Trùng Mù (Endless, Sightless) begins with two figures behind a curtain patterned with foliage: a feminized cyborg is bent over another body to engage in some facial operation. Their interaction is accompanied by the repetitive sound of a laser machine for the removal of dark pigmentation in the human skin, which sound binds the visual and temporal movements of the whole film. Oscillating between different intensities of blurring, blinding, and obfuscating the images it creates, the video drama by Phuong Linh Nguyen slowly unfolds a generic and timeless space of cosmetic technology. From the choreography of textiles and textures, of material and gaseous states, of human and non-human bodies, the beauty salon emerges as a manifestation of capitalist corpofiction, migrant labor, and global toxic bonds.
Trùng Mù is part of an on-going body of work in which Phuong Linh Nguyen engages with the psychoscapes and ecologies in Vietnamese society and its diaspora, shaped by colonialism, the Cold War, migration, and totalitarianism. In a somewhat dusty and low-tech way, the uncanny scenery of Trùng Mù references the clinical whiteness that connects the laboratories of space travel, warfare, and bio-chemical experimentation. Thus, the work suggest cosmetics as a historical paradigm for understanding the post-colonial and post-socialist relationships between the transforming ideological signifiers of bodies and architectures.
While diverse agents of labor populate Trùng Mù, its central protagonist is a white fog. The fog of the cosmetic salon is one of toxic fumes, of skin and nail dissolved into particles filling the air, a cloud of potential contamination. Nguyen’s fog enables the film to move through different registers of opacity and to insist on occupying the thresholds of what seems to be barely visible or moving. Here – in the interstices of a nowhere that is everywhere – Nguyen’s work finds openings into realms of experience and history shaped by queer and diasporic subjectivities. The images and stories in Evelyn Taocheng Wang’s artist publication Unintended Experience (A Job in Amsterdam) from 2017 produce a line of flight into the complexity of such subjectivities. Therefore, I leave the last words to her:
CAN DO NOTHING
Lisa said “[…] Why are you so mysterious, you are strange sometimes. I feel … but … but I don’t know how to describe it, like there are so many of different you behind you.”
It was Lisa’s turn for massaging a young man from England, he asked me to massage for him, he pointed me: “I want she to massage me.” (I tried not to answer due to was recognized out I’m a guy by last two male clients, so I kept smiling and tried to be relax and found mental balance again.)
“Sir, actually you can’t really choose masseuse by yourself in our store.” Tracy answered.
And the room fell silent for a while. […]
Text by Suza Husse
D.O.P, editor, sound: Do Van Hoang
Camera: Le Xuan Tien
Actresses: Phuong Linh Nguyen, Thuy-Anh Dang
Stage, costume: Do Thanh Lang, Nguyen Anh Tu, Linh Cam
Phuong Linh Nguyen is a Hanoi-based conceptual artist. Her multidisciplinary practice spans installation, sculpture, and video. Her work conveys the sense of the alienation, dislocation, and ephemerality of human life. Linh’s concerns deal with geographic cultural shifts, the traditional roots, and fragmented history of Vietnam – its complex nexus of ethnicities, religions, and cultural and geo-political influences. On her frequent travels, Nguyen Phuong Linh does field research and collects artifacts from borders and historical sites of exchange. She transforms these materials in order to construct alternative perspectives of and interpretations on fragmented histories and personal narratives.