September 23, 2022

Field Notes: Alaina Claire Feldman on Nhà Sàn Collective, Documenta 15

Art & Education

Quynh Dong, Nhà Sàn Collective, Poem Garden, 2022. Installation view, WH22, Kassel, June 15, 2022. Photo: Nils Klinger.

Phụ Lục (The Appendix Group), Nhà Sàn Collective, I-Ching Hexagram #59, 2022. Installation view, WH22, Kassel, June 15, 2022, Photo: Nils Klinger.

Tuấn Mami, Nhà Sàn Collective, Vietnamese Immigrating Garden, 2022. Installation view, WH22, Kassel, June 15, 2022. Photo: Nils Klinger.

Tuấn Mami, Nhà Sàn Collective, Vietnamese Immigrating Garden, 2022. Installation view, WH22, Kassel, June 15, 2022. Photo: Nils Klinger.

Field Notes: Nhà Sàn Collective, Documenta 15
by Alaina Claire Feldman

If Documenta 13 claimed to unfold like “an organism, like a vegetable bud,” then Documenta 15 gleans crops and distributes the harvest. ruangrupa, the curatorial collective behind Documenta 15, has framed their organizing agenda around the lumbung’s communal harvest, a resource-sharing endeavor that counters neoliberal logics and climate crises. Documenta 15 also organizes its artistic perspective from the Global South, particularly Southeast Asia. The curators state that “harvesting can be seen as a way of collective writing that enables continuous collective learning, from different sensory experiences.” Many works in the exhibition directly address a circular economy not just theoretically but materially, which is genuinely distinct for the quinquennial. It should come as no surprise then to encounter several horticultural projects in the exhibition, many of which also look to Southeast Asian immigrant communities within Germany itself, including its large Vietnamese community.

Works engaging with environmental concerns have been a feature of Documentas past. Well known across the Kassel landscape is Joseph Beuys’s 7000 Oaks, from Documenta 7 in 1982, in which the artist planted 7000 trees alongside basalt columns throughout the city. Documenta 13, in 2012, included works that were “ecologically” “entangled,” buzzwords worth interrogating as they are often used with ambiguity: Pierre Hugyhe’s beehive sculptures made their debut, Maria Thereza Alves’s installation gracefully tracked man-made disaster in Chalco, Mexico, and Song Dong presented a yassified mound of organic waste that was quarantined from the public amid the manicured fields of Kassel’s Orangerie. While these works are generally hands-off propositions intentionally cloistered from public intrusion for aesthetic and conservation purposes, Documenta 15 has encouraged direct engagement with nature through the planting of seeds, the gathering of divergent communities, and the harvesting and sharing of histories, ideas, and resources. Unpretentious relational-aesthetic gardens or gardens-as-social-practice can be found throughout the exhibition, but none are as inviting as Nhà Sàn Collective’s offering.

Founded as Nhà Sàn Studio in 1998—the first alternative art space in Vietnam—Nhà Sàn reformed as an artist collective to support and nurture contemporary art in Hanoi. At Werner-Hilpert-Strasse 22 (WH22), the collective’s leafy installation confronts viewers in an otherwise postindustrial and postcommercial setting: the back of a former nineteenth-century wine shop that was until recently an empty lot. Nhà Sàn’s project consists of repurposing vacant urban space with a labyrinth of raised planting beds filled with willowy and untamed plants initiated by collective member Tuấn Mami, a woodshed with a porch displaying the garden’s yield alongside works by the Nhà Sàn-invited collective Phụ Lục (The Appendx Group), and a smaller improvised shed-cum-screening room with a video by Quynh Dong.

Read more of Alaina Claire Feldman’s Field Notes review on Art & Education.

Field Notes is a new series of reviews from the next generation of art writers. Featuring texts on the 59th Venice Biennale and Documenta 15 contributed by students and recent graduates, Field Notes makes original connections between the work and the world and takes a closer look at what other observers might have missed.

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