Embracing all

The philosophy of the Hanoi-based art collective Work Room Four is that art is there for everyone to be involved in.

By Bill Nguyen on January 29,2015 03:19 PM

Embracing all

Photo: courtesy of Work Room Four

Art is a strange thing

On the one hand, it is often seen as a luxury for the wealthy and privileged. Sitting on its gleaming plinth, its exclusive and superior gaze looks down upon us ordinary people. On the other hand, it is alienated and regarded by the everyday practical person as a peculiarity rather than a necessity of life. Not having real use, value or relevance, it floats somewhere in-between a commercial product and a decorative ornament.

But art is also a meaningful thing

It can be historically significant, socially responsible, politically challenging, or all these at once. Whatever form it takes or language it speaks, art’s multi-faceted presence often ends up inviting us in for a thoughtful discussion, stretching both our analytical and interpretive abilities. You can give art a bad name, or shower it with love; either way you cannot deny the significance of its existence and influence on our own everyday lives. The folks at Work Room Four, one of Hanoi’s most active and dynamic arts-based collectives, understand and embrace this well.

The Beginning, The End, The Comeback

Photo: courtesy of Work Room Four
Photo: courtesy of Work Room Four

Starting out as a personal quest of artists and designers Dorian Gibb and Claire Driscoll for studio space, Work Room Four quickly evolved into something a lot grander and more ambitious when the husband and wife duo learned there were other like-minded creatives struggling to find a place to work in Hanoi. Originally set in one of the funky buildings at the then newly-established underground art, culture and leisure complex called Zone 9, the original incarnation of Work Room Four was introduced to the public in June 2013. Part co-working space and part education centre, it welcomed people of all ages and backgrounds, offering artist studios and exhibition space for professionals and art classes and workshops for the general public.

However, with the abrupt closure of Zone 9 later that year, Work Room Four residents were forced go on another hunt to find a new shelter. ‘We decided to keep going no matter what,’ says Claire. ‘Stopping was simply not an option.’ Eventually, in May 2014, they re-emerged, more chic and energetic than ever. Now resting in an expansive light-filled two-storey loft overlooking the capital, the new space is only five minutes from Xuan Dieu, off An Duong Vuong in Tay Ho district. The location might have changed, more names might have been added to the household, but the spirit remains the same.

Creative workshops, Hanoi Open Exhibition, Art for you

Photo: courtesy of Work Room Four

Photo: courtesy of Work Room Four

Compared to other art spaces and creative hubs in town, Work Room Four embraces a much friendlier vibe, acting almost as a bridge between local art circles, which can at times be inward-looking and intimidating, and those interested in art. ‘The key is to really break art down into more simplistic and less pretentious terms and make it accessible for, and about, the community,’ says Claire. By constantly opening up conversations and encouraging exchanges through various artistic programmes, the team has always carried an ‘art for all’ attitude at the foundation of their work philosophy, making everything they have created up to now an attempt to enable equal access to art, art appreciation, and art education for everyone. With their ever expanding series of creative workshops, including textiles, illustrations, life drawings and photography, Work Room Four believes that the act of learning by doing, and the sharing and passing on of skills, are some of the best ways to educate people about art.

Work Room Four

Open 10am to 5pm, Monday to Saturday

Address: Packexim Building Tower 1, 24th Floor, No 49, Lane 15, An Duong Vuong St., Tay Ho Dist., Hanoi

Email: workrmfour@gmail.com

Website: www.workroomfour.com

In addition to the workshops, Work Room Four’s annual ‘Hanoi Open Exhibition’ has also proven to be a huge success, both artistically and critically. By letting anyone submit their works, the Exhibition challenges the guarded and outdated notion that art and exhibition making are reserved only for the elite circle of artists and curators. Pieces by both established and emerging, and professional and amateur, artists are displayed side by side; the traditional juxtaposed with the contemporary, and the conceptual with the aesthetic. Like its older sibling, the second edition of the Hanoi Open Exhibition, which took place in October 2014, was able to deliver not only a remarkable visual experience with sensibly choreographed artworks but also offer known names an opportunity to be reintroduced and upcoming faces a platform to experiment. Most importantly, it acts as an endeavour to encourage everyone to make more work and ‘to make more good work together. [Because] the more we work with other people, the more it broadens what we can offer,’ explains Claire.

Photo: courtesy of Work Room Four
Photo: courtesy of Work Room Four

­­­­‘Art for you’ - Work Room Four’s latest innovation in collaboration with Manzi art space - is a unique event where original creations by some of Vietnam’s finest artists and designers are showcased and offered for sale, all at a bargain price. ‘[We want] to show people the necessity and importance of investing in authentic art in order to support the creative community,’ says Claire. Aiming to take place twice a year, the first instalment of Art for you presented to the public more than 40 artists and 200 artworks, two-thirds of which have found new homes. However, unlike other art and creative fairs that have been popping up like mushrooms in Hanoi over the last couple of years, Art for you embodies and treasures quality, not quantity. The selected artists are both high profile internationally-known names and upcoming newly-discovered talent in the Vietnamese art scene, and selected artworks have to go through a careful and cultivated process of selection and curation. ‘We want to sell art in a professional and transparent environment ... [where] artists feel that their works are respected and protected from counterfeiting,’ states Claire.

Art is a strange thing. But it is also a meaningful thing. The folks at Work Room Four have demonstrated that with integrity, knowledge and passion. Above all, they have shown the assumption that art is something to be done only by a special kind of being, and particularly that kind of being whom we call a genius, is false. The truth is, the artist has always been there inside every single one of us everyday people. All we are required to do is to let ourselves set it free.

So set it free. Let’s all set it free. Create something new.


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