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QR82: “Ký ức và Ảo ảnh” (Memories and illusions)

Artist: Trịnh Minh Tiến

Medium: Airbrush paint on car hoods 
Size: 2.3m x 1.8m/each piece

The blurry image represents the flow of time and memories, sometimes dimming, sometimes clear, reflecting the fragility and ephemerality of impermanence. The artist uses images of three important architectural buildings, built in the early 19th century, which their political, religious and economic significance used to be outstanding in three regions North, Central and South, respectively. They are Báo Ân Pagoda in Hanoi, Cần Chánh Palace in Huế, and Saigon Tax Trade Center in Hồ Chí Minh City. As war and economic development, these architectural heritages have been lost forever.
Báo Ân Pagoda was built around 1842 under the reign of emperor Thiệu Trị. It was one of the rare imprints of the Nguyễn dynasty in the ancient Thăng Long. Governor-General Nguyễn Đăng Giai oversaw the construction of the pagoda, hence the people also call the pagoda Quan Thượng. Báo Ân Pagoda is a typical example of the idea "Live in Confucianism, Embrace Buddhism" (meaning one can study Confucianism but can still worship Buddhism) that prevailed during the period of the Nguyễn dynasty. Located on an area of nearly 100 acres, Báo Ân Pagoda was considered as the largest Buddhist construction in Thăng Long at that time. The Pagoda had 36 roofs and 180 compartments, with complex and sophisticated architectural features.

Báo Ân Pagoda

Cần Chánh Palace was once considered as the most beautiful palace in the Forbidden City of Huế. However, Cần Chánh Palace was destroyed during the war in 1947. Cần Chánh Palace was the place where the emperor held a court on the 5th, 10th, 20th and 25th of the lunar month. The palace was also the place where the Nguyễn emperors received important emissaries, where national banquets were held on festive occasions. The palace displayed many treasures of the Nguyễn dynasty such as rare porcelain, gold and jade treasure chests of the dynasty. The palace was burned down during the war in 1947. Today, the plan to restore Cần Chánh Palace is being studied by the Huế Monuments Conservation Center and the UNESCO World Heritage Research Institute at Waseda University (Japan).

Cần Chánh Palace’s front interior

The whole frame of the palace consists of 80 ironwood columns. Most of the wooden structures are sophisticatedly and intricately carved, showing the high technical and artistic skills of traditional Vietnamese architecture. Being built in 1880, Saigon Tax Trade Center became a familiar shopping destination for Saigon people for more than 130 years.  Tax Trade Center had a long history and it started from the 80s of the 19th century, which is a significant part of old Saigon. Initially, the center was named Les Grands Magazins Charner (GMC) and was constructed in French architecture style with patterns of Asian culture.

GMC’s luxury goods were imported mainly from Britain, France and Western countries to serve the elite in Saigon and the wealthy landowners of the surrounding six provinces of Cochinchina at that time.
Along with other French colonial architectural works such as Bến Thành Market, Notre Dame Cathedral, City Post Office, City Opera House, Governor's Palace (now Reunification Hall) and Xã Tây Palace (now Hồ Chí Minh City People's Committee), Saigon Tax Trade Center contributed to the formation of the most elegant and vibrant "Pearl of the Far East" in Asia at that time.
Later, in order to make the most of the building's functionality and efficiency, the owner of GMC decided to demolish the clock tower and build one more floor. GMC word was placed on the roof of the building, which could be seen from afar. 


After the liberation, Saigon Tax Trade Center was handed over to the People's Committee of Hồ Chí Minh City. The building was no longer a busy business place but was sometimes used to showcase industrial machinery products by the city’s authorities. In 1981, the People's Committee of the city decided to use the building to establish the General Department Store of Hồ Chí Minh City under the Department of Trade’s management in order to improve the operating level and to serve the market’s needs. This was also one of the largest stores in Viet Nam at that time.
Since 2010, the People's Committee of Hồ Chí Minh City has approved Satra company to act as the investor who will implement the construction project of the Office and Hotel Service Trade Center at Saigon Tax Trade Center. According to the design, Saigon Tax Trade Center would be expanded and developed into Tax Plaza, a 40-storey complex including a commercial center, offices for lease, international exhibitions, conference rooms and parking basement. The previous plan to build a helipad on the roof of the building was removed.


Through this series of paintings on the cars’ hoods, the artist warns us about the fragile viability of historical relics in the face of today's development. The artist uses the air spray paint technique on the cars’ hoods to create images that are both blurry and soulful, reflecting an echo of time. This way of expression connects the past with the present, the ambiguity with reality and the old with the modern. Each image is a mirror, full of illusion and also very artistic. Despite fleeting memories of lost ruins only, it still gives us an opportunity for us to reflect on our glorious past, helping us to appreciate the value of the present and of what our ancestors left for us. What was built in history was evidence of existence and endurance that aspire the nation’s cultural quintessence.

ONA-JICA Project – Phase 2