The alchemist behind mind-bending visuals for nightclubs, art installations and assorted events of revelry, Le Thanh Tung – Saigon’s experimental visual artist who goes by Crazy Monkey – talks us through his creative approach.

Having represented Vietnam at Cannes Young Lions and London’s Design Biennale, visual artist Le Thanh Tung has shown his immersive, audio-visual installations at global exhibits and events in Denmark, Taiwan, Japan and more. He invited Hive Life to visit him at his studio in Saigon, home to a vibrant group of artists known as The Box Collective, to tell us his story from a traditional upbringing in Hanoi to one of his country’s most experimental artistic minds.

Crazy Monkey Vietnam

For Le, what sets his work apart is its daring juxtaposition of opposites: sacred symbols intertwine with futuristic phantasmagoria, age-old traditions flourish in the form of psychedelic holograms. In ‘Hau Dong Ca,’ a collaboration with artist Ngoc Nau being shown in her latest exhibition at Cuc Gallery in Hanoi, Ngoc Nau is seen performing a trance-like dance based on the traditional “Hau Dong” ritual, in which the dancer becomes a spirit medium for deities. For it, Le captured her form using a Kinect camera to produce a wireframe of the artist dancing in a 3D environment.

Crazy Monkey Vietnam

Le discovered his lifelong fascination with art when he was young. Born to parents who are both Vietnamese governmental office workers and educated at one of the oldest institutions in Hanoi, he quickly found his interests lay outside the remit of a traditional Vietnamese education. “I focused solely on drawing and was quite dismal in the staple of scholarly subjects,” he remembers.  “At 16, I enrolled in a semi-professional school, spending half a day learning the common curriculum and the other studying fine arts.”

From the beginning, Le’s artistic endeavours strove to stand out for their otherworldliness and originality. In ‘The Faces’ (2008), monsters consort with Buddha-like figures, whilst aliens mingle with animals and jaded office workers.

The artist attributes his creative approach to a sense of childlike wonder, a mindset that allows for unexpected perspectives. “When you’re young, you have no concept of confidence or diffidence. Your sense of confidence, or the lack thereof, only appears later in life, when you grow up and come under scrutiny and criticism. I try not to let self-scepticism influence me, and try to keep that sense of wonder,” he explains.

Part of Le’s commitment to creativity is found in his collaborations with other artists. His studio The Box Collective, a specialist creative visual space and focal point for a group of artists that he founded in early 2016, has been a catalyst in Saigon’s local art scene. Highly sought-after for their on-stage visual arts and VJ performances, the group have been making waves at music festivals and live shows, from VJ Season Post Human to Tiger Remix to the Taoyuan Arts and Technology Festival.

For Le, commercial and popular success is not a driver. “I’m doing what I’m doing because I have this need to express. I need to do this for myself. All the suffering that you go through when experimenting with arts is entirely self-imposed. You’re busy, you have no money, you have several deadlines hanging over your head. So, what?” he explains. “Only when you have self-reliance does your artwork feel like your baby. It’s a privilege that I can let my experimental project live or die, and that’s when the idea starts to take shape.”

Looking forward, Le has plenty still to discover in the digital environment. “I want to visualise the human body in the context of VR and four-dimensional interactions,” he says. Devoting his time to studying VR, AR, and 3D techniques, Le wants to explore the blurred lines between imagination and computer-generated information. It all comes down to a constant quest for the new. As he puts it, “I’m not a 3D artist or an interactive artist. I’m an experimental artist who’s ever-curious about new technologies.”