nguyễn trinh thi

video and moving image works

KVT Review of “Unsubtitled”

Read the original posting at KVT Review of UNSUBTITLED video installation

A  Munch Crunch success

Special thanks to Jamie Maxtone-Graham for his photos and video!

The subject of today’s opinion piece truly deserves a 3 star Michelin rating.

Way back in 2000 when the world was younger and video art was not as technologically advanced as it is today, I was at a video art biennale and I started to understand the power that this art medium can have by watching the feminist work of Iranian Shirin Neshat , and the great humor it can display by getting acquainted with Swiss Pipilotti Rist. I was captivated for a long time by some quietly emotional meditations of Bill Viola, and a hugely effective parody by Canadian Stan Douglas. Then I wandered into a dark gallery and was held spellbound by American Gary Hill’s video,‘Viewer’ . It was one of those works that, if I were a video artist I knew that I’d want to reference and then play around with ideas that spun out of it like sparks from a Catherine wheel. So imagine my delight when I walked towards the undercroft gallery at Nha San and found that Nguyen Trinh Thi was on my wave length with a really excellent video art installation. It’s a delight – amusing, thoughtful and very watchable. Like Hill, Trinh Thi has used modern technologies to create sculptures and environments that take the viewers on a ride through their minds.

Titled ‘Unsubtitled” and the statement is “Eating needs no explanation”, the installation has characters projected onto cut-out screens and each one, or pairs, are on individual loops. Each eats a different type of food as we observe and impossibly attempt to catch their eyes. At times, as they wipe away the residue of food, the eaters state who they are and what they’re eating and the voices add a human element that catches you by surprise. The sounds of their eating resonate around you. As yet the sounds are not all working but it is easy to imagine the cacophony of crunch, slurp, chew etc etc if you were enveloped in the middle of the installation. The lone smoker adds an unusual twist and at times I desperately wanted to give him a receptacle for his ash and butt.

Click on the image above for a larger version.

On the night I visited, viewers were invited to wander into and around inside the seeming 3D installation and this added an intimate dimension as you came eyeball to eyeball with the eaters and had a stereophonic sound experience.

Although the installation is site specific to Nha San you can see it working fabulously successfully in a host of locations and sites. My fertile mind has already appropriated it and wants to put the characters in different blacked out rooms along a dark corridor and you’d be invited to open the doors and relate to the eaters, or it would be a great performance piece with the viewers given stuff to eat as they watched. But it definitely needs to be widely seen and I think it would, after its minor glitches have been worked on, find a place in a good museum of modern art.

Too often you come across video art that seems to be vapid, self-indulgent and tedious. Trinh Thi has jumped that hurdle and given us a very watchable and immersive piece of art that does what all good video art should do, as one pioneer of video and performance art, Joan Jonas, puts it: “explore the boundaries of the medium or rigorously attack the viewers expectations of video as shaped by conventional cinema”.

Congratulations to the chef of this wonderful concoction,Trinh Thi, and to all her technological savvy kitchen hands. I sincerely hope that the piece gets more airings and locations and that any developments of the concept (which could be many) are pushed in my viewing direction.

If I had a fairy godfather I’d have asked him to magic everyone else away for an hour or two so that I could have had the installation to myself for an hour or two just to savor it thoroughly and then my next wish would be that he’d wave his magic wand so that I’d stop being a technological luddite and be able to become a video artist of Trinh Thi’s calibre.


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