Thierry Bernard-Gotteland is a French-born multidisciplinary artist living and working in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. Thierry’s work explores our modern interactive world, and he discusses working in Vietnam with a heavy metal influence.

Words: Alice Bauer

1. How did you get to Vietnam?

When I was living in France, I started doing an art project related to dating websites. So I searched for a dating website and chose the first one I found (an Asian dating site). I used a woman’s name because women always got free profiles; I was going to make a project based on the interaction there. But I met a girl and fell into my own trap. I’ve been here 10 years and married for 9.


2. What are you working on now?

I’m a lecturer with The Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology Vietnam where I’m currently developing a new student showcase related to transparency. I’m also working on an invisible exhibition or a void exhibition that recalls Yves Klein. How to use AR/VR technology to work with sound/visuals or how the virtual can control the physical.


3. That sounds quite similar to your installation in TechNoPhobe at The Factory this year.

That was like the first step; it wasn’t empty, there were already elements put in place in TechNoPhobe. I focused on sound effects, music, and dialogue to question creativity and transformation. It was a behavioral installation. The weather report wind data was controlling the main sound panning within this 6 speakers sound installation in real-time while the flow of the visitor’s movements were triggering audio samples, captured by the internal microphone of the computer. I was working on a binary, so the voices were computer generated male and female talking about transformation as well as was the ambient music. Some sounds were like noise slashers when launched with a ghostly presence of footsteps running in circles.


4. You used ambient for TechNoPhobe, but your work is often centered around heavy metal. What is your fascination with heavy metal music?

Well, a sort of brother of mine was four years older and he was into heavy metal. I remember the first LP I ever saw, The Number of the Beast by Iron Maiden. I remember I was like, “Wow. What the fuck?” At 8 years old - the imagery is really strong. It was in 1982.


5. How has that inspired your work?

Heavy metal is very industrial; it’s from the suburbs. So, it’s about how to be creative within confines. Budget, for example, can frame the work. You have to keep consistencies but work with it. For the show A Physical Obedience of a Certain Geometry (Nihil Sublime) I wanted to do a wall of huge industrial fans very noisy, but I couldn’t.


6. Is that where the materials like chains, black tape and naked bulbs come in? Budget?

Yes, but the whole idea of using raw materials as the inner-icons of a concept/genre was already taken. Budget helps to take faster decisions especially when you are broke.


7. So…do you like the movie Heavy Metal?

You mean the cartoon one? Never seen it.


8. You’ve done a lot of group shows here in Vietnam. Do you feel your work fits with other artists?

It doesn’t fit at all. But we talk about the same thing - The human condition. Also, there’s a big metal scene here, that’s what has directed my work into that way.


9. Your work has been described as examining social rules, moral values, and cultural models -how do you think it does that?

In my 2011 solo show, A Physical Obedience of A Certain Geometry (Nihil Sublime), I tried to test the censors here. We submitted the work for the government to check, which is a requirement in Vietnam. All of the pieces were named after heavy metal song titles, and it was a progressively violent show. They took the piece Untitled (Hex or Printing in the Infernal Method) - two black boards with text written on it, and they just asked is it the artist’s words or something else. All the texts were from Hollywood, very masculine sentences. Since they weren’t the artist’s words, they were public domain, they were fine with it. They took my speakers once this year, just so that we had to pay to get them back. They didn’t even care about the content of the dialogue.


10. What do you listen to while you work?

As usual, metal bands. Also I’m composing music for my band MOETH; I like to be surrounded by the same aesthetic as the work I am developing. If I need more quiet moments, I tend to listen to classical or only ambient. Also it could be no music like when I am focusing for a project. Indeed, I am listening to the everyday life’s sounds. This is great for the thinking process.