Hương Ngô is a interdisciplinary artist, born in Hong Kong, of Vietnamese and Chinese origin, raised in North Carolina, and based in Paris and New York.
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In the Shadow of the Future
Collaboration with l'Union des Jeunes Vietnamiens de France (UJVF) and l'Union Générale des Vietnamiens de France (UGVF)
Digital Film, Color
“A person of the twentieth century can exist honestly only as a foreigner.”
—Julia Kristeva, “Why the United States?”
This film takes on particular events between Vietnam and France from the year 1979 as a departure point to ask how we might understand collective identity under conditions of estrangement. In 1979, Tuan Pham, a Vietnamese fighter pilot, went into space with the Russian cosmonauts as the first Asian in space as part of their Intercosmos Program, a political project to connect the newly formed communist governments. In the same year, thousands left Vietnam after the war to escape persecution from the new communist government.
In the film, Tuan Pham re-enacts the imagined event- his preparation to go into space. Endlessly preparing and wandering, he symbolically travels, but actually goes nowhere and everywhere at the same time. It is an endless rehearsal of his persona as a “space traveler,” but one that collapses with the identity of the refugee or the foreigner. The film asks what one's mission might be in this kind of situation when one must resist both easy assimilation and the temptation to indulge in exile as a redemptive motif.
How can we complicate the binary of language in this case in which language is not just communicating or not, but is another home in itself from which one is estranged. To invoke Trinh T. Minh-ha, “...language can only live on and renew itself by hybridizing shamelessly and changing its own rules as it migrates in time and space. Home for the exile and the migrant can hardly be more than a transitional or circumstantial place, since the ‘original’ home neither can be recaptured nor can its presence/absence be entirely banished in the ‘remade’ home.”
The heart of radical affirmation in the film is through its acts of translations- the yearning of an exile into moving image, a nationalistic song into concrete poetry, animistic customs into contradictory images of destruction and liberation. “Translations mark the continuation of the original culture's life. As it has been repeatedly proven, the hallmark of bad translation is to be found in the inability to go beyond the mere imparting of information or the transmittal of subject matter (Trinh T. Minh-ha, Elsewhere, Within Here: Immigration, Refugeeism and the Boundary Event).” The continuation, the creolization of culture is the necessary gesture for which the refugee must find space, lest their histories be lost and lost again.
The film was created with individuals from the Union des Jeunes Vietnamiens de France (UJVF) and the Union Générale des Vietnamiens de France (UGVF), which was founded by Ho Chi Minh in 1919 during his sojourn in France. Many of the Vietnamese that came to France of that generation wanted to return after the Vietnam war, but were then seen as being too westernized. The younger generation of this group then started UJVF, in 1980. Their activities are based on events designed to promote and sustain Vietnamese culture in the community in France. Tuan Pham is performed by the former president of UJVF, who is currently sojourning in Boston, MA, and is filmed at UGVF and Ivry-sur-Seine, Paris.