With contributions from Hạc Trần, Giau Minh Truong, Patricia Nguyen, Nhung Walsh, & Lương Nguyễn Liêm Bình
Series of color and black & white perfect-bound books
Like many overseas Vietnamese of my generation who returned to Vietnam for the first time as adults, I was searching for signs to help me understand my identity and to recuperate my family's history that had been displaced as a result of the war. On a bus, I bought a copy of the novel Catfish and Mandala, sold by a street vendor. This memoir follows the author, also overseas Vietnamese, as he returns to Vietnam grapples with the intensity of feeling very Vietnamese and not truly Vietnamese at the same time. Upon closer inspection, I found the book to be not just a copy, but literally a photocopy of the entire book, meticulously reproduced to look and feel like the original, save for a few artifacts that betrayed its method of production.
That was in 2005. A year ago, I mentioned this incident to a group of friends, also of this diasporic Vietnamese community, who all had similar experiences of happening upon a copy of a copy of this same book, while (or around the same time as) they were returning to Vietnam for the first time. What I imagined was my unique experience was actually collective. I was interested in how my experience mirrored those of this group, so I asked them to each re-read and annotate individual copies of the book, which I would compile into one copy of a copy of a copy.
Questions of authenticity linger over all of our experiences as we reflect upon our identities as Việt Kiều (overseas Vietnamese) and what it means to claim an identity as real or fake. Eventually, I would like for copies of the book to re-circulate in informal markets, adding layers of meaning and experience to these questions of identity for future readers to discover.
In collaboration with Or Zubalsky
Online collaborative audio platform
2013 – 2015
"I am invisible, understand, simply because people refuse to see me."
On September 16, 2013, the Randolph County Board of Education in Central North Carolina banned Ralph Ellison's book "The Invisible Man" after a student's mother complained about the adult content in the book. One board member supported her complaint, stating that he "didn't find any literary value" in Ellison's account of African-American alienation in the United States in the early 20th century. The ban remained for a mere nine days until it was lifted by the North Carolina School Board under much fire by the public.
Over sixty years after the book's publication date, even after winning the National Book Award for fiction in 1953 and being named by the Library of Congress as one of the "Books That Shaped America," this incident demonstrates the precarity that a work, even one that has been nationally recognized, faces in a cultural climate of a country that has not resolved its history of racial oppression. This issue is particularly timely now as structural violence against people of color has been gaining national attention after the police shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, MO and the homicide of Eric Garner in Staten Island, NY.
In the novel, the main character struggles to do good in the world, but is thwarted by structures instituted to maintain the status quo. He eventually aligns himself with the invisible, those who tip-toe precariously at the periphery of our society. We are asking participants to read out loud and record as much or as little of the book as they want in a show of solidarity with the invisible. The platform is readily customizable for any text facing censorship and is open source for others to use. While willfully violating copyright laws, the Invisible Library asks how works of literature might find new avenues for appreciation through digital media.
Through the voice, may we collectively enact a visibility.
Portable working space
The Pop-Up Studio is a mobile, working, studio space. I share this 8'x8'x8' cube with one other artist at a time, and we set up and work in public spaces.