Three RMIT Vietnam researchers will take Melburnians on a journey through Saigon’s hems in an exhibition at RMIT Melbourne’s Design Hub Gallery.
The University’s academics Andrew Stiff, Desiree Grunewald and Thierry Bernard will present different aspects of their research on Ho Chi Minh City’s unique hem culture during the Super Tight exhibition.
Super Tight examines the “culture of spatial tightness emerging in Asian cities and its creative potential”. In Ho Chi Minh City, this ‘tightness’ is exemplified by the city’s sprawling, unplanned network of hems, or small alleys. These areas have been a focal point of Mr Stiff’s research and films.
“It’s about how these films show tightness and density, and the operation of these spaces as unique cultural artefacts. The argument is that maybe rather than Asia developing its infrastructure based on western principles, maybe the West needs to engage with how Asian cities develop. The only sustainable way forward is through density and tightness, is the argument,” Mr Stiff said.
One of the videos created by Mr Stiff during his research on hems in District 4, Ho Chi Minh City.
Mr Stiff’s films will be shown at the Super Tight exhibition on a giant screen, along with a sound installation from Mr Bernard and photos from Ms Grunewald.
Ms Grunewald, an Associate Lecturer at RMIT Vietnam’s School of Communication & Design, is an illustrator by trade, though her part of the exhibition is focused on photography.
“The hems have a lot of rich textures and materials, objects everywhere, and it’s very saturated, particularly the texture of the walls because of the paint wearing out and the different posters,” she said.
“I thought drawing it wouldn’t really depict that textural uniqueness, my photography was initially just visual data, but then I started using them – cutting them, so I started doing more collage.”
Both lecturers are extremely proud to be representing RMIT Vietnam in Melbourne, but their larger vision is that people in Vietnam recognise the value of urban hems and their unique characteristics.
“Ideally, I hope that this will go back to Vietnam and that people there start to value these spaces,” Ms Grunewald said.
“I think they are more valued outside than [in Vietnam]. Think how it bounces back, the repercussions of people asking about them and coming here and wanting to go there. It is very interesting and beautiful, and maybe that comes back and makes Vietnamese people reflect.”
Mr Stiff has been invited to present his research to the Vietnamese government, which he sees as a positive sign.
“They’ve said I’m the only person investigating these areas because they get brushed off as spaces that are only for working class people, they are dirty, there are drugs and gangsters, all these age-old urban myths, which aren’t completely untrue, but they’re not the spaces that are being depicted,” he said.
“[The exhibition] is an opportunity to say these are special places. They’ve been wiped out in Singapore, and in London those spaces are harder to find because everywhere is gentrified, so I think there’s a huge cultural reason to document these spaces. It may do nothing, or it may help people realise they need to maintain Vietnamese culture in here.”
Story: Michael Tatarski