Can you provide an overview of RMIT’s Vietnamese Contemporary Art Collection?
MICHAL TEAGUE (M): It was started in 2015 and currently includes upwards of 80 artworks located in many spots across our Hanoi & Saigon South campuses. The care of the collection is primarily with the RMIT Library, but there’s also a group of us – consisting of RMIT lecturers and one artist [Richard Streitmatter-Tran – all notes inside square-brackets have been added by the interviewer] – who form the Advisory Committee in order to look after and promote it. Professor Rick Bennett, now the Executive Dean (Academic & Students), when he was the Head of RMIT School of Communication & Design (SCD), was really instrumental in developing the collection and organising purchases. It’s a particularly good way for us to connect with and support Vietnam’s cultural and creative community.
Sometimes as an artist creates a work it might be sold – gone – and they never see it again; so I find that it’s always nice for the works to be seen in person, whether by the artists or by others.
EMMA DUESTER (E): I think having artworks around on campus has a subconscious impact on students, too. In our library students would often work right next to paintings and sculptures.
M: Also when you’re teaching you don’t want to always use examples from Western culture – even if that’s the environment we were raised in and are familiar with. We’ve thus been looking at other ways – whether through works in the RMIT Collection, or through field trips – to highlight how valuable artistic and cultural traditions are in Vietnam, including both heritage and contemporary practices.
On campus, not every piece of artwork can be seen by the general public, but anyone can visit the digital collection on the RMIT website to access information and images related to all of the works [including the exact room number of where each artwork is to be found]. Having it accessible digitally is something we’ve become really aware of, and it’s been particularly important since the start of Covid-19.
E: We’ve also been researching how arts and cultural organisations in Vietnam are digitising their collections, and that research has shown how important it is to have a digital platform.