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Vietnamese, German artists hold exhibition on human-machine relationship in HCMC

The Saigon Times

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HCMC – A duo exhibition introducing the latest works of Vietnamese artist Nguyen Hoang Giang and his German counterpart Gabriel Hensche is taking place at the Goclab art space in HCMC, inviting the audience to engage in a joint dialogue over the relationship between human beings and machines.

Not just seeking an interaction with the audience, “The Ignorant Schoolmaster” exhibition also shares how an art project has grown and been completed via digital technologies during the pandemic, with artists and organizers all located at different places and countries.

The project is co-organized by GocCreation and RECONNECT, a program initiated by Goethe Institut Vietnam.

With a title borrowed from Jaques Rancieres’ book “The Ignorant Schoolmaster: Five Lessons in Intellectual Emancipation” (1987), the project leads the audience to workshops raising questions over how they can stay mentally and physically healthy while increasing the use of digital devices, and what they can learn from machines. The idea first came up when Giang and Hensche met during a residency at Viafarini in Milan in 2018.

Both artworks, Human Learning (video/performance) by Giang and Exercises for the Digital Age (a series of collective drawings on Miro Board printed on different canvas sizes) take the form of “the exercises for the future”.

The audience not only experiences a joint dialogue between two works but is also encouraged to interact with or perform the exercises that the artists introduce in the exhibition. Also, for the first time, two artists have brought their practices in dialog through a series of workshops.

The exhibition was first intended to be conducted at Goethe Institut Hanoi. However, due to the complicated situation of the Covid pandemic and artist Giang’s residency, “The Ignorant Schoolmaster” exhibition was moved to HCMC.

“Human Learning” is a performance by Nguyen Hoang Giang, collaborating with four other dancers: Nguyen Huynh Nhu, Minh Duyen, Psycho NEO and Son Luong. The 14-minute video is repeated in the space of a fictional practice floor as an invitation to the audience to both watch and perform fall, walking and obstacle-crossing exercises following the direction guide. Or viewers can also sit and lie on the practice floor to enjoy the work.

The predecessor of “Human learning” is “The Fall”, which won the Dogma First Prize 2019. “Human learning” continues to expand the digital and physical boundaries even further. Giang suggested participants perform exercises that react or imitate the robot’s behavior, for example falling, walking and avoiding human subjects. These movements examine the master-servant role between man and machine, reminding us that technology is only adapting to the indescribable and precarious nature of humanity.

“Exercises for the Digital Age” is an installation of collective drawings printed on 20 medium and large canvases with a structure of a tree-like hanging, creating a space for viewers to slip in to see, read or touch the discussions and ideas that came from Hensche and 20 supporting artists from all over the world, especially Germany and Vietnam.

“With these works, I hope to contribute to a dialogue not only about technology and its political implications but also about art and its potential to transcend the limitations of our technological imaginary,” Hensche said.

“The Ignorant Schoolmaster” exhibition will run until December 25 at the Toong workspace, 188 Vo Thi Sau Street, District 3, HCMC.

Hensche and one of the supporting artists, Ashlee Connery, will also conduct an online workshop on December 23, through which the audience can gain a better understanding about Hensche’s work as well as the process of making the artworks displayed at Toong.

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