Coming up Next: Bùi Quý Sơn
Vietnamese, Oslo-based architect and visual artist, one half of Exutoire.
Coming up Next features artists and creatives I admire, and the world is in awe their brilliance and imagination. I caught them before they have people to keep me away from them.
Bui Quy Son, 28, is a Vietnamese architect, curator and mixed media artist, based in Oslo, Norway. He co-owns Exutoire
In this interview, I witness the strength from this formidable queer Asian artist and Architect whose professor doubted he was ‘physically strong enough” to build his design all by himself. Most importantly, I am in awe of this determination and generosity in Son, as a fellow Asian artist lived through his formative years in art schools in Europe. This interview took place in 2021.
Tell us about how you got where you are
I was born in Hai Phong and raised in Ha Noi, before coming to Paris to study architecture. I eventually received my MA in 2017 from the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts in Copenhagen, Denmark. After years of working in scenography, object and furniture design, architecture, landscape and urbanism, in summer 2021, I decided to take a step back, leave my permanent job and use the little savings I had to invest in myself and my independent practice. I now fully dedicate my time to a transversal and decentered artistic practice, as an artist working with the media of drawing and photography, but also a one half of the architecture atelier Exutoire which I co-founded with my partner (in life and in crime) Paul-Antoine Lucas in 2019.
“Feeling at home” is the belongingness we all long for”- Bui Quy Son
What was it like to study, research and work in your field
Studying and working as a creative is such a gratifying journey of knowledge gaining and sharing, but also of self-discovery and perpetual self-(re)definition. I’ve been lucky not to have met extreme and violent criticism or discrimination for being a minoritized outsider throughout the past ten years, but there for sure have been obstacles, side-eyes and even outright unjust profiling. It ranges from people lacking respect for your opinion because of your struggle to express yourself in a foreign language, to classmates ignoring or mocking you for not being the cool-ass art-school-type they are, to professors inappropriately judging you for not being “physically strong enough” to build a wooden structure you designed yourself because of the petite queer Asian person that you are.
How do you keep going?
Everything takes time. Especially you, you should take the time you need and allow yourself to grow, to learn and unlearn things, to stand up for what you believe in, and to shape your own trajectory. And don’t forget it’s always easier when you’re well surrounded, and it’s always better to do something that serves the collective and common good rather than just yourself.
I like “well-surrounded” as a condition an educational nomads need to thrive in European art and design education and industries. Could you tell me your definition of ‘home’?
Home has never felt so far. Home has never been so close. This is an incessant feeling that inhabited me the past 18 months, as going back to my hometown Hanoi is virtually impossible because of the pandemic-related restrictions.
Home can be spatial, visual, palpable. Home can be psychological, nostalgic, affective, comforting, yet poignant at times. Home is in memories and people that we hold dear, as much as it is in the present, and in the ones we physically surround ourselves with. In the end, home is plural. Home is intrinsically elusive and evolutive. “Feeling at home” is the belongingness we all long for.
Safe Space, is an 8-episode podcast series which investigates the meaning of diversity and representation, as well as the potentials of radically inclusive architectural education and practice in Norway. Why now?
Black Lives Matter movement ignited ‘Safe Space’ in 2020. The movement reminded the world once again the weight of systemic racism that still governs our world today. Safe Space Collective addresses this issue within the context of architecture in Scandinavia, which is a totally unexplored area of study. It launched a call for
action: to deconstruct and rethink, to create change and move toward a more equitable architecture.
What did you learn along the way?
Safe space fills in the education we didn’t have, the perspectives we were not taught to embrace, and call out the big elephant in the room cannot hide any more. We created this space for dialogue and exchange we all needed. But more importantly, now there is a space in the larger extent of the architecture industry as well as the neoliberal capitalist construction and real estate market. We only got very little attention from them, let alone reaction and sincere support.We generally had a good response to the project and did manage to obtain funding from public cultural institutions and a few private companies. But we know this is going to be a long battle which requires resilience and tenacity to sustain.
“…still don’t know how to define myself professionally, but I’ve come to realize it’s much more fun not to know and to leave space for growth”- Bui Quy Son
Personally, what did you learn from this creative practice as social justice work?
In my earlier formative years spent in Europe, the pressure to fit in and to perform was overshadowing the development of my own identity. I tended to tame or erase my cultural background and socio-political stance to focus on rigid labels such as “design quality” and “excellence” defined by a dominant majority which I’m not a part of yet so desperately wanted to be accepted by.
Over the past years, I feel more and more encouraged to embrace the trans-disciplinary and intersectional approach which allows the architectural practice to open up and be reinvented.
Up until today, I still don’t know how to define myself professionally, but I’ve come to realise it’s much more fun not to know and to leave space for growth.
How is your practice evolving?
For now, I don’t want to focus on built architecture yet, since construction means pollution together with destruction of nature and, often, human communities on top of that. So, I’m taking time to investigate if, why, what, and how I want to build. This exploration takes the form of curatorial and exhibition projects, writing and publishing, photo and drawing exercises, small furnitures and spatial experiments.
Together with Exutoire, we’ve been conducting research projects on the queer practice of architecture as well as the transformative forms of urban living in Hanoi. We were a finalist of the Emerging Curator Residency Program 2021 at the Canadian Centre for Architecture in Montreal.
Son’ practice and humanity articulate simultaneously a recovery and discovery of the self with a uniquely tender and ebbing confidence. I have first-hand experience and saw too many times the euro-centric brutality in philosophy is blind to the sheer imagination and sophistication behind the choice of ‘softness’.
I came across the term ‘safer space’ from Janine Francois where they share their PhD that exploring “if Tate can be a safe(r) space to discuss race and cultural differences within a teaching and learning context”. They further clarified a space to discuss social justice should be active rather definitive. This extends the idea of a ‘safe space’ for criticality further.
Critical projects and activism are growing louder and more determined to take space in the heartland of ‘utilitarian’ and ‘minimalistic’ aesthetics and design practice, and beyond. Norway should be bloody chuffed that people like Son chose to contribute there.
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