Vietnamese SƠN TA and Heterotopia

According to the text "Des espaces autres" by Michel Foucault, Heterotopia conceptualizes those spaces of alterity and marginality that exist within every society but eludes easy categorization within the accepted social order.  Cemeteries, libraries, museums, theaters, brothels, boats, are all examples of heterotopia. As spaces of otherness, Heterotopia serves as a point of inflexion between the concept of utopia and normal spaces of order that help to define the contours between them, destabilize conventional order relationships, and generate rupture between the familiar and the unknown. Features of a heterotopia include a coexistence and simultaneity of multiple temporal and spatial planes, a continual function in every society whose practices and rites and locations change according to the values of the times, and the existence of some scheme of inclusion and exclusion.

An open and enigmatic concept, heterotopia incites the questioning of power structures through spaces of alterity that make visible the borders, limits, dissonances, isolations, instabilities and accumulations sometimes unapparent within a society.  For this reason, in the last few decades the concept of heterotopia been used as multifaceted and transversal framework through which to elucidate points of criticism in disciplines such as urban planning, architecture, and sociology. In the contemporary arts, heterotopia has been broadly interpreted to include discourses between the center and the periphery, in the creation of new “spaces” of reality, and even to be considered that any act or work of art as heterotopia in itself. Its relevance encircles the impulse of our times to understand the structures of the power, create multidimensional readings that value diversity, and break with the logic of convention and function. In Black Box and Specula, I explore the properties that constitute a place of heterotopia creating moments and specific experiences tied to geographic location that allow us to face and confront our own otherness.

To me the concept of Heterotopia also serves as a rhetorical trope to introduce the temporal, contradictory and enigmatic qualities of Vietnamese son ta and call attention to its qualities of alterity in order to break down fixed ideas about what we think we know about medium and this substance particular.  Vietnamese lacquer, usually misconceived simply as a traditional painting medium, is a rich area for creative practice and the study of visual culture.  But a sanding away of preconceived categories must happen in order to create the circumstance of openness and receptivity-- precursors for understanding its relevance in the present.