Khải
(the welcome beginning of something new)

Photograph by Ben Reich for Kilomet 109

Vietnam is a country with a rich heritage of craft, and also a distinct culture of working with your hands. Creation for a utilitarian perspective, in practical form - design for social necessity - to make things work and function.. A legacy of reliance on the person - the maker - not the machine, for results. Design follows social need, we repair or modify objects and products as necessity, we also iterate and improve through this process, as humanity has done so for centuries. As Vietnam transforms as a country functional need is now being readily joined by an aspiration of aesthetic and these elements are showcased in emerging unity within this installation. Vietnam’s developing contemporary creative output; pioneers traditional craft married with a fresh aesthetic, putting sustainability at the forefront and sophisticated design identity; this is no longer about designing and making solely for function and need, but also for want. Vietnamese design today is immensely associated with its heritage, designers are increasingly utilising references to Vietnamese cultural legacy in an effort to create a design identity, rooted in tradition, but at home in a contemporary world where good design speaks both to the global and the local.

The Vietnamese pavilion sought to address the issue that there is exceptionally limited global knowledge of what Vietnamese design (old or new) looks and feels like, this installation ‘Khải’ does so by showcasing how designers look forward by way of reclaiming their past as the country transforms. ‘Khải’ is an invitation to pause and re ect on this idea while introducing a country’s relationship to its ancestry of craft and heritage of working with one’s hands - the long tradition of design rooted in social need, alongside beauty in craft, that has and continues to shape design created in Vietnam.

 

The three designers showcased in this exhibition, each have an aspect of this in their practice and the choice has been made to curate their work in a way where they come together as a unity – their work being at once an extension and part of one another. This is to highlight the complexity of the Vietnamese identity today, a unity made up of diversity.

Photograph by Ben Reich for Kilomet 109

Khải invites visitors to look at the conceptual construct of what is Vietnamese design is, and how Vietnamese designers are working sustainably. Particular attention is placed on the narrative between the motion, the act, and the outcome, to communicate the labour, time and emotional investment involved. What is to be conveyed is that design in this context is not sterile, but rather it is linked to many different fractions of an intense process of work and craft.

 

Viewers are introduced to these notions by three Vietnamese designers who are powerful advocates of environment and identity working proudly with heritage and tradition, subverting technique and changing the emotional content of old craft with the new product created. Nostalgia translates into a modern narrative moving on from the past and reincarnating within contemporary language and feeling.

We hope the viewers of Khải take away these two core elements: the universal importance of sustainability in craft and design and the introduction to Vietnam as a country beyond its prominent place in the geopolitics of the not too distant past.

 

Photograph by Ben Reich for Kilomet 109

Vietnam’s story has long been told within the narrow brackets of a particular history and long been gazed at from a select number of vantage points. Just like every grand narrative it is pieced together by many little stories, anecdotal evidence and spotlights directed at the clichés. To reverse that, every opportunity to present the parts that show the actual complexity that is contemporary Vietnam need to be seized, so that one step at a time a more complete picture can emerge.

 

This picture incorporates contemporary designers with viewpoints and practices that can enrich beyond the borders of their country. In particular due to their handling of questions of engagement with craft and aesthetic heritage and in extension its sustainability. The ethicality and sustainability of all things design is made tangible to the viewer not only through showcasing the numerous and changing encounters between material and human actors but also by pointing out enduring frames of reference that sit between contemporary design languages and traditional craft practices through the folding together of materiality and actions.

 

The designers show visitors an approach that is more relational and social, as they actively inscribe sustainable and ethical practices in the objects, services and processes and thereby train the audience and users in the importance of sustainable and ethical design while doing away with national stereotypes.

Claire Driscoll, Curator

Image courtesy Claire Driscoll

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