Thao Nguyen Phan, Becoming Alluvium, 2019
Becoming Alluvium is a single-channel colour film that continues the artist's research into the Mekong River and its cultures. The film begins with a story of a burst damn, caused by the overproduction of a hydroelectric plant upstream, that flooded a peaceful town and brought death to many of its inhabitants. Two boys are seen relaxing in the water and yet we are told they too were killed in this event and have been reincarnated as a dolphin and water hyacinth respectively. We later see ships, heavy with their industrial loads, cargo and commuters, interspersed with footage of these boys roaming their environment. Animated sequences then accompany written stories of myth and folklore that focus on the failure of a princess to acquire jewels made of the Mekong’s morning dew. Try as she might to transform this delicate moisture into material for goldsmiths to use, she tragically transforms herself instead. Through such allegory and observation, and meditative scenes of the river at work and at rest, the film explores the environmental and social changes caused by the expansion of agriculture, by overfishing and the economic migration of farmers to urban areas. The Mekong is depicted as a far cry from a tranquil natural beauty and instead a site of conflict, suffering and contestation. Drawing on source texts such as Marguerite Duras’s coming-of-age travelogue set in the same region, and images such as Louis Delaporte’s colonial etchings, animated here as decapitated Khmer statues, Phan taps into a rich literary tradition of philosophy and imagined or (mis)remembered stories of far-flung lands. In doing so, Phan recognizes history not as an ossified past, told by the dominant culture of the day, but as a series of moments that are as fluid as the present and future, and that can be captured and retold by other means.
|Medium||4K single-channel video|
|Duration||16 minutes 50 seconds|
|Edition||of 5 + 2 APs|