Copyright 2009

The City & The City
2 channel color digital video with sound
TRT: 18 min
dimensions variable

Collaboration with Dwayne Dixon

The destructive character sees nothing permanent.
-Walter Benjamin

East by Southeast, Tokyo and Saigon share a history of destruction and occupation while also displaying various forms of shifting Asian urbanism. Modern warfare generated the radical conditions for architectural, political and social change in both cities, but how do we discover the traces of this shared history after intense postmodern re-imaginings concomitant with relentless construction of capitalist space? The cities appear strange to one another, fantastically different, dislocated in time: Saigon radiates a remaining sensual colonial aura; Tokyo shimmers a cool techno-future. The cities’ morphologies hide in fragments, facades, and distortions of built scale. Together they hold phantasmagoria of urban Asian cultures, hyper-capitalism, Cold War spatiality and traces left by the Army Corps of Engineers.

We nod to China Míeville’s baroque urban fiction as we examine Tokyo and Saigon through a short video that operates on the tripartite mechanics of ethnographic, documentary, and conceptual visuality. The video is a double projection: each side of the screen bears an image so that a viewer must walk around the screen to see what they have been hearing emanating from the other side. Like Benjamin’s dense notations on modernity’s environments, the video accumulates in passages, splitting the screen in double views of the cities’ urban topographies: a noodle cart glowing in the night rain, endless escalators and foot-tunnels, buildings erected and destroyed, walls and doors, fields, rivers and railroad bridges. In shots so slow they seem as photographs, time doubles back and fitfully slips forward between the city and the city. On the other side of the screen is projected another split-screen image: a Japanese man in a karaoke box and a Vietnamese woman in a spare bedroom, both holding microphones, each illuminated in the lyrics scrolling across screens. Two songs play back and forth, sung opposite each other, in different rooms and different spaces. Each vocal performance expresses a longing for a timeless location before change came, a desire to re-encounter the space of the nation, of the self, before it went into hiding, lost to violent histories of transformation, destruction. Through song and split images the video travels through a series of encounters with the persistent memory of the cities.

How do we know the cities have changed, coming upon them like this? Do cities travel anywhere after time passes in vortexes of war, occupation, revaluation, demolition and ecstatic construction? The video fails to record the deep archaeology of Asia’s urbanism. Instead, fantastic cityscapes rendered in split minutiae emerge from Tokyo and Saigon’s strangely dissembled histories after modernism had fled. The video asks us to undo our seeing, to gaze into the seams between time and the cities, to reorient ourselves through the solitary performances of song.

Hồng-Ân Trương & Dwayne Dixon