Nha tap the’.
These Soviet style apartment buildings first appeared in Ha Noi in the 60s. They are often 3-5 storey apartment blocks.
Son and The themselves lived for years in these communal houses. The two artists have preserved many memories of those years. Communal houses mean to them the common yards full of children playing and the families spending time together to make chung cake for Lunar New Year. But life has changed, and they are afraid that the relationships between people will likewise change with the times.
The nha tap the when they first appeared in Viet Nam became a symbolic representation of modern life, with all necessities grounded in one closed space – something rather ‘luxurious’ at a time when people were already discontent with the many ‘involuntary’ shared accommodations of the ‘Nha Tay’ (French villas) or ‘nha ong Pho Co’ (tube houses in the Old Quarter).
This model of housing has lasted for over 50 years with various transformations, both in terms of façade and structure, according to the changes made in city’s development and planning. Tracing the ‘face’ of the ‘nha tap the’ nowadays, there are layers of ‘creative’ marks, which demonstrate the adaptation of the local people through the decades.
Communal housing represents an important page in the history of housing in Viet Nam.
The metamorphoses of social housing under the incessant action of the occupants to fit their needs testify to the tremendous “getting by” spirit of the Vietnamese people.
“This model of communal houses first appeared in France, that’s why we are exhibiting our works at the French Cultural Centre,” explained Son.
“I hope that this project can record a history, a collective memory of today, as well as to revoke a collective memory of yesterday, before they disappear into thin air,” he added.
“We simply want to testify to the poetry of communal housing and document this form of housing and lifestyle that is gradually disappearing from the urban landscape,” he said.
Son’s ten reliefs depicts the prototypes of several typical apartment buildings called “communal houses” in Ha Noi, which have housed thousands of people including Kim Lien, Thanh Nhan, Thai Ha, Giang Vo and Nguyen Hong.
To make his works alive, Son took pictures then created 3D reliefs with printed pictures that were pasted onto a solid backing.
The public can also see photographs of these apartment buildings with the “tiger cages” that residents build to extend their living spaces.
At the show, two old crushed windows that Son brought from the Van Chuong apartment building are also on display. He has installed a blackboard with photos of happy families living in communal houses that he has collected.
The two artists spent a year preparing this exhibition. They researched, took pictures of communal houses and interviewed the people living there.
Those social houses face the risk of disappearing as modern high-rise apartments have gradually mushroomed in the city. But The is optimistic.
“In some countries, for example Russia, people preserve some typical social houses like a living museum to develop tourism. And Viet Nam could do that as well,” he said.
A gift for the visually impaired
Different to many other exhibits, this exhibit attracted quite a number of visually impaired visitors.
Disappearing history: A visitor watches artworks featuring Ha Noi’s social houses at the exhibit.
The spent time making detailed drawings in Braille (the langue of the visually impaired) showing the architecture of those social houses with information about the date of construction and status of those houses. This helped the visually impaired enjoy the show.
The idea came to him when he found out about the life of blind guitarist Van Vuong through a documentary film some years ago. Vuong lived in an old apartment and spent his time singing and playing music. To achieve this technique, The spent half a year studying Braille.
“It’s the first time that I have brought my son to a visual exhibition that is not only for sighted people, but also for those with visual impairments. I want to say thank to the artists,” said Mai Ngoc Linh, while watching his son joyfully touch the drawings in Braille to imagine the houses.
The exhibition runs until November 5 at L’Espace, the French Cultural Centre located at 24 Trang Tien Street, Ha Noi.
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