At the very least a couple of periods throughout her lifestyle, artist Sung Tieu has applied with condition workplaces in Berlin to get her identify changed—or to set it a lot more aptly, corrected. In Vietnam, the place she was born, her to start with title starts with a non-Latin letter pronounced much more or considerably less as “ts,” and it need to rightly be prepared as Ðung, Benefit Group.
In Germany, where by she has lived for most of her existence, she began the paperwork and system, but never ended up going via with it. “They would have allowed me to transform my identify, but I would have had to decide on a thing like Julia or Brigitte. It experienced to be gender unique. So I saved Dung,” the artist explained.
We sat about mugs of tea in her studio in Berlin, which is filled to the brim with uncooked resources, parts from installations, sculptures in packing containers, and textbooks. The atumnal light strike a whiteboard charting out her hectic months: she’s finalizing a online video commissioned as part of the Frieze Artist Award she received previous thirty day period and is in the midst of a string of institutional demonstrates, opening in Bonn, Munich, Nottingham, and Basel. Wanting forward, she’s set to have a solo demonstrate at MUDAM in Luxembourg and is a part of the Berlin Biennale subsequent calendar year.
Sung’s family immigrated to Berlin when she was youthful, and she became a German citizen in 2007. Like so lots of inhabitants who ended up in the city—be it from start, naturalization, or a visa sticker on their passport, like me—we can all relate on some stage to the different traumas inflicted by German forms.
A mate traveling to the artist from abroad as soon as noted how typical it is for German inhabitants to trade animated tales with aspects like 5 a.m. lineups outside condition offices and the Kafka-esque sorts and techniques required to get appointments with “street-stage bureaucrats,” as Tieu identified as them.
For Tieu, the interest in these kinds of programs is conceptual, and it operates deep and vast. Bureaucracy, its facelessness and brutalism, as properly as social programs of regulate in basic, are ongoing topics in her art apply. “It is, on the area, a uninteresting subject matter, but in that way it is intriguing. Das Kleingeschriebene—the small print—matters,” she stated.
Her works frequently reference spaces of management, be it border walls, jail cells, waiting rooms, or a boss’s office environment. Normally, they are tense installations pervaded by chilly surfaces and readymades—everything is hyper-comprehensive and obsessively researched. Formal files are usually incorporated and, from time to time, reworded so the language receives to their genuine intent, and how “macabre” these forms definitely are. “When you are requested about your profits, what they really want to test is irrespective of whether you are worthy,” Tieu mentioned.
Every of her the latest projects is rooted in particular historic passions that array from the military services-industrial complex, the gentle or difficult wars waged by condition institutions, as properly as immigration and prisons. In all of them, the disappearing particular person is set towards these units.
The Good Print
I’ve recognized Tieu for some decades but we met all over again this drop just after I frequented her presentation as component of the shortlist for the Preis der Nationalgalerie, Germany’s prestigious prize for artists below 40. (In a testomony to the intercontinental character of Berlin, Tieu was the only German nominated.)
In her piece Song for VEB Stern-Radio Berlin, she focuses on a lesser recognised factor of German record: the arrival of Northern Vietnamese international laborers in East Germany (frequently named the GDR), a migration phenomenon that surged during the 1980s. There are transcribed lists charting Vietnamese migrants’ flight paths and work locations, which Tieu culled from an archive. A room of mirrors reduce out to resemble plane parts frames GDR-era radios placed on the floor, which she painstakingly gathered through on the internet categorized advertisements. The radios echo and suggestions on one particular another, emitting a ghostly soundtrack.
People are demanded to take away their sneakers in advance of entering the set up and stow them on a minor metallic shelf, which is a little bit disarming. That the perform total is lacking any thread of overt particular person encounter is the level.
“Bureaucracy does that with every a single of us,” Tieu said. “You zoom out from the own and you develop into a number, an address. In this situation, I am looking at the GDR in the 1980s, but it says so a lot about our current instances and the way we are surveilled.”
When Tieu became a German citizen, she had to revoke her Vietnamese passport simply because of Germany’s stringent legal guidelines on dual citizenship. She left Northern Vietnam when she was five with her mom to reunite with her father, who had been doing work as a foreign laborer in the GDR steel industry due to the fact she experienced been born. A person could suppose Tieu’s father is represented by a number on a flight list that sits in an archive somewhere. “It was not an uncomplicated path to observe in Germany, especially in these yrs,” the artist said.
As such, the function is particular on some amount, but Tieu struggles from being seen only by her cultural background. “As an artist who is Vietnamese-German, it is not uncomplicated to communicate from a personal area, mainly because you can get cornered into an identity,” she said. “I am generally striving to navigate that.”
With mother and father fashioned by their encounters in East Germany, but escalating up in a freshly unified Berlin herself, Tieu has a uniquely hybridized knowledge of East-West political tensions. She’s element of a generation of millennial artists in the region who are unearthing essential new perspectives on East German society.
“Sometimes I question if it was a daydream, those people reminiscences, as happens when you imagine about a thing from when you are young,” she reported.
Generally in our conversation, she stated the tales her mom shared as a software for reconstructing it herself. At Hamburger Bahnhof and at a modern solo exhibition in Munich at Haus der Kunst, little candies in ladybug foil dot the set up these little German sweets are presented as gifts for great luck about holidays but they also adorn her mother’s condominium.
Her operate-in-development for the Frieze Artist Award also pans the East-West axis, searching at the Havana Syndrome, a mysterious ailment that Tieu has develop into relatively obsessed with soon after learning about by way of information stories. Her upcoming movie, called Going Goal Shadow Detection, meticulously recreates the hotel room in Havana in which CIA officials feel they were being to start with attacked by sonic weapons. She hopes that by undertaking so, by documenting and noting the air vents, the doorways and other exits, and each and every corner of the rooms, she may fully grasp what induced the apparent brain trauma. (The true origin of or motive powering the phenomenon continues to be unproven, but it cropped up yet again in August when US Vice President Kamala Harris cancelled a journey to Vietnam in excess of a scare about the suspected sonic warfare.)
For a get the job done that was on view until Oct 10 in a group demonstrate at Kunsthalle Basel, Tieu played a soundtrack of her brainwaves that she experienced recorded when listening to a reconstruction of the Havana Syndrome. In a similar perform that was on see at the 2020 exhibition “In Cold Print” at Nottingham Modern, she offered her mind scans from the celebration. “I did have to sign off a disclaimer with an consciousness of risk… It definitely brought about problems but I do not think—or, at minimum, I hope—that I have longterm hurt,” she suggests.
How substantially she actually dreams an remedy about the thriller illness is unclear. I suspect her fascination it much more about the way some thing unproven and unidentified can have a substantial authentic-lifestyle effect in the political and social sphere—and how fears can be manifested or institutionalized, as walls, borders, or new bureaucratic insurance policies.
“Systems of control only develop. The moment we set them in location, it is quite rare that they get minimized once more,” suggests Tieu. “To achieve back again these spaces of flexibility is so substantially more challenging than just implementing them and implementing them.”
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