Tuan Andrew Nguyen’s work explores the power of narrative through video and sculpture. His projects are based on extensive research and community engagement, creating imaginative realities that draw deeply from inherited histories and counter-memory. For this major debut presentation at the Berlin Biennale, Nguyen will present two important works: the two-channel video installation My Ailing Beliefs Can Cure Your Wretched Desires, 2017, at Akademie der Künste Hanseatenweg and the four-channel video installation The Specter of Ancestors Becoming, 2019, at Hamburger Bahnhof.
My Ailing Beliefs Can Cure Your Wretched Desires, 2017
Part of an ongoing body of work that includes Empty Forest, My Ailing Beliefs Can Cure Your Wretched Desires is a two-channel video that dissects the relationships between Vietnamese mythology, the country’s political complexities and the nation’s very special animal ecosystem. The complex systems of Vietnamese beliefs in the magical healing power of certain animals have led to the current global predicament that threatens the extinction of rhinos and other species, simultaneously fueling the extensive illegal trade in endangered animals.
Through the perspective of science, Vietnam’s ecology, despite decades of warfare and bombings, continues to be one of the most complex natural ecosystems currently. Two new species have been discovered every week for the last 10 years. Simultaneously, Vietnam is also the country with the most species of endangered animals.
Told through the point-of-view of the wandering spirit of the last Javan rhino that was poached in the jungles of Vietnam in 2010, the film takes us through a complex structure of narratives and visuals, both gruesome and beautiful, real and mythological, that have built and upheld certain Vietnamese traditions. From Chinese colonialism and its assertion through the practice of medicine, to French colonialism and their obsession with trophy kills, and throughout the Vietnam war, the animals tell a different side to the story.
The Specter of Ancestors Becoming, 2019
The Specter of Ancestors Becoming (2019) is a four-channel video installation that continues on from the echoes of French colonial subjects. Senegalese soldiers, or tirailleurs, were among the forces deployed to Indochina to combat the Vietnamese uprising against French rule. During the war and after the French defeat at Dien Bien Phu (when Frantz Fanon declared the beginning of the end of the French Empire), hundreds of Vietnamese women and their children migrated to West Africa with Senegalese husbands who had been stationed in Indochina. Many other soldiers left their wives and took only their children, while still others took mixed or Vietnamese children not their own and raised them in Senegal without connection to their origins.
Tuan worked mainly with three people from the Senegalese-Vietnamese community who are writing fictional scenes that reimagine their personal histories within the context of very specific historical events. These scenes are both very personal but are also located within very specific historical moments coming from the war against French Colonialism in Indochina that then lead to a migration of Vietnamese women to Senegal. These histories are reimagined because they have been lost through time via war, migration, assimilation, etc. Imagination becomes a crucial tool in constructing these lost histories.
Between these scenes, a fragmented arrangement creates abstract narrative that puts poetry in the place of fact, history (or absence there of) and memory.