Social Enterprise Meets Art Infrastructure at The Factory

The Vietnam-based organisation fosters artistic initiatives with long term vision
By Ian Tee

'site / shine / sight', 2018, gallery installation view. Image courtesy of The Factory.

'site / shine / sight', 2018, gallery installation view. Image courtesy of The Factory.

The task of developing an infrastructure for the arts involves more than just having an ecology of artists and cultural practitioners. It often deals with sustaining the need for resources, visibility and support, with a keen understanding of local context. The Factory Contemporary Art Centre in Ho Chi Minh City, also simply known as The Factory, is an independent organisation which aims to do just that. Established in 2016 by artist Ti-A and headed by Artistic Director Zoe Butt, The Factory is the first purpose-built space for contemporary art in Vietnam, a "factory" of critical ideas.

Recognising the power of contemporary art is in its proposition of contemporary ideas, The Factory's openness to experimentation is evident in its exhibitions that embrace multi-disciplinary encounters. For instance, 'site / shine / sight' a duo exhibition on view till 18 November 2018, features a collaboration between visual artist and filmmaker Trương Quế Chi and architectural studio, vn-a. This show explores how elements of light can be perceived and interpreted, as The Factory is transformed into a dim maze of objects and architectural components.

'site / shine / sight', 2018, gallery installation view. Image courtesy of The Factory.

'site / shine / sight', 2018, gallery installation view. Image courtesy of The Factory.

Two years into its founding, The Factory has earned recognition by a local and international interdisciplinary community for the quality its exhibitions and public programme. However, the organisation hopes to speak to audiences beyond the art circles, to develop cultural publics and to raise awareness of the validity of contemporary art in Vietnam. It is a challenge rooted the country's lack of arts and education infrastructure for contemporary fine art, in spite of its rich aesthetic tradition.

The lack of financial support for artistic production and need for media savviness regarding contemporary art are intertwined problems. "In many countries, there are foundations and art critics who support artists in the production and interpretation of their art, both tremendously contributing to the realization and understanding of artistic ambition, in turn encouraging audiences to better understand the need for experimentation in human cultural production,” says Artistic Director Zoe Butt. “At The Factory we hope our work pushes local realization of the mutual need for space, funds and critical interpretation of art and culture today."

In order to remain independent, The Factory operates as a social enterprise whereby all profit from sale of art and business on the property supports the running costs of its art-related programmes. This includes initiatives such as 'The Glass Box', a private exhibition programme dedicated to the VIP community. It aims to cultivate interest in collecting and supporting the production and presentation of contemporary art in Vietnam. Whereas their Reading Room is an open access library, which houses a growing resource of publications on modern and contemporary art, with a geographical focus on Vietnam and Southeast Asia.

The Factory's Reading Room. Image Courtesy of the Factory.

The Factory's Reading Room. Image Courtesy of the Factory.

Community extends beyond national boundaries, and often the landscape of art activities is built on contributions and relationships outside of state-sponsored institutions. The Factory's most recent initiative ‘Pollination’, is a residency and project-driven programme for emerging curators and artists of Southeast Asia. The name 'Pollination' relates to the accrual of partners, as The Factory collaborates with an institutional partner each year which nominates a young curator and artist to work with.

"The long term vision of ‘Pollination’ is to possess an independent network of private interest which supports the growth of curator-artist-institutional relation,” says Butt. “Within five years, we hope to have five countries from Southeast Asia regularly discussing and sharing project ideas, collaborations and assisting the solving of problems that may be mutually experienced."

The inaugural edition is co-developed and co-sponsored with SAM Fund for Arts and Ecology (Indonesia). Titled 'We're In This, Together', audiences can look forward to the output of this joint project in an exhibition showcase at The Factory opening 14 December 2018.