In detail, the two works, Chapter 1: The Legend of Lieu Hanh (2019) and Chapter 2: The Blessed Child (2019) explores different narratives of memory and questions the relevance of len dong (spiritual mediumship) in contemporary Vietnamese context.
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The Medium (2019)
by Ngoc Nau
Ngoc’s latest installation at the Singapore Biennale 2019 displayed two-part augmented works that respond to either a painting or the era-specific vignette in National Gallery Singapore.
In detail, the two works, Chapter 1: The Legend of Lieu Hanh (2019) and Chapter 2: The Blessed Child (2019) explores different narratives of memory and question the relevance of len dong (spiritual mediumship) in the contemporary Vietnamese context. As part of her long-term research project titled ‘Deep in the Forest, a Night Song’, she studies the concept of belief and spiritualism in the context of French colonial Vietnam and the memorial-building process of such rituals in the digital age we live in today.
The premise for her research is based on the northern Vietnam province of Thai Nguyen where she was born. In a video interview with Post Vadai, she recounts her childhood memories of the birthplace, as a place that acted as a war refuge for her family and as well as her playground where she collected and played with scattered coals on the main road. Only years later, she discovered that Thai Nguyen, one of the first critical industrial zones, helped rebuild the country during the economic reform Doi Moi era.
During her time as a student, Ngoc witnessed first-hand the urban degeneration of her Thai Nguyen and was taken aback that such a developed and wealthy city could deteriorate to ruins so quickly. This, for her, encapsulated the daunting reality that overdevelopment can bring along destruction if not careful. Humans are not exempt from this inevitable destruction. As such, she brings life to these stories by integrating it into her works that embrace and celebrate being human. She believes that bodies act as a conduit to the world and is capable of containing many phenomena and can project the inside-out.
Her apt inception of bodies as channels can be seen in her focus on spiritual mediumship as a way of bodies opening up a portal to receive gods and goddesses– to worship, to seek guidance and blessings. With the ever-evolving technological climate in the world, her work questions: What will rituals like len dong become? Would it have the same effect digitally?
Ngoc, through this AR installation, rechannels a traditional ritual practice into the digital realm, the performance as encapsulated in AR brings in a new line of inquiry into worshipping. In such a ritual practice, it employs an analogy that it takes ‘two hands to clap’, that without the worshipper onsite, the ritual accounts for a performance with no ‘divine’ experience or blessings to take away.
If such a ritual practice succumbs to the digital experience through AR, goddesses in this case, would need to transcend beyond the earthly realm to the cyber world to ensure she receives her ‘digital offerings’ and gives her ‘digital’ blessings to her ‘online’ worshippers. Such remediation of the ritual practice pushes the boundaries of worship practice, reshaping worshippers' view of such rituals into something that is in the process of change due to changing times.
Through this rechannelling, Ngoc is also proposing a way to translate the ritual practice of len dong into different mediums, much like an example Teh highlights of how wayang (puppet theatre) has many iterations throughout Southeast Asia, that though all fall under the same category, it is performed differently, with different materials with different outcomes (30). A ritual like len dong is also practiced in other parts of Asia, such as Southern China, Myanmar, and some communities in India. It is also a Vietnamese version of East Asian mediumship practiced in Taiwan, Singapore, and Hong Kong. Such mediumship in the future, in Ngoc’s interpretation, may consider the use of technology like AR, to practice spirit mediumshipin their own fashion, that with digital placemaking made available through handheld devices, one can participate in the ‘live’ worship session. In this investigation, Ngoc provides a solution to the practice of folk tradition with new-age technology to avoid the government’s opposition to the practice, which still happens today.
Ngoc Nau is a multimedia artist who belongs to the Kinh ethnic group of Northern Vietnam. She is currently working on projects that reconstruct contemporary and social issues from her own perspective based on her research into contemporary Vietnamese history. She graduated from the Vietnam University of Fine Arts with a major in Vietnamese Art History and Critique.
She has been conducting experiments with diverse in forms, such as photo collage, light boxes, video, hologram, AR, and moving-images, using diverse materials. She has also participated in diverse art exhibition and projects held in Japan, Hong Kong, North Island, Korea, Britain, Canada, Singapore, and Vietnam, among others, including Singapore Biennale 2019 (Singapore), Asian Diva: The Muse and the Monster (Seoul), In Search of Miss Ruthless (Hong Kong), Technophobe (Ho Chi Minh City), Siggraph Asia 2015 (Kobe), Art Stage Singapore 2015 (Singapore), and The Mirror and Monitor of Democracy in Asia (Gwang ju).