Jun Nguyen-Hatsushiba: MEMORIAL PROJECT NHA TRANG, VIETNAM: Towards the Complex-For the Courageous, the Curious and the Cowards (2001)

ShowingJuly 11, 2009 - September 7, 2009

Jun Nguyen-Hatsushiba was born in Japan, educated in the United States in Illinois, Maryland, and Texas, and now lives and works in Vietnam.  His early installation works dealt with the life of the Vietnamese people; and in 1995 as an artist-in-residence at Art Pace in San Antonio, Texas, he created an installation that dealt with the AIDS epidemic. In 2000, Nguyen-Hatsushiba created Xich Lo 2001-The Making of Alternative History, an exhibition for Mizuma Gallery in Tokyo that was concerned with cyclos, human-powered rickshaws that are used to transport goods and people in Vietnam. This cheap means of transportation has provided a source of income for many of those unemployed as a result of the country’s reunification. Modernization, however, has made these vehicles, which are good for the environment, but slow moving and old-fashioned, unwelcome on Vietnamese city streets; and the government has banned further production of cyclos. For the Mizuma exhibition, Nguyen-Hatsushiba designed and produced several new cyclo models and an advertising campaign for them that included portraits of many cyclo drivers. The slick graphics of the ads provided a startling contrast to their texts which outlined the youthful dreams of the drivers as well as the current realities of their lives.

In a work commissioned for the 2001 Yokohama Triennale of Contemporary Art (and also presented at the São Paolo and Sydney Biennials), Nguyen-Hatsushiba again focused on cyclo drivers in his video project, Memorial Project Nha Trang, Vietnam: Towards the Complex-For the Courageous, the Curious and the Cowards (2001). Filmed on location in Vietnam’s Indochina Sea, this remarkable 13-minute video depicts a number of young men struggling to propel cyclos across the rock-strewn, sandy, ocean bottom. Working in teams, they pull, push, and pedal the passengerless vehicles; and periodically they must rush up to the surface for air or risk drowning. The water grows deeper; the boulders get larger; the trip to the surface takes longer; and the task is increasingly arduous. Finally, the drivers abandon their cyclos, and swim together toward an underwater “city” composed of tents made from white netting strung between boulders, a metaphorical memorial for the many Vietnamese boat people drowned in the aftermath of the war. The clear blue water, sunlight dappling the ocean floor, and gentle flute music composed by Quoc Bao and Nguyen-Hatsushiba, again provide stark contrast in this all-too-real metaphor for this endangered way of life.

About the Artist

Jun Nguyen-Hatsushiba was born in Japan in 1968.  He now lives and works in Vietnam.  He was educated in the United States at Brookhaven College, Dallas, TX; The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, IL;  and the Maryland Institute and College of Art, Baltimore, MD.  He has received numerous awards including a Japanese Artist Living Abroad Award from the Shiseido Corporate Culture Department in Tokyo and the Foundation Cartier in Paris, France;  New Forms Regional Initiative Grant, from Mexic-Arte Museum and Diverse Works, Houston, TX; an Art Matters Grant; and an International Artist in Residence Grant from ArtPace, San Antiono, TX.

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