The Propeller Group (TPG) is a collective based in Ho Chi Minh City and founded in 2006 by Phunam, Matt Lucero, and Tuan Nguyen. Their multimedia works use the languages of advertising and politics to initiate conversations about power, propaganda and manipulation, especially as they relate to fallen Communist dictatorships and the rapid rise of capitalism in Vietnam and beyond.
TPG became well-known for their 2011 advertising parody Television Commercial For Communism, included in the New Museum’s Ungovernables 2012 Triennial exhibition. The work considers the contradictions and tensions between two disparate eco-political systems. For the work, TPG hired a global advertising firm to create an advertising campaign to market Communist ideology through capitalist means.
The group’s 2014 film The Living Need Light, The Dead Need Music, created for Prospect. 3 New Orleans Biennial, is a poetic voyage through the funeral traditions of South Vietnam and engages the striking similarity between these rituals and those from around the rest of the Global south, especially New Orleans. The film combines documentary footage of actual funeral processions along with vivid re-enactments; the film is a poetic rumination on death and the ways in which the living honor the dead.
“In many of our projects, we try to create disorder, hoping that disorder in such particular instances can become another sense of order to an audience that may be all too afraid of change or unable to accept other possible ways of engaging with current social structures. We like to play. We align ourselves with different cultural producers. We like to let ourselves get ingested into the bellies of big social beasts such as television, advertising, or the various manifestations of pop-culture.” –The Propeller Group
The Propeller Group's first survey exhibition opened at the MCA Chicago in 2016, and travelled to the Blaffer Art Museum, Houston, TX, the Phoneix Art Museum, AZ, and the San Jose Musuem of Art, CA. The exhibition is co-organized by MCA Chicago, the Blaffer Art Museum, Houston and the Phoenix Art Museum and has an accompanying catalog.
TPG's work has been featured in the 56th Venice Biennale, Italy (2015) and has been the subject of further solo exhibitions at the Minneapolis Institute of Art, MI; Grand Arts, MO; and the Carnegie Museum of Art, PA. Past group exhibitions and international biennials for TPG include: Islands, Constellations, and Galapagos, Yokohama Trienniale, Japan (2017); After Darkness: Southeast Asian Art in the Wake of History, Asia Society, New York, NY (2017); Prospect.3: Notes for Now, New Orleans, LA (2014); Residual: Disrupted Choreographies, Carre d’Art, France (2014); No Country: Contemporary Art for South and Southeast Asia, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, NY (2013); 7th Asia Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art, Queensland Gallery of Modern Art, Brisbane, Australia; The Unseen, Guangzhou Triennial, Guangdong Museum of Art, China; Six Lines Of Flight, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, CA; Made In LA, Los Angeles Biennial, Hammer Museum, CA; The Ungovernables, New Museum, NY (2012); Project 35, Independent Curators International, Pratt Manhattan Gallery, NY; (2011); Projects 93, Museum of Modern Art, NY; 8th Shanghai Biennale, in collaboration with Superflex, China (2010); What’s the Big Idea?, Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, CA (2009); The Farmers & the Helicopters, Freer & Sackler, Smithsonian, Washington DC, (2008); and the Lyon Biennial, The History of a Decade That Has Not Yet Been Named, France (2007).
In addition to TPG’s work as a collective, each member is involved in their individual pursuits. Phunam (b. 1974) was trained as a restorer of Khmer and Vietnamese stone and bronze antique sculptures. He is a self-taught cinematographer who has produced television commercials, music videos, documentaries, short films and television dramas. Matt Lucero (b. 1976) has a background in physics and received his MFA from the California Institute of Art and has been widely exhibited. Tuan Nguyen (b. 1976) received an MFA from the California Institute of the Arts and is one of the founders of San Art, an artist initiated exhibition space in Ho Chi Minh City.