Sàn Art is pleased to present ‘Come to [what] end?’ – a group exhibition featuring installation, sculpture, video and paper-cut work by artists Pham Dinh Tien, Nguyen Tran Nam and Rudy ‘Atjeh’ D, concluding their time with ‘Sàn Art Laboratory: Session Five’.
Curiosity is an innate part of human nature. Children often ponder in fascination with questions about their surrounding world. Scientists and philosophers are busy looking for the truth behind our existence. Sometimes the answer is clear as daylight in front of our eyes, and then there are those that remain unanswerable, or take life’s journey to discover what is the meaning or purpose of life?
Tien is inspired by the disappearance of Malaysian Airline Flight 370, in which a group of people embarked on a journey that vanished into thin air. Months of vigorous investigation speculated that Flight 370 ended in the southern Indian Ocean, with the presumed death of 239 victims. Isn’t death our ultimate fate? Our fate can sadly include such sudden tragic events that are beyond our control. How often do we sit on a plane with the fear of its fall? How would you know if the flight you board today would end in mayhem? By displaying a myriad of mirrors in the shape of airplanes in ‘A Journey’, Tien compels us to consider ourselves as the passenger of such flights that can potentially go awry, questioning our confidence to control reality when it all could be just an illusion. After all, don’t we trust our lives to the hands of the captain and the crew when we step on a plane?
Living in Ho Chi Minh City for 6 months prompted Rudy Atjeh to reflect on the history of Aceh, his hometown in Indonesia. When he visited a Cham temple in the city, he was fascinated by what he found – the visual similarities between text and pronunciation of the name of Vietnam’s Champa Kingdom, compared to the Jeumpa Kingdom in Aceh. Rudy was led to ponder, is there a connection between the two kingdoms and how was that connection established in the past? In his intricate and graceful paper-cutting work, ‘Untitled’, we can detect the imagery of a trading ship, while on the floor a trail of rice represents the Silk Roads. Such a trading route must have been one of the key factors that led to the encounter, interaction, exchange, and thus transformation of many different cultures and languages. As a nod to the mobility and vibrancy of trading, Rudy engulfs us with the sound of local markets in Ho Chi Minh City and Aceh.
Also revisiting history while on residency in HCMC is Hanoi-based artist Nguyen Tran Nam. Nam was compelled with his visit to the Independence Palace, where relics of animal skulls hung on the wall of the President’s room. In his view, the death of these animals, and what remains of them, embodies the idea of the trophy – a reward for the winner of a hunt, a battle, or a competition – they were tributes given to the President as an act of respect. Nam’s sculptural work, ‘Artifact of Belief’, places in a box a metal medal simplified the shape of a guillotine – the tool responsible for countless deaths of people under Ngo Dinh Diem’s regime in the South in the later half of 1950s. Nam questions if death is the ultimate punishment for a crime, and recognizes the weight of belief in the conscience of a deathly act (be it personal conviction, religious, or political). Did Ngo Dinh Diem really believe that the employment of the guillotine would lessen the number of those who were against him? Did it instil fear in people confronted with the very face of death, or in their mind, to sacrifice their lives for the country is a righteous and dignified act? Whether acts of death are commemorated or vilified, for Ngo Dinh Diem and the people, it must have felt true to them whichever they chose to believe. So then, is belief equal with truth? The artist poses the question of how we determine what is ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ in such deathly acts.
‘Come to [what] end?’ exhibition is the result of three resident artists coming together from Hanoi, HCMC, and Yogyakarta for San Art Laboratory Session 5. Each are intrigued with distinct local social histories and tragic recent global disasters. Will Rudy succeed in the acquisition of knowledge regarding the history of his hometown? Can one ever master the whole truth of history? With Tien, he reminds us that although death is an intrinsic part of our life, that we might take it for granted, the thought of death snatching us away the very next day can still open a new perspective of what is really important to us. And for Nam, death as a form of punishment might not be the worst sentence – it all depends on how we choose to believe in the justification of the act.
* Excerpt from curatorial essay. To view the full essay, please download via the link below
 ‘Champa was an ancient Indochinese kingdom lasting from the 2nd to the 17th century AD and extending over the central and southern coastal region of Vietnam. Established by the Cham, a people of Malayo-Polynesian stock and Indianized culture, Champa was finally absorbed by the Vietnamese, who in turn were strongly influenced by Cham culture.’ – Source: www.britannica.com/Ebchecked/topic/105118/Champa
 ‘Jeumpa was one of the first Islamic cities in Aceh, flourished around the 7th century AD. Located at the northern tip of Sumatra Island, it was an important trading and transit port of ships to China, India, Persia, and the Arabic Penisula. Though recognized by Stamford Raffles, the founding father of Singapore, it received none recognition from Indonesian historians.’ – Source: nusantarahistory.com
 ‘The Silk Roads were an interconnected web of routes linking the ancient societies of Asia, the Subcontinent, Central Asia, Western Asia and the Near East. The routes served principally to transfer raw materials, foodstuffs, and luxury goods. While some of these routes had been in use for millennia, by the 2nd century BC, the volume of exchange had increased substantially.’ – Source: whc.unesco.org/en/list/1442
 The Independence Place of the Saigon Regime, designed by Western-trained architect Ngo Viet Thu, was the residence of the Presidents of South Vietnam during the Vietnam war, namely Ngo Dinh Diem, Nguyen Van Thieu, and Duong Van Minh. During the event of the Fall of Saigon on April 30, 1975, a North Vietnamese Army tank crashed through its gates, a symbolic act of ending the Vietnam War.
 Ehrlich R, 2010, ‘When heads rolled in Vietnam’, The Asia Times, 15 September 2010, www.atimes/atimes/Southeast_Asia/LI15Ae01.html