23

– Spring 2010

Indirect Flow Through Passages: Trinh T. Minh-ha’s Art Practice

Dienderen An Van.

Trinh T. Minh-ha, Surname Viet Given Name Nam, 1989, 16mm film, 108min, stills. Courtesy Moongift Films

Trinh T. Minh-ha, Surname Viet Given Name Nam, 1989, 16mm film, 108min, stills. Courtesy Moongift Films

On the occasion of the inauguration of the Musée du Quai Branly in Paris, Trinh T. Minh-ha was invited to develop a video installation for the museum.1 The piece, L'Autre marche (The Other Walk, 2006), which she realised in collaboration with Jean-Paul Bourdier, was located on a long, winding, serpentine-like ramp leading visitors to the exhibition spaces of the ethnographic museum, with video images projected on the floor and on two walls of the ramp, and shifting aphorisms in twelve different languages intermittently appearing and disappearing. Trinh created the images during twenty years of film-making in several continents. But more than the varied content of the images and its questioning of Eurocentric categorisation, it is the architectural setting - the fact that the piece sits in between spaces - that marks Trinh's artwork. She describes it thus:

The passage of the other into oneself, the course taken between sounds, images and aphorisms, or between the said and the seen along the ramp is an initiation walk that spans across several cultures of Asia, Africa, Oceania and America. With each step taken, relations between passage, passers-by and passing time are mutually activated. Questions raised through sensual experience could incite the visitor to reflect on his or her present activities as spectator-researcher-visitor. Meaning moves with walking and with the coming and going, appearing and disappearing of the lit aphorisms. The strolling along the ramp could turn out to be a 'rite of passage' whose fluid movement in three phases, 'Transition', 'Transformation' and 'Overture' is suggested accordingly through sounds and visual rhythms.2

The Vietnamese-American film-maker, artist and theorist Trinh T. Minh-ha is an influential and articulate

Footnotes
  1. This article is based on an analysis of Trinh T. Minh-ha's films and books, on the collaboration for her film Night Passage (2005), email correspondence and an interview that took place in Berkeley in September 2005.

  2. Information on L'Autre marche is under 'Installations' at http://www.trinhminh-ha.com (last accessed on 9 November 2009).

  3. Catherine Russell, Experimental Ethnography: The Work of Film in the Age of Video, Durham, NC and London: Duke University Press, 1999, pp.124-25.

  4. Jay Ruby, Picturing Culture: Explorations of Culture and Anthropology, Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Press, 2000, pp.288-89, and 'Speaking For, Speaking About, Speaking With, or Speaking Alongside: An Anthropological and Documentary Dilemma', Visual Anthropology Review, vol.7, no.2, Fall 1991, p.62.

  5. J. Ruby, Picturing Culture, op. cit., p.283.

  6. See Alexander Moore, 'Performance Battles: Progress and Mis-steps of a Woman Warrior', Society for Visual Anthropology Review, vol.6, no.2, 1990, pp.73-79.

  7. C. Russell, Experimental Ethnography, op. cit., p.5.

  8. Trinh T. Minh-ha, When the Moon Waxes Red: Representation, Gender and Cultural Politics, London and New York: Routledge, 1991, p.35.

  9. Trinh T.M., Woman, Native, Other: Writing Postcoloniality and Feminism, Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 1989, p.47.

  10. See Trinh T.M., Cinema Interval, New York and London: Routledge, 1999, p.63.

  11. Trinh T.M., Woman, Native, Other, op. cit., p.94.

  12. Trinh T.M., When the Moon Waxes Red, op. cit., p.74.

  13. See C. Russell, Experimental Ethnography, op. cit., p.277; and Michael Renov, 'The Subject in History: The New Autobiography in Film and Video', Afterimage, vol.17, no.1, Summer 1989, pp.4-7. A special issue of the Journal of Contemporary Ethnography (vol.35, no.4, August 2006) contains several articles on the diverse definitions and uses of auto-ethnography.

  14. Laura U. Marks, The Skin of the Film: Intercultural Cinema, Embodiment and the Senses, Durham, NC and London: Duke University Press, 2000, p.1.

  15. Hal Foster, 'The Artist as Ethnographer?', in George E. Marcus and Fred R. Myers (ed.), The Traffic in Culture: Refiguring Art and Anthropology, Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1995, pp.302-09.

  16. Arnd Schneider and Christopher Wright, Contemporary Art and Anthropology, Oxford and New York: Berg, 2006, p.19, and Alex Coles (ed.), Site -Specificity: The Ethnographic Turn: De-, Dis-, Ex-, vol.4, London: Black Dog Publishing, 2000.

  17. G.E. Marcus and F.R. Myers (ed.), The Traffic in Culture, op. cit., p.1.

  18. L.U. Marks, The Skin of the Film, op. cit., p.11.

  19. See Trinh T.M., Woman, Native, Other, op. cit., p.94.

  20. Trinh T.M., When the Moon Waxes Red, op. cit., p.187.

  21. 'A documentary aware of its own artifice is one that remains sensitive to the flow between fact and fiction.' Trinh T.M., 'Documentary Is/Not a Name', October, vol.52, Spring 1990, p.85.

  22. Felicia Feaster, 'Glowing with Vivid Intensity', Art Papers, vol.28, no.3, May/June 2004, pp.28-33.

  23. Trinh T.M., Cinema Interval, op. cit., p.197.

  24. Unpublished notes, distributed to the crew during the shoot.

  25. Email correspondence between the artist, 2004.

  26. Ibid.

  27. Conversation with the artist, September 2005.

  28. L.U. Marks, The Skin of the Film, op. cit., p.68.

  29. Trinh T.M., Cinema Interval, op. cit., p.257.