Sàn Art Studio is a six-week residency program, launched in April 2022, providing support and funds for practicing artists in a post-Covid landscape. Sàn Art Studio was made with support from British Council Vietnam through Cultural and Creative Hubs Vietnam (CHV), in collaboration with VICAS.

Our first artist in residency is Chi L. Nguyen, an artist & designer from Hanoi, Vietnam. With a background in Visual Communication – Illustration, she explores her practice in both artistic projects and design in mixed media. During her stay at Sàn Art, Chi sets out to research the cultural and historical development of mirror painting in Southern Vietnam, to understand the medium’s materiality and its potential in transforming her previously established interests, from simple reflective surfaces to reflexive modes of looking.  

Chi’s research contained several points of entry: visiting local artisans around Cho Lon and sites of mirror paintings in Binh Duong and Long An; talking to cultural researchers and collectors about the various forms and figures of worship, and the cultural significance, arising from and around the genre. In the broader contexts, spaces like cai luong stages and family altars which house mirror paintings, and utilize mirrors as part of their scenography – one theatrical, the other spiritual – became parallel lines of interest for Chi. This spatial understanding of the medium simultaneously coincides with her initial intention – researching mirror painting’s religious fable, figures motifs and application in everyday life – and opens up different possibilities for her final work, pushing it outside the bounds of a single medium toward a plurality of expression including installation, performance, and visual art. How does one perceive and make visible the spiritual, the mystic? How does the performativity in domestic rituals resemble that of an artist on the stage? These are the questions Chi hopes to answer as she continues to pursue the project after the residency has ended.

Beside focused research, Chi experimented hand-on with techniques of reverse glass paintings and engaged with a local artisan for a commissioned prototype. She also invited Nguyen Duc Huy – a prominent collector and conservator of mirror painting – to give a presentation on the historical origin and development of the art form.