Vinh, a northern Vietnamese city that used to be an important political revolutionary stronghold, hardly survived American air strikes during the Vietnam war of the 1960s and 1970s. Influenced by Eastern German and Soviet socialist planning, a utopia prototype consisting of Plattenbau, a large complex of concrete apartments, was built in Vinh during the urban regeneration period in 1974. Based on historical research and inspiration from the manifesto and creative works about the revolution in different contexts, PLATTENLOTUS speculates the perfect, fictional future of a socialist Third World city for 2074. It envisions a bright and rosy masterplan for Vinh, where the absolute and systematic synchronization between architecture, environment, and collective society is surreally coordinated. In this hypothetical future, the ideal communist city is designed in modularization of multiple urban townlets that manifest the totality of death - elimination - decay - memorials concurrently with life - growth - mutation of both the humans and non-humans. (Text by Arlette Quỳnh-Anh Trần)
PLATTENLOTUS was exhibited in December 2022 at the Asia Culture Center in Gwangju, Korea as a multimedia installation in the project ACC Residency Earth Survival Guide: Posthuman 2022: https://www.acc.go.kr/en/exhibition.do?PID=0202&action=Read&bnkey=EM_0000005950
Fang-Tze Hsu, a curator and Cultual Studies lecturer at the National University of Singapore, examines different aspects of PLATTENLOTUS in her essay "A Hauntology of Plattetopia" (2022):
Between no longer and not yet, between Vinh and German Democratic Republic (GDR), between the quest for a socialist utopia and the conquest of lost modernity, between 3-D animation and hand-drawn sketches of urban plans, and between futuristic beats and ritualistic dance, PLATTENLOTUS actualise itself in a speculative time-space. A time-space anchors on the Qingming celebration of the Year 2074, in which the concreteness of such a collective existence called PLATTENLOTUS is a triumph of communist nationalism and a centennial monument of GDR’s weltanschauung of utopia in Vietnam. In this specific time called Qingming –a significant date when Vietnamese people commemorate their ancestors – a worldview symbolising the living and the dead coexist in parallel situates PLATTENLOTUS. In this glimpse of a utopia in actualisation, the vision and the mission of the socialist state embody the synchronicity between the majestic plattenbau and the anonymous masses in a well-choreographed movement. The state, the ideology, the urban plan, the housing, and the people are all systematically rendered into one.
Conceptualised by Arlette Quỳnh-Anh Trần, PLATTENLOTUS is a thought provocation speculatively acting out the enchantment of utopic promise. As part of Trần’s ongoing project Eugenics of The Cold Flowers, exploring the alternative history of a Third World country, the gist of PLATTENLOTUS suggests a historical reference coming from the combination of platte and lotus. Platte stands for plattenbau (a compound word –platte-bau meaning slab construction/house), historically implying a house development programme in 1970s East Germany. Plattenbau was later introduced to Vietnam, resulting in the establishment of Quang Trung Housing Estate in Vinh. As the meaning of plattenbau symbolises the communist public housing approach by using prefabricated modular components to serve the massive demand for accommodation, lotus hints at the nationalistic spirit of Vietnam. PLATTENLOTUS is a worldview that visualises its domination through an urban plan without capitalistic senses of privatisation while championing Vietnamese nationalism without individuality.
With an assemblage of artistic practitioners whose works signify the dialectical tension between socialist modernity and the living tradition of Vietnam, Tran’s storyboard provides a sandbox for the collective imagining of a communist utopia. Tran not only invited Thu Huong Thi Vu and Tuan Dung Nguyen from the studio vn-a to “perform” the role of the city mayor but also engaged with Tran Kim Ngoc, a pioneer of experimental music, to affectively formulate the soundscape of the masterplan of the studio vn-a. By “performing”, vn-a—an architecture studio straddling Berlin and Dalat-Vietnam and being known for its projects to facilitate public assembly— provides the prototype of the design plan that translates research materials about the history of GDR’s plattenbau programme in Vinh into a futuristic urban plan while literally involving Vu and Nguyen to act in the role of the city mayor to envision the infrastructure and its ambience. The past utopian plan that has not yet come into being has been brought into the 3-D generated present, which is no longer the past contextualised by the communist solidarity between GDR and the Democratic Republic of Vietnam. In PLATTENLOTUS, the present emerges from “a time that is out-of-joint” and a synthesis image that is rarefied from the original brickworks in Quang Trung Housing Estate.
In this futuristic world, the unfinished dream of the communist utopia conjures a reality of perpetual presence consisting of fragments of time. Like bricks of Quang Trung Housing Estate are unable to coagulate the promise of a national building, the algorithm that generates the synthetic three-dimensional images of PLATTENLOTUS is incapable of calculating the heterogeneity of this utopic dream. The question here may not be what utopia is, but how does utopia mean if it is not in its singularity. If the beauty depicted in Robert Frost’s Nothing Gold Can Stay is nature, this beauty of nature must seed in its demise that expects an uncertainty of not blossoming again.
- Sonya Schönberger
- Christiane Eisler
- Dirk Alvermann
- Abdelkrim Amirouche