Cam Xanh’s Socrates – Apology Project

The Apology – Socrates project has been specifically commissioned for the school by the Board of Directors and installed at Renaissance on 07 February 2018. It consists of an empty wooden frame plexi glass box mounted on the wall, and a multiplicity if white silk cocoons inside a Vietnamese traditional primary school desk, and students are invited to write on cocoons and place them in the box, after reading about the project in the room and writing a selected paragraph in the notebook provided for that purpose as part of the project. The students are invited to write each word of their chosen paragraph on cocoons, one word on each cocoon, before placing their cocoons in the box to join others.

The project was conceived based on the notion that the Athenians saw Socrates as a threat, especially to the Athenian youth. Socrates acquired quite a following among the young men of Athens. He taught these impressionable minds to question everything, even Athenian authority. Eventually, Socrates was arrested and put on trial for corrupting the youth, not believing the gods, and creating new deities. The “Apology” is Socrates’ defense to these charges. Instead of crying and pleading for mercy, Socrates accepts his charges and attempts to persuade the jury with reason. He argued that it was his calling from the gods to seek knowledge and that it was through his questions he uncovered truth. To not fulfill his calling would be blasphemy. In the end, Socrates lost and was sentenced to death by hemlock. Socrates accepted this fate willingly and without grudge against his condemners, thus dying as a martyr for free thinking.

Cam Xanh explains: “There was a part of my life when I was struggling with the awful feeling of being devalued, being looked-down upon, and constantly trying to define and redefine my identity. A friend once made a bad joke saying I should see myself like an insect, a worm with no identity and no ego, so I wouldn’t have to feel hurt in that way anymore. I was shocked at first but then, little by little, I found myself relating to one particular worm: the silkworm. It also happens to be the animal I have the strongest phobia of. When we talk about silk we usually think of luxury fashion products, or silk in its natural state as one of the softest, most beautiful organic materials. What fascinates me most however, is the silkworm’s role in the history of the global economy, and the poetry I see in its short, stunted lifecycle. I was born in April, the mulberry season in Hanoi, and my dad used to make mulberry preserves and syrup for my birthday. This is my first connection with the silkworm; we share the same favourite plant. What else do we share, I wonder? Writing poetry brings me comfort and security. It creates a world where I can experience metamorphosis into multiple abstract figures. So, we both silently produce our own cocoons with our ‘saliva’. We both think we’re creating of our own free will, producing naturally, but we both live manipulated by human politics and economics—though one of us dies in ignorance! Both of us believe that we are special creatures and that we can fly. Unfortunately, we can’t, but we will both die believing it! Meanwhile, consciously or unconsciously, we both live our lives contributing a tiny effort to the larger beauty of this wonderful world. There are nevertheless, a few important differences between us. I’ve got a name and I know it, I’ve got parents and I know them, I’ve got a nationality, a country, a race, which all give me an illusion of identity to be proud or ashamed of. A silkworm has none of these to give it an impression of a life. Writing on silk cocoons is a way for me to give each silkworm a name and identity—not always a meaningful one, but at least it stops them looking identical to human eyes. To even attempt this seems a futile effort. The fact is that they were killed so their cocoons could be of ‘perfect quality’, and in the end, they all still look the same together. For me to name their works is just an act of recognition and compassion towards their exploited, almost invisible lives”.