Liza Nguyen: Vietnam Souvenirs

  April –
May 2006

Image by Liza Nguyen from the exhibition Vietnam Souvenirs at Gallery of Photography Ireland, April 20 – May 21 2006.

The Vietnam War ended over thirty years ago, but its effects still live on. French-born artist Liza Nguyen explores its bitter legacy in the Irish premiere of her exhibition, Souvenirs of Vietnam.

Nguyen traveled to Vietnam, the home country of her father, for the first time in 2000. As a sort of ritual, she began methodically collecting handfuls of earth from historically significant locations all over Vietnam, mostly places that have become synonymous with battles or atrocities from the war years. She brought the soil samples back to Europe and photographed them in a clinical, almost forensic manner, enlarging her prints to reveal the subtle textures and colours of the earth. The resulting series, called Surfaces, is a restrained and elegaic mapping of loss. The nineteen large prints that form the installation have a elemental, painterly quality: the different colours of the earth suggesting a palette of pigments. But what is most significant can’t be seen or photographed: the deadly chemicals that have been absorbed forever into the landscape; and the traces of blood, sweat and tears of soldiers and civilians who died there. As the artist notes: “these are surfaces where men turned to dust”.

Nguyen juxtaposes her large photographic prints of soil with 84 small postcard images. The postcards are presented in long, concertina-folded vertical strips, like those sold to tourists. But instead of showing stereotypical landscapes, the cards picture victims of Agent Orange, war-museums, spent weapons, bunkers, war-monuments, and cemeteries.

Also on view is the artist’s book work, Mon Père, an award winning exploration of themes of memory and loss focussing on the artist’s father, a first-generation French-Vietnamese.

About the artist: Born in 1979 in France of Vietnamese descent, Liza Nguyen now lives in Paris and Dusseldorf. She holds two Masters Degrees and studied at the Dusseldorf Kunstakademie with Thomas Ruff. She has exhibited widely in Europe, the USA and Canada. Her bookwork, Mon Père (2003) received the Bourse du Talent and Souvenirs of Vietnam (2004) won the Prix Fnac de la Photographie and the Grand Prize of the Art Biennale of Lulea in Sweden. This is her first exhibition in Ireland.