nguyễn trinh thi

video and moving image works

by Zoe Butt, for Kuandu Biennale 2010

From “Dreams, Cycles and Chaos – Three ‘Great Viet’ Voices Look Beyond” by Zoe Butt, for Kuandu Biennale 2010.

The depth of the spirit of Vietnam is what drew Nguyễn Trinh Thi back to Hanoi in 2007 after a prolonged period of study in the US. Intrinsically desiring a re-connection with her native country, strongly attracted to its social excesses and discrepancies, its eccentric anomalies and cultural practices, Thi’s short films document Vietnamese society by focusing on their emotional attachment to ritualistic practice, be it traditionally inherited or personally cultivated. Initally trained as a journalist, Thi grew increasingly aware of the creative limits within print journalism, becoming more and more aware of her needs to experiment with her personal vision. The power of the image in conveying messages became a fascination for her and thus photography, and later the genre of film, became critical tools in her work. Undertaking studies in ethnographic film and new media; and attending graduate school in International Relations at the University of California, Thi furthered her knowledge of the systems through which ideas of the ‘documentary’ are utilized in popular and traditional media. Thi’s film works involve lengthy community consultation, where a particular narrative is enhanced by the camera’s focus on facial expressions and body language. The use of oral history, photography, cinema verite, montage and performance are all central motifs of her moving image practice. This emphasis on the human body and its inherent movement in the world is of significant interest to Thi whose previous work such as ‘Love Man Love Woman’ 2007 for example, casts an alternate window on the West’s understanding of transvestite culture, which in Vietnam is a little known, long-held cultural deviation.

In ‘Spring Comes Winter After’ 2009, Thi observes the funeral of Le Dat, a Vietnamese poet who was part of a 1950s literary and intellectual dissident movement in Northern Việt Nam called ‘Nhan Van-Giai Pham (Humanism and Works of Beauty)’, which fought for political and creative freedom, critiquing the abuse of the Vietnamese Communist Party. This movement formed with the joining of two leading literary journals, ‘Nam Van’ (Humanism) and ‘Giai Pham’ (Beautiful Works), ending violently in 1958 when all members were jailed/censored by the government. One key member, Nguyen Huu Dang was sentenced to 15 years imprisonment, enduring over 20 years of surveillance upon release. Le Dat was banned from publishing for three decades, and it was not until 2007 that the Vietnamese government decided to grant him a prestigious national award in an effort to reconcile the grievances of the past. Thi states ‘As the avant-garde artists like this poet were forced to be silent, Vietnamese art and literature suffered decades of decay’. In this short documentary film, the eye of her camera focuses on the grief of those who attend the funeral of this celebrated poet, many of who are Vietnam’s established contemporary writers and intellectuals. Intriguingly Thi’s remembrance rolls time in reverse, the procession of grieving people reverentially moving around Le Dat’s coffin is depicted in rewind. This reversal of time refers to Thi’s interviews with Le Dat before he died, where he once said that for many of his generation, they felt their youth had been lost and wasted. By reversing time in ‘Spring comes Winter after’, Thi wishes his youth be returned to him, to re-live the cycles of the seasons that were of such inspiration in his observance of the human condition.


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