Accentuating art

As an art teacher with a background in design education from South London, the aspiration for travel and change brought Claire Driscoll to Hanoi.

By Duong Nguyen. Photo: provided by Claire Driscoll on July 10,2016 08:07 AM

Accentuating art

Photo: provided by Claire Driscoll

For the last six years she has taught art, textiles, fashion and design at universities and private classes, experienced working as a freelance illustrator and graphic designer, been involved in art projects in Hanoi, and experimented with setting up Work Room Four in Zone 9, before closing it and relocating to West Lake.

The Guide had a chat with her in her bright, 23rd floor studio with panoramic views over Hanoi rooftops and the Red River.

How did you start with Work Room Four?

When we first settled here my partner got a job at an international school and I worked with a few universities like the London Fashion School. We ended up with a lot of design-based work doing illustrations and editorials. Then we got a spot in Zone 9, with 450 square metres of warehouse space in the middle of Hanoi. We decided we had to do something with it, which was how we made Work Room Four. There were four of us as the founders.

We got the space in May 2013, we opened in June and then the whole space was closed by Christmas and we had to move out on New Year’s Eve in the middle of the night and now we are here.

What was your vision to set up your space at Zone 9?

At the beginning, we just said yes and we would figure things out afterwards. It would be an arts space. Initially, my partner was looking for a studio for his work; when we got this big space we thought we could do other things, like part arts gallery, part studio.

Before that we had been to galleries and exhibitions in the UK and from that we got some ideas to work with the arts community here. For example, in the UK there is the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition, which has been held for the last 247 years; a very old practice. The idea behind it is to keep arts going for the summer months when it is normally very quiet. We thought we would have a similar concept to connect with artists immediately. We launched an open call for entries from artists with lots of different medium. It was a crazy idea really but it worked well.

How were the calls received by artists?

For the first call we got 120 artworks, which is less than what I wanted. But until last year we had to turn many people away as the quality of work was so high. The show now happens annually and this year will be our fourth. There are not many events in the Vietnamese arts calendar and this one is something you see happening every year at this time.

After that, we started Arts for You in partnership with Manzi. It was an effort to develop an arts market in Vietnam, to try to move arts through Vietnam and to keep it in the country. If you can get the mobile generation to keep arts, that is part of the country’s history. I think it is an important thing to preserve, otherwise in 20 years there will be nothing to keep in the Museum of Arts.

How did the audience respond to your shows?

It has been really nice to have people who said they came here last year and have come back again to the exhibition or the Arts For You event.

Are your buyers mostly Vietnamese or foreigners?

I would say half and half. Vietnamese tend to buy multiple pieces while foreigners buy a couple of pieces or just one. Some people buy arts for decoration, not arts for arts, while some want a risky, daring piece. We created a buyer’s instructions to give them some questions that can be taken into consideration.

Over the years you have worked with a lot of artists in Vietnam. What do you think is still lacking in Vietnam’s arts scene?

I have worked with about 300 artists in Vietnam. I think it is just missing critical thinking. Technique is very strong, especially in the north, while conception in the south is better (if you can be as divisive as that). But there should be more discussion in terms of practice, there should be more open forums within artists to discuss concepts, more discussions at the degree level to ask the question ‘Why, why, why…’. Overall there should be a wider and broader understanding of contemporary arts.

Are there any upcoming artists you would recommend?

Oh, that is really difficult. We try to give everyone an even platform, so we try not to talk about individual artists. We would like to encourage buyers to think about their choice and decision.

Are you surprised with how Work Room Four has evolved?

I think it has grown up in an organic way. If we had a serious business plan we would not be here now. But that’s a good thing, I think now is the time we have to have a strategy. I would like to add an arts education aspect to it and I do believe in a country with so many young people like here that that’s important.

In the next few years we will continue to see you in Hanoi?

Yes, we will be here. Over the years Hanoi has become exhausting as a city. There are things that drive me insane here but there are also things that you can not get anywhere else. So we will be here and we also hope to have more events and shows in HCMC as well.

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