sound & altar installation - ZeroOne San Jose, CA - Aug. 7 - 13, 2006.
Nhan Nguyen will present new work at ZeroOne San Jose: A Global Festival of Art on the Edge in San Jose as part of the International Symposium of Electronic Arts 2006 - the largest art and digital media cultural event to ever take place in North America.
His is a delightfully simple work with its lyrical tales from home, in this case Vietnam, and a surprising placement in a festival that focuses on high-tech wizardry.
A compilation of interviews with Vietnamese restauranteurs and restaurant workers in Vancouver in which topics such as favorite foods, careers in the food and service industry, memories of Vietnam are played at conversational level in tandem with the restaurant own tunes. A leitmotif of these interview is the search for Mrs. Ba, a figure of extraordinary misfortune and resolve.
Nguyen’s installation will be in three of Vietnamese Pho houses (noodle soup restaurants). The wall-mounted altars will have an accompanying audio track in Vietnamese and English of stories that Nguyen recorded from people in Vancouver’s Vietnamese restaurants. The audio will playback at whisper quiet levels so that the listener will have to strain to hear, as if eavesdropping on a conversation. “These small shrines displayed in noodle houses will stand as an important record of the history of Vietnamese-Canadians.”(Nguyen)
“Ba Ba is a woman who sells noodle soup at Bai Sau Beach in Qui Nhon, the town in Vietnam where I was born. Many tragedies befell Ba Ba including the suicide drowning in 1971 of her son who had refused to enlist. In 1972 she was gunned down when Bai Sau Beach became a battlefield; while operating on her wounds, the surgeon notes that she was shot by an AK 47, the Soviet-made gun of the advancing North Vietnamese Army - and as well as by an M-16 supplied to the retreating South Vietnamese Armies by the Americans.
Betrayed by her two daughters, who had married American soldiers, she was left outside the American embassy in Saigon on that fateful day in June of 1975. Ba Ba returned to Bai Sau Beach, and amid accusations from her friends and neighbours of working for the enemy, she planned her escape and left Vietnam by boat in the fall of 1976 in search of her daughters. She was never seen again.
These tales of Ba Ba’s indomitable spirit were invoked by many Vietnamese boat people during the exodus by sea throughout the eighties and early nineties. Vietnamese altars and shrines are dedicated to many contemporary personages whose stories and deeds are often passed on as shining examples of the human spirit and as well as what to do in such situations. These stories of Ba Ba resonate with many Vietnamese restaurant workers whose struggles mirror her own.
Although it is an important and relevant tale, it is gradually fading. The last known shrine to Ba Ba in Vancouver was at Little Saigon Restaurant, which closed in 2003.
My work has always drawn inspiration and clarity from Vietnamese stories and rituals. Many of my works are anchored by personal stories from my mother and her friends, such as recent installations highlighting Lao Noi Kieu (Ancient Citizen) a spirit whose influence includes matters of nation and citizenship. Calling for Ba Ba is an important and necessary extension of my particular interest in creating altars/shrines to figures whose deeds inspired and galvanized the Vietnamese community in Canada during its early struggle.
I have collected stories of Ba Ba from the Vietnamese diaspora and in particular from those who left Vietnam by boat and who also have worked in restaurants here in Vancouver. There is no written record of Ba Ba’s miraculous life journey.”
Nhan Duc Nguyen