The Propeller Group is a three-person artist collective based in Ho Chi Minh City. It was founded by Matt Lucero, Tuân Andrew Nguyân, and Phunam Thuc Ha, whose varied relationships to Vietnam inform their nuanced artworks. The collaborative relationship was first established between Nguyen, who was born in Ho Chi Minh City but came to the United States as a child refugee, and Lucero, who was born in Upland, California, during their graduate studies at the California Institute of Arts. Nguyen returned to Ho Chi Minh City where he met and began collaborating with Phunam Thuc Ha, who was also born in Ho Chi Minh City. Established in 2006, the group focuses on the disjunction among politics, power, and economies, and more specifically the tension created in Vietnam by the rapid development of a capitalist society under the mantle of the Communist regime. Their polished multimedia works employ the vernacular of street art and advertising strategies of popular culture to bring levity to otherwise difficult issues.
The Propeller Group. (Still) The Dream, 2012. Single-channel HD video and motorbike frame with steel pallet. Video duration: 4 minutes, 20 seconds. The Burger Collection.
The Dream captures Vietnam’s great economic growth and urbanization since Doi Moi, and the country’s hunger for upward mobility at the expense of its ideological ideals. In this single-channel video a Honda Dream motorbike—long a symbol of quality and economic status in Vietnam—is left out overnight on the streets of Ho Chi Minh City. The time-elapsed footage shows the motorbike being stripped of its parts until it is reduced to a useless skeleton. Accompanying the video is the actual carcass of the picked-over bike as a symbol of the fallen utopia of communism and the unsavory underside of capitalism.
The Propeller Group. (Still) The Guerrillas of Cu Chi, 2012. Two-channel synchronized video installation with sound. Duration: 20 minutes, 4 seconds. Courtesy of the Propeller Group and James Cohan, New York.
The Guerrillas of Cu Chi is a two-channel video that takes as its subject the Cu Chi Tunnels, a series of underground passages outside Ho Chi Minh City that were used by the Viet Cong to combat U.S. troops during the American-Vietnam War. These tunnels, which helped to win the war against the Americans, have been repurposed as a tourist attraction replete with firing ranges where, for $1US, visitors can shoot targets with weapons that include old M-16s and AK-47s that were used during the war. On one video screen the camera documents giddy tourists, many of them from western countries, aiming and shooting the guns toward the viewer. The amusement park-like atmosphere trivializes the carnage and loss incurred during the war and stands in stark contrast to the second video which shows Cu Chi Guerrillas, a 1963 propaganda film developed by the Viet Cong. The Viet Cong were also known as the National Liberation Front, a part of the North Vietnamese government, which fought against the South Vietnamese government and the United States. By pairing the two videos the Propeller Group underscores how the harsh realities of war are sanitized, rationalized, and repackaged to reach very different audiences.
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