Academic journal article Framework

Creative Particles: An Interview with Jun Nguyen-Hatsushiba

Academic journal article Framework

Creative Particles: An Interview with Jun Nguyen-Hatsushiba

Article excerpt

Special Introduction by Barbara Pollack

Even in this era of global biennials, a presumption lingers that all artists not born (or living or working) in the United States are merely resident-aliens in the territory of art history, immigrants seeking green-card status to attain a place in the western canon. Jun Nguyen-Hatsushiba is representative of a new breed of international artist, using a fantastic and daringly beautiful vocabulary to transport viewers to his world rather than proving that he deserves a place in ours. Born in Tokyo in 1968, Nguyen-Hatsushiba trained in the United States (School of the Art Institute of Chicago, B.A.; Maryland Institute College of Art, M.F.A.) before returning to live in his father's homeland of Vietnam in the 1990s. From his base in Ho Chi Minh City, this artist's films have been presented as installations at every major international art exhibition of the past five years, from Venice and São Paolo to Moscow and Shanghai.

Acutely aware of the rest of the world's view of Vietnam as a warravaged landscape and symbol of American failure, Nguyen-Hatsushiba masterfully transcends these stereotypes by staging his narratives at the bottom of the ocean. These underwater dramas-often featuring contests, such as rickshaw races or painting competitions, impossibly difficult for contestants laden with diving equipment-are simultaneously quixotic and heroic, brimming with festival-like explosions of color and sound too marvelous to be didactic political statements. Yet history can never be extricated from these waters, just as landmines are still dangerously alive along Vietnam's coast line, a very real risk faced by the artist and his crew when making these films. The sea's anti-gravitational atmosphere transforms these tests of bravery and endurance into graceful balletic performances proceeding across the screen at a meditatively glacial pace. In this manner, Nguyen-Hatsushiba insinuates himself into, rather than invades, our collective unconcious, replacing visions of Rambo with far more subversive and magical images of Vietnam. And that is how and why he is considered one of the most important and influential artists working in Asia today.

Interview by Drake Statesman

In this interview, it becomes obvious that the video installations of Jun Nguyen-Hatsushiba, though often visually dream-like and ethereal, are conceived and executed as plain, hard work. He sees the world around him as an ever-generating blend-if not blur-of what is solid and what is ephemeral, what is creative and what is obstructive, what is new and what is old. Nguyen-Hatsushiba's mixed heritage is often highlighted in art critiques. However, this heritage, which he calls "nothing new," is not in the forefront of his art. Rather it seems to compose his thinking process itself. His ideas follow an often complicated series of adaptations. His famous underwater "cyclo" piece, Memorial Project Nha Trang, Vietnam-Towards the Complex-For the Courageous, the Curious and the Cowards (2001)-which seems so representative of his work, and screens so seamlessly-began with a desire to paint in outer space, then evolved into an aborted performance in the water tank of a Japanese museum, only to end up as an embodiment of his signature look: a group of people struggling under the blue waters of Vietnam. His work is about connection, but not in the easy way that the use of water implies. Rather, Nguyen-Hatsushiba perceives union within the most seemingly disconnected things-dust, bubbles, arbitrary motions-and he respects that they remain disconnected, as it were, because they each carry a morphic resonance. They are not apart.

Nguyen-Hatsushiba's work is a reflection of this unity. As he says, "I thought maybe making art can also be something close to real life." So identity, often construed as separate or fragmented-especially within the kind of national experience that he memorializes (diasporas, loss of social stature, government cover-up)-is for him something that cannot be lost. …

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