Nominated by: Andrea Viliani
Vietnam or Denmark
Vo is a Danish citizen, but for him this fact in itself is remarkable. Whereas the rights granted by a nation are normally determined by birth, Vo's immigration to Denmark from Vietnam was entirely coincidental, his family having been fortunate enough to be picked up in a refugee boat by a Danish tanker obligated to take them back to its port of origin. His continual use of this anecdote can be taken as a general introduction to the themes which Vo addresses in his work: the definition of sovereignty, the naming which this entails, and the refugee as a model for the "avant-garde" of the social body. In his multi-faceted process, Vo uses the art-world and its codes of self-definition as a closed but permeable society as a metaphor for political problems, while conversely using the political issue of the refugee as artistic content to point out the art-world’s reliance on these codes to legitimate its internal values.
From his earliest works, Vo has addressed both his origins and the legitimacy that birthright, citizenship, and identification requires. In vo rosasco rasmussen (ongoing since 2002) Vo solicited people with the last name of people who he has considered personally influential to marry him, thus amending his own name through a given institutional convention. His development is made public: as the name increases in length, it illustrates the influence of those who have affected him. He thus reduces marriage to its most transactional form, stripping away its romantic connotations to reveal an economic transaction concerned with right and privilege. The gesture also functions as a kind of reductio ad absurdum of the institution of marriage, as the rights to which Vo is given claim are virtually non-existent (until now divorce has immediately followed the bond of marriage). This is an important factor to consider, as Vo is not concerned with acquiring legal or public rights. Rather, the focal point for Vo’s work is the status of the refugee, whose condition can be generalized to include what Georgio Agamben terms the denizen, who although present in society is, whether through legal sanction or free choice, not represented in the governing or institutional context.
The status of being present but not represented is a common occurrence in current contemporary art. The emphasis on collaboration, inclusion, and interaction can be seen as the defining trait of many milestone works of the 1990's. Yet the status of authorship remains intact despite many artists’ efforts to refuse it, as few of these works are attributed to anyone but the individual artist. This problematic is represented in Vo (2004), Vo’s graduating project for the Danish Royal Art Academy. Anticipating that the final group show would be the result of lengthy negotiation and compromise, Vo sidestepped his role as a participant by inviting his family members to take his place. Thus, his direct participation was replaced by the participation of his entire family, not only for the works present in the actual exhibition, but in the meetings, administrative planning, and organization that preceded it. As Vo explains, it was the first time many of his family members had participated in an event which was so related to the public sphere—the Royal Academy representing a manifestation of the state—and more crucially, it represented for them a small reconciliation with the country in which they had lived as refugees for decades. Through their contributions, they created a kind of portrait of the family, from a ring that Vo’s mother had given to his father (which had actually been worn by an American G.I. during the Vietnam War), to his brother’s contribution, a kind of broken down Christmas tree recalling a history of annual reunions.
One senses, however, that the gesture was not without its contradictions. Vo’s planned absence did exclude his direct participation in the exhibition, and did create an ambiguity of authorship through, for example, the placement of the names of his family members on the exhibition placards. He did retain, however, a claim to authorship that surpassed that which he had allotted to his family. It was never in question that Vo had completed the necessary exhibition requirements, earning the right to graduate. He thus created a contradiction in his institutional status by manufacturing the position of being "officially excluded". This status could be interpreted the Vo’s central interest in Vo, as it simultaneously addresses pressing uncertainties in both the modern European state, and the field of contemporary art.
Vo’s most ambitious project to date, Go Mo Ni Ma Da (2004) is an attempt to integrate the issues at stake in his previous projects within the context of the work of one of the most recognized German contemporary artists. In this work Vo adapts and camouflages his own work within framework of Tobias Rehberger's large-scale production. Rehberger's work already provides a starting point for a reflection on authorship—his work often depends on the misinterpretation and redirection of those he employs in his production process. Notably, he has commissioned the production of luxury automobiles in Thailand, a country well known for its imitation of branded western commodities. Though the cars are instantly recognizable, upon closer inspection, flaws become evident, thus revealing the sculptures as copies. For Go Mo Ni Ma Da Vo has persuaded Rehberger to use his existing production strategy to manufacture an object which has been monumental to Vo’s personal history—the refugee boat which provided for his family's escape from Vietnam, four years after the end of the Vietnam War.
The parallels between the history of Vo’s family and Rehberger's strategies form the foundation for the collaboration. In his first solo exhibition, Rehberger addressed the divide between amateur and professional artist by reproducing the "Sunday painting" of his father, as well as the furniture that his father had personally designed. Corresponding to this aspect of Rehberger's work is the remarkable fact that Vo’s father bore the entire responsibility for the oversight of the production of the original boat itself. Furthermore, Vo’s father had to raise the production costs, bribe the local officials, design the craft, and determine who would make up the escapees, numbering over one hundred. By showing the resemblance of their roles as producers, the work illustrates the enormous discrepancy between the respective geo-political situations of Rehberger, Vo and their fathers.
But perhaps the most significant aspect of Go Mo Ni Ma Da is the relation between the two artists which Vo has proposed. When the work is exhibited in New York, Rehberger will be the sole author. Whereas in conventional collaborations, two or more artists are entitled to an equal claim to authorship, Vo simply renounces his claim, favoring instead to simply coexist within the constraints the project. This means that the project will not be officially understood as a co-authored work, but exist simultaneously and distinctly within the body of work of both artists. Moreover, by inhabiting the field of authorship extraterritorially, Vo creates a complex metaphor for concrete political realities such as, for example, the redefinition of Jerusalem as the simultaneous capital of two nation-states under the Geneva Understanding. Evidently, the strategies that Vo employs are not at all arbitrary or self-indulgent, but indicative of the most current societal and structural developments of the present-day.
1975 fall of saigon apr.29
1975 refugee camp, singapore
1989 fall of the berlin wall
1998 the royal academy of fine arts in copenhagen
2000 mia rosasco
2000 reality show, villa medusa
2001 illegal housing at the royal academy
2001 barbara steiner
2001 illegal gay-party at the royal academy's exhibition space
2001 almost dismissed from the royal academy
2002 rirkrit tiravanija
2002 staedelschule, frankfurt
2002 suspencion of driverslicense
2003 pratchaya phintong
2003 first marriage
2003 detention in bangkok