Lana Lin. Unidentified Vietnam , 2006.
Inspired by South Vietnamese propaganda films housed at the Library of Congress, Unidentified Vietnam simultaneously expands and contracts the space of history. The artists aspire to recover historical memory by initiating a haunting of the present by the past. Simultaneously, the present reverberates within the past, effecting a vibration between contemporary events and history. The installation mobilizes analog, “slow,” or “outmoded” technologies, such as photographs, motion picture film, and sculptural configurations, in combination with “new,” “fast,” digital technologies. This interplay of technologies explicitly references the transitional space and time of regime change, the transfer of governing powers, and with it a way of life.
At the center of the installation, a ghostly and incomplete card catalogue functions as a counter-archive. In their video re-enactment of archival footage, former leaders of the failed republic refute Graham Greene’s implication that Vietnam is “invisible like peace.” Along the entire length of the gallery wall, 24 film stills denote one second of the original propaganda films, describing absence, stasis and movement.
With irony and humor, the artists expose the force of bureaucracy, the dangers of nation building, and the ramifications of U.S. foreign intervention. Recognizing the contingency of democratic discourse, they ask viewers to consider the viability of and possibilities for ethical interaction between nations and peoples.
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