My work over the past twenty years has been about the concept of the artist as ‘explorer’. I have used this methodology to explore the notion of home, trauma, dislocation and memory associated with the Vietnamese diaspora. I am also interested in the liminal space that exists between Eastern and Western cultures.
As a result of the communist victory in Vietnam in 1975, and the subsequent conflict with Cambodia, many Vietnamese have been dislocated from their homeland. Living in their new home in Australia, they have many new and unfamiliar experiences. The Vietnamese, like many more recent refugees, are constantly facing problems in keeping the balance between their own traditions and the Australian way of life. Keeping their traditions alive and passing this knowledge to the next generation becomes of paramount importance in maintaining connections to culture.
In Phoenix I am looking at these connections/reconnections, dislocations and transitions from one way of being to another. The works are presented in video format on three separate but adjacent large screens. One of the three elements of the videos depicts the burning of three wax sculptures which represents Vietnamese cultural artefacts (that is ceremonial Dong Son Drums). These wax sculptures melt and then solidify into new shapes. This performance is a poetic and symbolic experience which illustrates a soft gesture of the transformation of culture and memories by standing and watching how your old history and culture slowly burns away and you are powerless to prevent it — where the character of the wax is transformed from a solid to a liquid and then back to a solid which has taken on new characteristics. The artefact is used as a reference for the point of departure and arrival from the old Vietnamese culture into a new Western culture. It is a sign of new beginnings of life and identity parallel to the way in which migrants and refugees have adopted a new homeland.
The launching of the paper boats echoed the real life events of the Vietnamese diaspora with many of the boats failing to launch, others capsized and sank to the seabed of the Pacific Ocean. Many others did not make it to land, and remain drifting endlessly in the ocean. Their hazardous fate is left to the elements and fortuity. This distribution of my fleet, represents the notion of carrying memories of one’s homeland, culture, ancestors and loved ones into a new homeland and leaving behind all that is familiar.
The other element represents traditional Vietnamese dance as performed by an Indigenous dancer from the Central Highlands of Vietnam. The performance recounts the memory of home as told through the story of a young girl as she celebrates the timeless love rituals of planting seeds, harvesting and weaving as she waits for her lover.
© Dacchi Dang, 2013 All rights reserved