“To speak a language is to take on a world, a culture…To speak is to be in a position to use a certain syntax, to grasp the morphology of this or that language, but it means above all to assume a culture, to support the weight of civilization.” -Franz Fanon
What does it mean for colonized subjects, “to speak a language”? Agape Enterprise is pleased to present Hong-An Truong’s new sculptural/sonic installation, based on her anthropological research on Vietnamese cultural transformation through colonialism. The Vietnamese cityscape is known for electric poles with public loudspeakers, chaotically tangled with telephone and electrical wire. These loudspeakers were originally installed during Vietnam’s resistance war with France in the 1950’s, and it has functioned to convey multiple voices, subsequently taken control by the American military and the Vietnamese communist government. In Truong’s installation, two electric poles lie on the ground with one piled on top of another. The speakers emanate eerily with the sound of collective voices, including a song by French Legion soldiers, Vietnamese Catholic chanting, and an American pop song popular in Vietnam during the war. The installation is accompanied by a red neon light, which reads “trở nên,” a Vietnamese compound word that can be translated into “becoming” or “to become.” The word was extracted from a Catholic Vietnamese student’s school notebook for learning English. The notebook was filled with fastidious handwritten copies of “universal” stories in the English language such as “Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves” and “The Three Swans.”
The installation is a de-colonial meditation on the relationship between the colonized subjects and languages/ideologies. Deeply influenced by Franz Fanon’s writings on decolonization and the psychopathology of the colonized, Truong attempts to expose indelible colonial residue within the Vietnamese cultural and psychological landscape, which she sees as symbolized by these electric poles. Strangely anthropomorphized, the poles are piled on the ground as if corpses that have come to speak of the dominant ideologies of the west one after another. All the sounds are collectively sung. It addresses the process of “becoming” certain subjects, solidified through the collective performance of singing and listening: sonic collectivity that can be either misleadingly dangerous or empowering, functioning both as mechanisms of oppression and resistance.
The exhibition will be accompanied by a reading performance and public discussion with invited artists whose works also address issues concerning sound, language and subjectivity. The date of the event and the names of the invited artists will be announced shortly.
Hong-An Truong is an artist and writer based in New York and North Carolina. Her writing on Yvonne Rainer and Deborah Hay has been published in Contemporary Theater Review and is included in the anthology Performa 09: Back to Futurism, edited by Roselee Goldberg. Other writing has appeared in Asia-Pacific Journal, Netwerk: Center for Contemporary Art, Southern Exposure Journal of Politics and Culture, and Shifter Magazine. Recent experimental collaborations include The Gramsci Project with students at Laguardia Community College, and Acting the Words is Enacting the Worlds with Huong Ngo and participants at EFA Project Space. Her video, photography, and performance-based work has also been shown at the International Center for Photography, FLUX Factory, Art in General, Parson’s Aronson Gallery, BRIC Rotunda Gallery, New York; and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Monte Vista Projects, and the Torrance Art Museum, Los Angeles; PAVILION, Bucharest; Green Papaya Art Projects, Manila; and Sweeney Art Gallery at UC Riverside, California, among others. Truong received her MFA at the University of California, Irvine and was a studio art fellow in the Whitney Independent Study Program. She is an Assistant Professor of Studio Art at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill.