SABRE DANCE UPON MONITOR
Phạm Ngọc Lân, 2012, 3’
(The film’s online screening has finished)
Nguyễn Ngọc Thảo Ly, 2019, 23′
Beat 2 contains two films that are incredibly rich for their respective lengths. Memory Lane (Ngõ nghệ sĩ) and Sabre dance upon monitor (Điệu nhảy trên nóc ti vi) both call attention to the subversive potential of the act of staging. In Lan’s film, the ethos of the “real” is contested and remediated in unexpected settings. Ly’s film explores the intersection between national mythology and life-long art practice, investigating how one form of “play” sustains and justifies the other.
Conceptually, Sabre Dance is straightforward: Lan plays videos showing the destruction of screens on a bulky TV that he has placed in Goethe Institut somewhere it is usually not found. People, when they are present, seem to ignore or accept this oddity. A strange inversion happens through the act of recording the placement of the art object, i.e. the video monitor, into a real scene: the real and the artificial are flattened and rendered as a single image track, while the audio coming from the clips being played, instead of the environment where the monitor is set, suggests that the action inside the frame is more “real” than the documentation of what happens outside of it. Sound is foregrounded as the channel through which one on-screen “reality” may supersede the other.
The power of sound to ground “reality” and determine the tone, depth, and level of engagement is also a crucial aspect of theater. In Memory Lane, the retired Tuong artists couple, 90-year-old Le Quang Mui and 78-year-old Dinh Lan, argue dramatically about the way a certain scene in a well-known play is staged. Dinh Lan, in the heat of the moment, “performs” her anger as if she is singing; her husband’s minimal responses make room for her melodic complaint to transpire. The spaces of their home – the kitchen, the living room, and the bedroom – double as their stage and backstage. Their life has merged with their art, and the film, in part, documents their placement in this neighborhood and community – ngõ nghệ sĩ, where artists live. Lan takes pride in her ability to perform anywhere, which she believes is the essence of the title “people’s artist.” Her art practice retains a hopeful interpretation of ideology.