arts • 14 Jan, 2016
Inside ‘Soul Archive’
The New Photography Project by Artist Truc Anh and Rice Creative
Soul Archive is the new photography project by Saigon-based artist Truc Anh and Rice Creative. Launched in 2015, the project is as much an anthropological endeavor, as it is artistic pursuit. Soul Archive captures singular moments of place, people and feelings; or the spirit and the soul. The images, captured by a number of different photographic artists, are then reproduced on handmade large-scale postcard-like prints.
It’s a curious project, one which aims to dissuade the popular stereotype we see in Vietnamese photography of either war-torn narratives or clichéd tourist fodder. Somewhere between the two exists modern Vietnam; a place with history and traditions, certainly, but a place that’s also a vibrant and modern society.
“I was very surprised that all the pictures I found on postcards here (in Vietnam) didn’t speak about reality or what the country is really. For local people, as well foreigners, a modern country needs a modern representation of itself. I thought an art project could be at the forefront of this new impression,” says Truc Anh.
Originally from France, Truc Anh has been living in Saigon for 5 years, whilst continuing to be exhibited in galleries in France, Belgium and The Netherlands. After his last gallery show in HCMC, Truc Anh founded Soul Archive. The project has a number of objectives from changing the typical visual representations of Vietnam, to providing affordable and accessible art, and even attempting to resurrect the importance of the image as a physical object and not just a file on a computer screen.
“This project is, in a way, an anthropological one, but it’s also very of our time. We print the image and people have a physical relationship with the object, like a postcard, which you can keep much longer than a JPEG. JPEGS don’t have meaning,” says the artist.
Each set of images comes in a collectable, archive box; one which is beautifully handmade. The care and effort that has gone into the presentation of the images is just another indicator of the importance placed on their physicality. The collective’s attempt, perhaps, at trying to draw a real relationship between the viewer/owner and the image itself.
“The role of image is very important, not only for how outsiders view Vietnam, but also for how the Vietnamese see themselves. Photography is more than an image. It’s very important to show real people in a real situation. Advertising has a big hold on people and how they see their country. Photography can make a little resistance to that. We created a new hybrid format of photography. We want to create something that resists time.”
By using these images on a postcard format, Truc Anh hopes to, not only create a more lasting impression with his audience, but also to involve them in more practical and personal ways.
“Someone will write something for their beloved, for their parents, or a relative etc. It not only personalises the image, but the soul is inside the image, and then the object has meaning.”
From the early days of the project, Truc Anh expanded its scope to include working with Rice Creative and, after that, a collective of other photographic artists including Maika Elans, Vu Tuan An, Linh Suzu, Jamie Maxton-Graham, Neo Dinho, Cuong Do Manh and Kien Hoang Le. Each artist had their own freehand to capture whatever scenes, characters and stories they wished for the project, creating their own unique vision of Vietnam in Soul Archives first set, ‘Now in Vietnam.’
In keeping with the nature of the project, Truc Anh and co. haven’t chosen the typical way to sell their new creations. After struggling to find the perfect retail option for their prints, Soul Archive constructed their Squid bike inspired vehicle to peddle the art sets around town.
“There’s a big tradition of bike selling here (Vietnam),” says Truc Anh. “We wanted to make a shop, but the street is where you can find anything.”
And this is just the beginning, Truc Anh has big plans for the project, including new collectable sets, as well as expanding Soul Archive to other countries.
“An idea is not only dreaming, it’s also the way to make it true,” he finishes.
If you don’t see the Soul Archive bike around Saigon, you can also pick up set one of Soul Archive, ‘Now in Vietnam’ at soul-archive.com
Words by Nicolas D. Heath
Illustrations by Kevin Moulié
Photos by Kyanh Tran