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A Life of Art from an Object of Destruction

By: Ethan Shen

Tim Andrew Nguyen is a Vietnamese artist who makes pieces to remind people of the trauma that Vietnamese people and the country of Vietnam experienced during the Vietnam War. He makes artifacts to go with the videos that he makes.

His centerpiece, “The Unburied Sounds of a Troubled Horizon,” is about a girl named Nguyet that makes her living scavenging unexploded bombshells and sells the scrap metal. Her sculptures hang from the ceiling, looking like strange-shaped windchimes with a faded feel. Her mother has PTSD from her husband dying to an unexploded shell. Nguyet has a friend named Lai, who lost an eye, both legs, and an arm when playing with cluster bombs. Two cousins died in the explosion. Death and disfigurement are never far. Nguyet makes kinetic art pieces out of bombshell parts. She then finds a magazine on Alexander Calder and becomes convinced that she is Calder reincarnated. A young monk “saw the immense compassion showed by the bomb because it chose not to explode,” and made it into a bell.

Another piece that gives this one context is called “The Sounds of Cannons, Familiar Like Sad Refrains.” Nguyen juxtaposed old Defense Department footage of ships firing into the mountains with a bomb disposal squad detonating a 2000-pound shell. The unexploded shell laments about its existence but is pleased that it will finally have a proper burial. At the end of the video, there is a moment where it seems as if there is finally peace.

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