Temporary Public Gallery

Artist: The Propeller Group
Location: Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
Year of completion: 2010
Researcher: Kelly Carmichael

In 2010 The Propeller Group rented a public billboard at a bus shelter in Ho Chi Minh City for 3 months to stage a public art project. A shrewd and insightful move in a country where all visual elements in the landscape— from public art to advertising—are controlled through different censorship bodies, Temporary Public Gallery was intended to explore matters concerning public space, public art, privatized commercial space and the politics/ censorship behind the regulation of these spaces in Ho Chi Minh City. This project began with the group’s interest in how the visual elements of a landscape not only reflect the socio-political changes of that locale, but can have an affect on it as well. Expressing a desire to see how they could contribute to this affect in the rapidly changing landscape of Viet Nam, the collective attempted to locate a loophole in the system by renting out advertising space to curate artworks in public, challenging notions of public space, advertising, and public art in Viet Nam.

An art collective known for pushing against boundaries, The Propeller Group’s initiative highlighted the framework for and expectations of public art in Vietnam. The Euro-centric understanding of public art does not exist in much of South East Asia. Any public interventions tend to be often very temporary, based on collective activity, social activation and performance. As the collective explain: “Public art in Viet Nam has been limited in the last few decades to marble sculptures in the park and some old propaganda signage attached to various walls throughout different cities. But the landscape has been shifting from having more propaganda to now having more advertising, while public art remains innocuous, inaccessible, and limited by censorship bodies.”

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There is an eclecticism and spontaneity to the practice of The Propeller Group, the antithesis of Vietnam’s ordered socialist state. In their role of challenging and provoking the status quo, the collective and the Temporary Public Gallery project exist as a catalyst for a creeping but powerful social change—not only in the visual landscape, but also in how the people use and respond to their city. Funded by a grant from Art Matters, the New York based organisation created to assist artists breaking ground aesthetically and socially, the project hit censorship hurdles and was never realised in its full form.

Established in 2006, The Propeller Group is an art collective and media production company comprised of Phu Nam Thuc Ha, Matt Lucero and Tuan Andrew Nguyen, visual artists from Saigon and Los Angeles. The Propeller Group helps to realise collaborative statements that re-define the social and political understanding of contemporary sub-cultures and popular cultures. Drawn to television, film, video and the web for its ability to make information attractive and desired on a mass scale, The Propeller Group are manipulators of media language and keen to reach a larger audience that takes the presentation of art beyond the world of gallery spaces and museums. Interested in the fuzzy spaces that exist between political ideologies and their economic implementations, the group uses popular culture, cinema, television, advertising, the internet, gallery, museums, writing, interviews and conversations to distribute and disseminate art projects. Their work has not only been shown on mainstream television and international film festivals but also in major museums and galleries abroad.

All copyright belongs to Shanghai Academy of Fine Arts, Shanghai University.

Progress Agency