Symposium: Precarious Solidarities: Artists for Democracy (1974–77)
Afterall Exhibition histories symposium
2 February 2023
Together with Cường Phạm, I delivered the illustrated talk ‘Everything is suspended in thin air’ as part of the Precarious Solidarities: Artists for Democracy (1974–77), Exhibition Histories Symposium organised by David Morris and Wing Chan from Afterall.
At the end of her review of David Toop and Paul Burwell’s musical performance with Artists For Democracy, Annabel Nicolson wonders “where they learnt Vietnamese music.” Our presentation will explore this question looking at the networks for the dissemination of music and how they are linked with issues of solidarity, community, exile and mourning. Drawing on our work with the An Viet Foundation archive, the collection of the influential Vietnamese refugee and housing association based in Hackney 1981-2017, we will explore how the idea of Vietnam travelled through song, linking distinct solidarity groups and refugee communities and intermingling it with international struggles from Ireland to Chile. The awareness of such popular struggles was enabled by the often intimate exchange of music. While these struggles are all inherently creations of conflict, they have in turn created means of community and gathering that sit outside of the reach of the state. As Edward Said reflected: “Exile is irremediably secular and unbearably historical … like death but without death’s ultimate mercy, it has torn millions of people from the nourishment of tradition, family, and geography.” In such contexts, what is it that we can learn from music?
Cường Minh Bá Phạm works between sound and community, sometimes they intersect, and at times they don’t. He finds himself trying to constantly negotiate and situate himself concerning cultural identity, movement, sites of community, and geographical spaces, Often this is done through sound, language or memory. He is also actively involved in the East & Southeast Asian communities in London, primarily working with local refugee and precarious communities. Under the handle ‘Phambinho’ he also hosts a monthly show on NTS, an independent online radio platform. In which he, and occasional guests, attempts to reframe ‘Asia’ as a contested paradigm through the lenses of music and art. Alongside Breakwater Collective, he has just finished a four part art radio series, ‘Becoming Forest’ which posits mental wellbeing as a collective responsibility. With a focus on the detrimental impact of Covid-19 and the spike of anti-Asian racism upon the mental health of Southeast and East Asian diasporas, refugees, and precarious migrants in the UK. Currently, he is working alongside a Steering Committee in setting up the An Viet Archive which consists of the largest known collection of documents, photos, and other objects relating to the British-Vietnamese experience.
George Clark is an artist, writer and curator. His work focuses on moving images in the expanded field working across film, installation and performance with an interest in inter-local collaborative practice. His projects explore non-aligned histories and geographies seeking to build new models of assembly, exhibition and moving image production. His films have been exhibited at museums and festivals including New York Film Festival, Hanoi Doclab, International Film Festival Rotterdam, Taiwan Biennale, Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art / MMCA, Seoul, Museo de Arte Moderno de Buenos Aires and LA Film Forum among others. He is a lecturer at the University of Westminster and his work is distributed by LUX. With Cường Phạm, he is working alongside a Steering Committee in setting up the An Viet Archive which consists of the largest known collection of documents, photos, and other objects relating to the British-Vietnamese experience.