Trinh Minh-ha operates on the boundary of documentary, experimental and traditional film, focusing on several powerful themes. As well as the status of women in society, she examines the life of migrants, portraits of whom she depicts in the background of the dynamic relationship between traditional and modern societies. The artist calls these figures the “inappropriate/d other”, and says in one of her interviews: “We can read the term “inappropriate/d other” in both ways, as someone whom you cannot appropriate, and as someone who is inappropriate. Not quite other, not quite the same.”
However, anyone expecting objective documentaries in this exhibition will be surprised. Trinh Minh-ha draws on her own experience, transforming the personal into the public and socially engaged, and in this way her films becomes “poetic-political” works. The artist’s sensitivity and empathy is not simply a way of presenting political themes in a user-friendly way, but is also manifest in unobtrusively recurring motifs of love and friendships.
What are the most powerful impressions we receive from films by Trinh Minh-ha? Firstly, there is a balance to her treatment of themes that offers the viewer the possibility of examining things from many different perspectives. Then there is the persistence with which she attempts to offer a three-dimensional image of “those others”. However, even upon a first viewing our attention is caught by something else. Trinh Minh-ha works with the viewer’s senses, which she attempts to provoke into total vigilance. The sounds and music she uses are not any in any sense background, but at certain moments take over the narrative role, at others withdraw discreetly in order to allow the actors themselves to speak. The combination of stylised interviewers and theatrical scenes, modified in the postproduction stage by archival materials and linear film narration, along with sounds and suggestive colours, creates an almost synaesthetic experience, in which words express the same as sounds and colours. However, concentration on the part of the viewer is essential. How, otherwise, might they perceive all these levels simultaneously with the same intensity? How can such films be shown in a gallery? How does one create an environment in which the visitor does not just gaze, but accepts the role of a genuine film audience? Walls and chairs soundproofed in soft foam and the proximity of the screen will perhaps make it easier to accept the role of attentive viewers, who will insist on following a film from beginning to end.
Trinh Minh-ha was born in 1952 in Hanoi, North Vietnam. She grew up in South Vietnam and five years before the end of the Vietnam War left for the USA. She studied ethnology, music and French literature and is regarded as one of the leading artists focusing on gender and postcolonial theory. As well as film, she also composes music and has written several books, one of which, Woman, Native, Other: Writing Postcoloniality and Feminism from 1989, has received considerable attention. Though her films are shown mainly at festivals, Trinh Minh-ha also works with site-specific installations and in 2001, for instance, a retrospective was held of her works at the Secession Gallery, Vienna. Trinh Minh-ha has lived and worked in Paris, Dakar (from 1977 to 1980), Tokyo and Seoul, and today works at the University of California, Berkeley, at the Department of Gender and Women’s Studies.
Surname Viet given name Nam (1989, 108 min) 12,00, 14,00, 16,00 Drawing on archive shots and personal interviews, Trinh Minh-ha gradually reveals the lives of women in Vietnam and their place in the family and public life. These stories of Vietnamese women, their self-image and the way they view their male counterparts also document the fundamental transformation of society that took place during the Vietnam War.
Shoot for the contents (1991, 101 min) 12,20, 14,20, 16,20
This experimental documentary film on power and change examines China, its language, culture and history. The historical framework is the government of Mao Zedong, the Cultural Revolution, and the bloody suppression of protests on Tiananmen Square. The film’s title is a reference to a Chinese table game, allusions to which return regularly during the film.
A Tale of Love (1995, 108 min) 12,10, 14,10, 16,10
The story of Kieu, a young immigrant, is freely inspired by the Vietnamese epic of the young girl of the same name (Czech 1958), regarded as expressing the fate of Vietnam. The film combines myth, everyday life, and the wild imagination of its hero. The story is linear and narrated in a traditional way. However, the viewer gradually becomes voyeur, not so much following the story as snooping on Kieu, as does the pornographer for whom she poses.
Curator: Johana Lomová
Architect: Isabela Grosseová
Private view: Thursday 27 November 2014 7pm Includes a guided tour with the artist
Co-funded by the Creative Europe programme of the European Union
This exhibition is part of the long term collaborative research project FORMER WEST (www.formerwest.org)
Dittrichova 9/337, Prague 2