The Propeller Group—an artist team based in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam—blurs the boundaries between fine art and media production. Two of the group’s members, Matt Lucero, and Tuan Andrew Nguyen, studied at California Institute of the Arts in Valencia, California with Daniel Joseph Martinez. Along with Phunam, the third member, they share an interest in globalized street culture and a background in filmmaking. With this training, they operate as both an artist collective and a production company named TPG. Their ambitious projects are frequently anchored in Vietnam’s history or its current dynamics as a growing capitalist market, and yet they extend to address global phenomena, whether international commerce, the tools of war, or shared traditions across cultures. Working in innovative ways, The Propeller Group has developed a model that merges collaborative, conceptual art practices—partially steeped in the politically inflected artwork of the 1990s—with the forms and methods of popular media today.
The Propeller Group’s exhibition at Phoenix Art Museum presents a number of multi-part projects from the past five years, comprised of videos and related objects. Fade In tracks the fake antiques trade in Vietnam. The Living Need Light, The Dead Need Music is a film that weaves together funerary traditions from Ho Chi Minh City and New Orleans. Other recent works scrutinize the histories of specific weapons: namely the AK-47 and M16, two rifles that in mainstream movies are often associated with Vietnam and countries in the West, respectively. This is the first time that these projects have been shown together since the group was formed in 2006.
The Propeller Group is organized by the Phoenix Art Museum, the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, and the Blaffer Art Museum at the University of Houston. Its Phoenix premiere is made possible by the generous contributions of Contemporary Forum, a support group of Phoenix Art Museum, and by Saltlick Family Trust Co.
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The Vietnam War is variously known as the first Television War or the most widely mediated war in history. News coverage of the War notwithstanding, it has become the subject of countless memoirs, films, and political art. While many of those creative endeavors were made from the perspective of, or against, those who fought the War, a considerable body of literature and art work has come from the side of the victims, the refugees and in the words of scholar Viet Thanh Nguyen, the dead. In recent years, a number of artists of Vietnamese descent have revisited not the war itself, but its remains. These artists include, among others, An My Le (b. 1961) Danh Vo (b. 1975) Dinh Q. Le (b. 1968) and The Propeller Group (founded in 2006).
This talk is presented by Dr. Nora A. Taylor, the Alsdorf Professor of South and Southeast Asian Art at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, and is based on an upcoming article for the Art Journal's special issue on "History as Figure" in contemporary South and Southeast Asian art.
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The Propeller Group Film Series
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Exhibition Page: The Propeller Group, The Living Need Light, The Dead Need Music, 2014. Single-channel film. Courtesy of The Propeller Group and James Cohan, New York.
Left: The Propeller Group, The Living Need Light, The Dead Need Music, 2014. Single-channel film. Courtesy of The Propeller Group and James Cohan, New York.
Right: The Propeller Group, Untitled (Ox Head; The Living Need Light, The Dead Need Music), 2014. Water buffalo skull, gold leafing, and brass rings. Courtesy of The Propeller Group and James Cohan, New York.