Since 2010, the local Melbourne artist Phuong Ngo has been collecting and filing materials and images, sourced from all around the world, that relate to Vietnam in terms of both geography and also culture. The artist describes how the collection began as a ‘simple curiosity’, but has now grown to around 2,000 items. I was amazed when visiting Phuong’s studio several months ago to see the scope of the collection, which is truly unique. Laid out on his table were boxes and boxes of 35mm slides, some in original packets, some still loaded up into projector carousels. Many of the slides that we looked through related specifically to the Vietnam War – from the perspective of American soldiers based there; from visiting Diplomats; and, surprisingly, from the occasional holiday maker.
Phuong Ngo’s artworks investigate his own personal identity as the son of Vietnamese refugees, in dialogue with the collective identity of the twentieth century Vietnamese diaspora. Phuong has described the ways in which this body of images that he has collected and which he has titled The Vietnam Archive Project has become a means of further exploring and discussing ideas of personal and cultural identity, and an ‘obsession in owning my history’.
In previous works, Phuong has used imagery derived from works in this collection as the basis and inspiration for projects. But for Melbourne Now, Phuong will use the archive itself, displaying over one thousand of the slides from this collection in a unique and intimate installation entitled Look past. Fitted into custom-built lightbox tables visitors will be invited to sit and quietly look at the images, to see the slides come to life when illuminated from below. It is an invitation from the artist to share in these rare views and consider the impact and legacies of this period in Vietnamese history and how it continues to impact on aspects of Australian culture today.
Supported by Tam Vu, Vitae Partners.