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Jun Nguyen-Hatsushiba / MATRIX 203

Memorial Project Vietnam

April 6, 2003 - June 29, 2003

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Jun Nguyen-Hatsushiba: Happy New Year—Memorial Project Vietnam II, 2003; digital video.

Download the exhibition brochure (PDF).

Jun Nguyen-Hatsushiba creates lyrical, graceful, and spellbinding films that explore Vietnamese history and identity in a profound manner. Raised in Japan and educated in the United States, the artist now lives and works in Ho Chi Minh City. Nguyen-Hatsushiba's MATRIX exhibition will include two films (projected in the gallery as DVDs) that are linked by a common underwater setting, vivid, saturated color, choreographed movements, and hypnotic soundtracks.

Memorial Project, Nha Trang, Vietnam, "Towards the ComplexFor the Courageous, the Curious, and the Cowards" (2001) records a staged underwater race by cyclo (bicycle taxi) drivers, a significant community within Vietnamese culture. A traditional mode of transportation, cyclos represent the old way of life. In response to legislation outlawing their use, the artist created this work as a gesture of solidarity with the drivers who struggle to hold onto their livelihood.

The use of water as the setting for both works in the exhibition helps to give them a specifically Vietnamese sensibility. Vietnam, with its long coastline and one of the world's largest, most fertile river basins, the Mekong delta, is defined by its relationship to water. Vietnamese folklore and mythology also abound in references to water.

A new piece, Happy New YearMemorial Project Vietnam II, explores a key event in modern Vietnamese history: the Tet Offensive of 1968, a series of surprise attacks by North Vietnamese troops during the celebration of the Lunar New Year, when both sides were thought to have laid down their arms to celebrate the country's most important holiday. The Tet Offensive is considered a turning point in the Vietnam War.

Two powerful images dominate this film: a traditional New Year's dragon puppet, supported from beneath by seven divers; and a fantastical Fate Machine—a giant, skeletal orb filled with smaller balls, which are released at random and shot toward the surface of the water by the Fate Master. The Fate Machine refers to another theme explored in this work, the experience of the Vietnamese "boat people" who cast their lot on the water, attempting to flee the country following the war in search of a better life, many hoping to escape displacement and political persecution. The balls in the orb, which explode in clouds of colored powder when they reach the surface of the water, represent the hopes that compel the boat people to undertake their risky journeys and the uncertainty that awaits them.

In describing his new project, Nguyen-Hatsushiba notes that many Vietnamese people who left the country after the war officially ended in 1975 are beginning to return. The impact on personal identity of such round-trip migration—of crossing and recrossing boundaries—is one of the topics he explores in his work. When individuals return home after all that time, he says, they are not the same people they were when they left. The story of the boat people, in other words, continues beyond the journeys themselves.

Nguyen-Hatsushiba earned an M.F.A. from the Maryland Institute College of Art in 1994 following his B.F.A. from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago in 1992. His work has been included in the Yokohama Triennale and the Kwangju, Sydney, and São Paolo Biennials. This will be the U.S. premiere of Memorial Project, recently acquired by BAM/PFA; the world premiere of Happy New Year, and the artist's first one-person museum exhibition.

Heidi Zuckerman Jacobson
Phyllis Wattis MATRIX Curator

Elisa Isaacson, BAM/PFA Foundation and Government Grants Manager, and Sherry Goodman, Director of Education, contributed to this article.

Jun Nguyen-Hatsushiba/MATRIX 203 Memorial Project Vietnam was produced by the MATRIX program with assistance from The New Museum, New York.

The MATRIX Program at the UC Berkeley Art Museum is made possible by the generous endowment gift of Phyllis Wattis.

Additional donors to the MATRIX Program include the UAM Council MATRIX Endowment, Ann M. Hatch, Eric McDougall, Glenn and April Bucksbaum, Christopher Vroom and Illya Szilak.

Generous support for Jun Nguyen-Hatsushiba/MATRIX 203 Memorial Project Vietnam is provided by The Rockerfeller Foundation and the LEF Foundation.