Record, Retrieve, Reactivate- Review by Vu Thai Ha, 2018
Record, Retrieve, Reactivate, curated by Will Pham and Cuong Pham, was an exhibition that revisited the An Viet Foundation’s 36-year history. Founded by Vu Khanh Thanh MBE, the centre was a housing association, a research institute for Southeast Asian studies, and the first Vietnamese restaurant in London before the flood came to Kingsland Road. The exhibition included archived photographs of Vietnamese refugees at the centre, a performance by artist Sung Tieu, and Will Pham’s three-channel video installation. The works were site-specific: they were intrinsically linked to the An Viet building, but also to the current efforts to maintain An Viet, which is undergoing the process of being dissolved.
Record, Retrieve, Reactivate asked questions about responsibility. When a centre serves and belongs to a community, who is responsible for maintaining and curating its materials? How can a new narrative be developed for the younger generations? Moreover, the exhibition questioned the right of outsiders to help a community or claim to speak about their experiences. Both organisers documented the starting point of a restoration and development process, which, like the exhibition itself, is a rare snapshot of this moment in time for the British Vietnamese community in London.
Will Pham first came to An Viet when he was building his own archive of memoirs and literature from the Vietnamese diaspora. Having found an existing library at An Viet, he instead looked to add to the library while using its resources for the research-led nature of his practice. After two years of neglect following its close, the building had become dilapidated. His 12-minute silent installation is, at its core, a study of damage and care. With three channels that spanned the length of a back room at An Viet – where Jun Mo Wing Chun classes are also held – images of mould juxtapose clips of the floor being mopped, or a dusty sign being washed.