June 2012, arsenal cinema

Trinh T. Minh-ha is our guest


Trinh T. Minh-ha is a theorist, an author, a composer and a filmmaker. She grew up in Vietnam and went to the US to study in 1970. She later taught music in Dakar, Senegal, and today she is Professor for Women's Studies at the University of California, Berkeley. She also teaches film in San Francisco. Since 1982, she has been making films that are multi-voiced reflections about representation, power relations and hybrid identities – in the US, West Africa, Vietnam, Japan and China. Like her texts, these play an important role in postcolonial and feminist discourse. Her films defy conventional categorization and pigeonholing. Located at the intersection between documentary, fiction and experimental film, they employ various narrative forms, examine the function and ideology of language, subvert dominant models of representation and have a multi-perspective, non-hierarchical viewpoint. We are glad to welcome Trinh T. Minh-ha to Arsenal between 2. and 4. June, as well as to provide viewers with the rare chance of seeing all seven of her films. We would also like to point out that "Asiatische Deutsche. Vietnamesische Diaspora and Beyond", which includes a paper by Trinh T. Minh, will be presented at HBC Berlin on 21. June.

SURNAME VIET GIVEN NAME NAM (1989, 2.6., followed by a discussion with Trinh T. Minh-ha, chaired by Tabea Metzel) is about the multiple layers of myths and history that make their mark on Vietnamese women. In her film, Trinh allows women to speak for themselves. A key feature are interviews, translated from French, which reveal a sense of double alienation. Trihn reenacts them with Vietnamese immigrants living in the US. "Thus, this film is just as much about translation as it is about Vietnam. It is also about narration: The difference between documentary and fictional narrative forms with regard to a described reality is a question of grades of fiction." (Madeleine Bernstorff)

"I do not intend to speak about. Just speak nearby", Trinh says at the beginning of the 16mm film REASSEMBLAGE(1982, 3.6., followed by a discussion with Trinh T. Minh-ha, chaired by Madeleine Bernstorff) in her commentary. Filming in Senegal, the director distills sounds and images from the everyday life of villagers and resists the ethnological need to explain the "other" by resorting to explicit attributions. The film is a critique of the ethnological viewpoint and documentary authority. Trinh also questions her position as a filmmaker as well as pointing out the impossibility of finding a neutral and objective narrative voice.

NIGHT PASSAGE (2004, 3.6., introduced by Trinh T. Minh-ha) pays homage to Kenji Miyazawa's classic novel Milky Way Railroad and tells the story of three young friends who, in a lonely night train, undertake a spiritual journey into the realm between life and death. The cinematic journey into an in-between world is translated by the unconscious into images and creates access to other worlds – sensual dream landscapes that are accompanied by an equally dream-like music.

A TALE OF LOVE (1995, 4.6., followed by a discussion with Trinh T. Minh-ha, chaired by Marc Siegel) Against the backdrop of contemporary American life, the film accompanies the search of a woman who is in love with love. It was loosely inspired by The Tale of Kieu, a 19th century Vietnamese poem of love about the fate of a martyr, which has since become a metaphor and mythical description for the fate of Vietnam. Structured by voyeurism, the plot takes a step back to give space to a filmic reflection and merges into a compact space with the multilayered sounds, colors and words.

NAKED SPACES – LIVING IS ROUND (1985, 5.6.), is about people and their living spaces in the villages of six West African countries. It is a "poem of lingering" (Nadja Rottner), which creates an increased awareness of sound, music and the noise of the surroundings and allows the audience to see and perceive the specific culture through the senses. "The non-expressive, non-melodic, non-narrative aspects require a different kind of attention from their viewers, who hear sound as sound and see the image as image," says Trihn herself in a commentary that is also narrated by two other women. This transmits different perspectives – that of the Africans, another which reflects the logic of the West, and a third which is based on personal experiences and observations.

SHOOT FOR THE CONTENTS (1991, 8.6.) offers a rapprochement to Chinese culture through different, juxtaposed and overlapping positions. Trinh reflects on the political and cultural questions of power and change after the crackdown of the pro-democracy movement on Tiananmen Square in 1989. Citing Mao and Confucius, citing classical Chinese music, incorporating the voices of women, philosophers and artists, recordings of rural China and using stylized interviews, questions regarding the representation of China, as well as the multitude of identities and the process of making films itself, are raised.

THE FOURTH DIMENSION (2001, 10.6.) is an exploration of Japan through its art, culture and rituals. The meditation about ceremonies and travel raises a series of questions: the experience of time, the influence of video on the making of images, and the specific aesthetics of video. Scenes filmed through mobile frames such as windows and doors open up new perspectives in Trinh's first digitally shot film.

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