press release

The work of Jun Nguyen-Hatsushiba-who was born in Tokyo, educated in the U.S., and currently resides in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam-has drawn international attention since its first major appearance in the 2001 Yokohama Triennial. His project with Vietnamese cyclo (bicycle-taxi) drivers and fishermen has resulted in a poetic merger of these two traditional modes of work, which are among the most economically disenfranchised of a country undergoing rapid social transition. In Memorial Project Nha Trang, Vietnam: Toward the Complex-For the Courageous, the Curious, and the Cowards (2001), his best-known video to date, cyclos slowly race each other along the ocean floor with fishermen doing the driving. Viewers have found the languid motion and arduous progress of the rickshaw-like contraptions at the bottom of the sea to be a compelling symbol for an entire nation discovering its identity after a half-century of political turmoil. With direct reference to the impact of the Vietnam War on his country, Nguyen-Hatsushiba's languidly beautiful camerawork deconstructs the fate of those who are caught between old and new modes of existence. As the divers strain to hold their breath long enough to propel their vehicles a few feet farther, additional tension is created between graceful movement and precarious mortality.

In his most recent work, Happy New Year-Memorial Project Vietnam II (2003), completed for this exhibition, a traditional New Year's dragon puppet, carried by seven divers, twists and turns beneath the waves in a dreamy evocation of the pandemonium of street festivals. The dragon's sinuous movement is contrasted with that of the Fate Machine, a giant orb that shoots small balls at random intervals toward the water's surface. As the balls reach the air, they burst into clouds of colored powder, signifying a sudden release from a state of danger. Like its predecessor, Happy New Year uses water as a metaphor for Vietnam, from the more literal reading of a peninsular country with a considerable coastline to the historical resonance of the "boat people," who fled the country by the tens of thousands when the war ended in 1975. The adaptation of the Lunar New Year celebration as the basis for this work is a direct reference to the 1968 Tet Offensive, which took place in the form of a series of surprise attacks by North Vietnamese forces during the year's most significant holiday. In this work, Nguyen-Hatsushiba affirms his position as one of the most innovative young Southeast Asian artists on the international scene, and as a forceful interpreter of themes of cultural identity and its unfolding dialogue with history.

Jun Nguyen-Hatsushiba: Memorial Project Vietnam is produced by the MATRIX Program of the UC Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive, Berkeley, CA with assistance from the New Museum of Contemporary Art, New York. The Berkeley Art Museum presentation was also funded by The Rockefeller Foundation and the LEF Foundation. Jun Nguyen-Hatsushiba's work appears courtesy of the artist and Mizuma Gallery, Tokyo.

Zenith Media Lounge is a digital and media art technology collaboration with Zenith Electronics Corporation. Zenith Media Lounge exhibitions and public programs are supported by the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, the Jerome Foundation and the New York State Council on the Arts.

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Jun Nguyen-Hatsushiba - Memorial Project Vietnam