“I find it absolutely crucial at this moment to make these connections between spaces, people, times, and stories, as well as to reevaluate the relationship between object and maker, victim and agent.” ~ Tuan Andrew Nguyen
Awareness of the recent events of downtown Seattle’s Little Saigon and the coming to grips to what is reality, not fantasy, brings much to bear in one’s own sense of self and the importance of staying true to one’s own past, for both its citizens and immigrants. And with that comes the creative responsibility of surviving and thriving in a historically vibrant community stuck in the margins of change.
At New York City’s James Cohan Gallery, the Vietnamese born artist Tuan Andrew Nguyen, a featured artist at Seattle Art Museum’s “Our Blue Planet: Global Vision of Water” exhibition, presents us with a visual dialogue, consisting of a video presentation, photographic displays and a mobile installation, each of which is part of what is thematically regarded as “extracting and reworking narratives,” which is special to this unique body of work.
The title of the exhibition, Unburied Sounds, comes from the centerpiece of the exhibition, a 58-minute, single-channel video installation that presents the concept of reality and fantasy as a form of healing and awakening, and directly dealing with the complexities and hardships of a memory and the healing, reincarnation and transformation and of it.
The video, The Unburied Sounds of a Trouble Horizon, 2022, talks about a daughter and her mother, eking a living at a junkyard in Quang Tri, a remote province of Vietnam. Their day to day is collecting old UXO (unexploded ordnance) remnants. for resale. The daughter, named Nguyet, finds the presence of these metallic objects quite vividly, envisioning them falling from the sky with abstract excitement – and begins to create mobiles out of these, while believing, in the creative process, that she is the reincarnation of the American artist Alexander Calder. In turn her mother, suffering from PSTD, thinks her daughter is haunted and the mobiles are possessed by ghosts.
Nguyen’s thoughts on these themes are most centered on material becoming memory, which leads; as he may say, “towards empathy, healing and creating new futures.”
Desolation and despair may permeate throughout some of the images and themes shown, yet a sense of serenity, tranquility and remembrance is presented quite vividly as well.
The aerial sculpture, entitled A Rumble Across the Sky, 2022, reflects in the style most present of Alexander Calder: a series of various sized “plate bells” come across most angelic when played: giving off hypnotic pitches of lingering sound, barren, with sparse reflections of sunlight floating from each circular piece. The life that breathes from hitting each bell creates a unifying soundscape: a sense of meditative tranquility is most present and the blend of sound from one end of the mobile to the other is most active and engaging. The individual spaces contribute to the overall soundscape – slowly moving forward with serene force, as if the environment was interchanging in air, temperature, altitude and harmony.
The photographic image, Unexploded Ordnance, 16in. 50 caliber, Sông Ngân hamlet, Linh Thượng Village, Gio Linh district, Quảng Trị, January 14, 2021, 2022, incorporates a quite powerful image of workers carefully pulling a large UXO from the mist of green vegetation, revolving around a continuous movement within the men to safely make this task possible. Subdued by the lush greenery yet full of brightness, the sky seems to react most directly with the tiring men below, which is in constant movement amongst each other. The strength of activity gets stronger between the men, like a Soviet period painting, reaching that apex of completion, making the image most apparent and dramatic. Similar to this would be the photograph Unexploded Ordnance, 16in. 50 caliber, Sông Ngân hamlet, Linh Thượng Village, Gio Linh district, Quảng Trị, January 14, 2021, 2022 (see image) where the workers work most carefully, while the tubular UXO vessel seemed to appear like a mummified tomb excavated out of the depths of past civilization – the real and unreal thus becoming one and the same.
To say that it would be too complex to understand when viewing this exhibition is unjustifiable. The impactful feeling of this exhibition within the gallery is what makes this unique show most intriguing – it’s a transformational type of exhibition, one that drives the viewer to think in the importance of history and memory as a reflection of our past today – and how we can continue to contribute our time and energy in understanding and engaging with it.
The exhibition will be on view at James Cohan Gallery (52 Walker Street in New York City) till May 7th. “Our Blue Planet: Global Vision of Water” will be on view at the Seattle Art Museum til May 30th.