In Surface and Postcards of Vietnam, Liza Nguyen exhibits the "souvenirs" she brought back from the Vietnamese trip she made during the summer of 2004. The remains of her journey take us back to the present, the impossibility of forgetting what happened and the question of how we build a collective memory of a war. Between 1962 and 1975, some 13 to 15 million tons of bombs were dropped on Vietnam (including napalm bombs, phosphorus bombs and fragmentation bombs), four million Vietnamese civilians were killed or wounded, 663,000 Vietnamese soldiers were killed, 58,183 Americans died, 313,613 were wounded, and before that, the French had suffered 92,000 casualties and 11,400 injuries. Between 1961 and 1971, almost 5 million Vietnamese were exposed to herbicides and their carcinogenic effects.
Her photographs reproduce the cartography of the Vietnam War where massacres, massive defoliation and pivotal battles took place. "Surface, " she says, "represents a handful of earth taken as a souvenir from places full of memories. It shows the history-laden ground on which French and American soldiers fought the Vietnamese. Pieces of land which are linked to history, to bodies turned into dust."
Octave Debary, Anthropologist at the University Paris V.
Excerpt from his essay in the FOTOFEST2006 catalogue
LIZA NGUYEN Surface and Postcards of Vietnam
Surface shows different samples of earth which were taken from battle sites or places affected by wars in Vietnam. Most places in the series are known for their battles; Khe Sanh, Hué and Dien Bien Phu. The samples appear as handfuls of sand or dirt isolated on a white background. The viewer stays on the surface of the battle “where men turned to dust.” Postcards examines traces of war. The images are displayed like leaflets sold in touristy places. Instead of showing stereotypical landscapes, the cards depict war-museums, old weapons, ruins, bunkers, tunnels, war-monuments and cemeteries.
Liza Nguyen was born in France and splits her time between Paris and Düsseldorf, where she participates in the Thomas Ruff workshop at the Staatlichen Kunstakademie (Academy of Fine Arts). She has a M.A. from the Sorbonne, Paris, and a second M.A. in photography from the Ecole Nationale Supérieure Louis Lumière, Paris. Her work explores representation, memory, and aesthetics: how to represent the past, how memory is built in the present, and how to create the link between aesthetics and ethics. She has exhibited her work in France, Sweden, Spain, Germany, Japan, Canada, and the U.S. Her artist book My father received several awards in France, including La Bourse du Talent. Souvenirs of Vietnam recently received the Prix Fnac de la Photographie and the grand prize at the International Biennial of Art of Lulea in Sweden.