As a humming microcosm of infinite experiences, a city is never short of interpretations. While structures and frameworks create a skeleton, its deeper essence is always mercurial and malleable to our emotions, and the symbioses between resident and metropolis stay in constant motion and flux.

The city tends to lend itself to planning, organization with inhabitants keeping themselves in line to such constructions of life, but in the rare moments of unplanned interaction with the city or “dérive”, an aimless wander through the urban landscape, one is opened up to their surroundings and explores the meanings and existences at play. The recent show at Galerie Quynh in Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam, Dérive, brought together the works of Christine Nguyen, Ha Manh Thang, Tran Van Thao, and Trong Gia Nguyen to weave together a narrative of a journey through urban.

The exhibition functioned as the day that unfolds before us, around us, as we tread along an unplanned path... Like the first step outdoors, Tran Van Thao’s Rain in Sunlight IX provides the brilliance that comes from exiting the stale and stagnant indoors to join the vibrancy of life; the bright sky, the fractals of colour in the sunny rain like prisms of unending and unseen possibilities. After the first shock, we confront the basic, elemental urban materials of the city. Only gently defined as structures, #6 Blue Skies & Fairy Tales allows the urban space to begin to exist. The piece quite vague in itself is there to be imbued with the thoughts and perceptions of each viewer. Open to the moment, the mood, the day and the light, the abstract piece allows the interdependent relationship to flow between the work, the structures and the viewer. As focus slowly settles more precisely upon structures, the edifices of the urban landscape are defined yet simplified. Strict yet incomplete, Ha Manh Thang’s Hue Citadel in the Night no. 2 emerges to show how the city’s buildings serve as a metaphor for the world in our reality-a grouping of elements to which we assign importance, meaning, emotion, and power. The building is just a thing, the city a collection. We fill it out. Each day, every person, every moment.

When knowledge of our mutual creative/ created existence in this setting is established, our neurons fire. Fast with penetrating intensity, and it all happens simultaneously, both harmonious and incongruous. Our walk has begun to reveal the world in its almost overwhelming complexity as Christine’s Totem Tree pieces bring it together in vivid colour and delicate detail. The life of the city is bright and flowing, in constant movement, and we each make up defined atom within the greater system. A system that traverses the cosmos and allows our feelings to affect our space and conversely be affected, binding us tightly together and to our environment. In our dérive, there are times when we are acutely lucid and times when we are lost in our own space – barely aware of our surroundings. The world always calms down, though, as we move along from place to place, artwork to artwork. We come back to our own. The city is our personal and world, unique to each, and it always has been and always will be.

It is then a combination of structures, and the individual sandwiched in between Ha Manh Thang and Tran Van Thao. The serene colours calm the overstimulated mind and play off each other to let the viewer ground themselves. There’s a moment to reflect and then to remind ourselves just how powerful of an influence our urban environment has on us, but ultimately we are the masters of our own universe.

Wild and unpredictable though it is, the urban landscape is still within the nature and like a sunset that commands attention, the final piece, Trong Gia Nguyen’s Bruno brings the dérive back to a centre, a moment of recognition – a connection to life and the continuous myriad of derivations and potentialities dependent on perceptions. The crescendo of light glows brightly, fades into night, and closes the adventure.