We recently spoke to Leslie Weiner, one of the three women behind Smile Group, and her documentary on Vietnamese AIDs activist Nguyen Van Hung will premier on PBS in the United States on May 10. We first profiled the work of Smile Group and the legacy of Hung in a February 2009 article, “The Teacher’s Lessons.” Now, his story will be broadcast to millions. Check out the trailer for Thay Hung: Teacher below:

For those unfamiliar with PBS (Public Broadcasting Service), it’s the States’ most widely broadcasted nonprofit public broadcasting television service, with affiliates in more than 350 locations. The Teacher, Thai Hung will appear under the banner of the PBS series Global Voices. If you live in the United States, check for air dates at pbs.org.

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Update: This exhibit has been extended through May 1.

If you haven’t yet stopped by Galerie Quynh to see the current exhibit, Static Motion, you’ve got one more week to do so before the show closes.

And you certainly should. The pairing of these almost monochromatic series might seem like an odd choice, but once you step into the space, even before you engage with the individual pieces, the title of the exhibit makes immediate sense. By showing George Papadimas’ geometric sculptures and Nguyen  Thanh Truc’s collage-esque paintings together, gallery owner Quynh Pham has created a space the seems alive with an electronic buzz. At a certain depth of field, Nguyen’s paintings, anchored by Papadimas’ sculptures, seem to have the blizzard-like entropy of dropped broadcast flickering on your television screen:

Individually, the artists’ works capture the relationship between stasis and movement, as well.

There is something irresistible about Papadimas’ sculpture. You can’t help but walk circles around them, attempting to divine meaning in their vertices, watching as they seem to morph as you move. Papadimas often employs algorithms in his construction, and here he focuses on “the oppositional nature of the numbers 0-9.”  In the exhibit literature, Pham writes that the sculptures “allude to an order that goes beyond societal and cultural appropriations.” Perhaps that’s why you feel like you could obsess over the objects for hours; they seem to reflect something essential and unknowable, the tantalizing gap between the potential of mathematics to reveal mysteries of the natural order and our ability to actually conceptualize the answers.

If Papadimas’ sculptures exist askew of society, Nguyen Thanh Truc’s paintings provide a sort of visual expression of its ability to consume us and our attempts to impose order on the flood of information that assails us today. Nguyen adheres strips of newspapers and magazines to canvas, clips of the information stream that shape our reality. Visualized this way, one of our meaning making systems–the media–seems almost like an assault on our senses. As a magazine writer and rabid consumer of media, I find Nguyen’s work extremely potent. It has the ability to simultaneously express the sense of duty news consumers feel to utilize all of the information available via print, broadcast and Internet, the futility of that project and the guilt associated with the project’s failure. I cannot speak to the engagement with Vietnamese society, politics and culture expressed in the headlines, but I think Nguyen’s paintings transcend Vietnam in some ways.

The show runs through Saturday, April 24. Head down to Galerie Quynh at 65 De Tham in District 1. Open Tuesday through Saturday 10am to 6pm.

Contributed by Tom DiChristopher

Update from Smile Group

April 14, 2010

Our friends over at Smile Group, who we’ve worked with on a few of stories dealing with poverty and HIV in Vietnam, sent us another update on what they’ve been up to. In addition to moving two HIV-affected families into better homes in the past two weeks, they’ve also had time for education, awareness and some good old fun.

The first Sunday of each month, Smile Group meets in the park. Above, Tran takes her anti-retroviral medicine with considerably less complaining than usual–so she can get it over with and on to the games.

“We’re getting much more sophisticated with our sports teams. Colored jerseys for each team.” — Leslie Wiener.

Back to the office for lunch and a workshop on healthy food and taking medications correctly with pediatrician and AIDS specialist Dr. Thinh. Dr. Thinh also does a few on-the-spot consultations.

English class for the younger kids taught by Kim, Smile Group’s intern from the United States.

This past Smile Sunday, Smile Group also welcomed a new face: Thanh. Thanh was born with AIDS and is living in a very unhealthy, unstable environment. Before his first day with Smile Group, Thanh had never held a pen or pencil in his hand. Here, it looks like he’s got lots of helping hands.

If you’re interested in getting involved with Smile Group or making a donation, check out their website.

Contributed by Tom DiChristopher

Syntax and Diction @ San Art

In this month’s cover story, “Work in Progress”AsiaLIFE looked at the state of contemporary art in Saigon. If you want to know more, head over to San Art (3 Me Linh, Binh Thanh District) this Thursday the 15th at 6pm for a pair of artist talks with the space’s co-founders, Dinh Q. Lê and Tuan Andrew Nguyen, who were both featured in the article. The talks are in conjunction with the current exhibit, “Syntax & Diction,” which features a number of art works crafted from found objects and conveys the singularity of a Vietnamese aesthetic. Lê and Nguyen will discuss the pieces they contributed to “Syntax and Diction”, and give a brief overview of their overall artistic practice.

Check out more about the artists below.

Dinh Q Le
Dinh Q. Lê was born in Ha-Tien, Vietnam in 1968.  He received his BA in Art studio at UC Santa Barbara in 1989 and his MFA in Photography and Related Media at The School of Visual Arts in New York City in 1992.  In 1993, Lê returned to Vietnam and settled in Ho Chi Minh City. Much of Le’s art focuses on the history and experience of war, examining its affect on ideas of cultural memory and loss. His work has been exhibited world wide and is included in major public collections, such as the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), New York; San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; The Hammer Museum, Los Angeles and The Los Angeles County Museum of Art. In June 2010, his work ‘The Farmers and the Helicopters’ will premiere at MoMA, New York. Dinh Q Le is co-founder of the Vietnam Foundation for the Arts and San Art.

Tuan Andrew Nguyen
Tuan Andrew Nguyen was born in Ho Chi Minh City in 1976.  He returned to Ho Chi Minh City in 2004 after completing a Bachelor of Arts, from the University of California, Irvine, USA and a Master of Fine Art, from the California Institute of the Arts, USA. Examining the domination and usurpation of public space and popular symbol or stereotype, Tuan Andrew Nguyen’s conceptual art practice provokes the cultural mindset of contemporary Vietnam. In 2005, Nguyen and fellow artist Phù Nam Thúc Hà co-founded The Propeller Group, a creative development artistic agency specializing in experimental film, music video and original television content. Nguyen’s individual and collaborative art practice has been showcased worldwide, recent projects include ‘Porcelain’ a collaborative film project with Danish collective Superflex, and inclusion of new performative/graphic work in ‘Art Paris and Guest’, France. Tuan Andrew Nguyen is also co-founder of San Art.

In last month’s Dispatches section, we ran the news that Air New Zealand was set to launch brand new seating options in its economy section. With these new options now available, Air NZ has released a micro-documentary detailing the process, which is eerily entertaining for a documentary about airline seating. We dig the James Bond-themed intro.

Apparently the designers cast a pretty wide net in the brainstorming process, going as far as to mock up “standing seats” (Your guess is as good as ours) and bunk bed seating (“Excuse me while I stick my sweaty foot in your face, bunkmate”). What they eventually settled on is pretty cool. Check it out:

photo by Fred Wissink, AsiaLIFE

Word is starting to spread about the sensational nature of reportage that has surrounded the potential discovery of Sean Flynn’s remains since we first wrote about the fuzzy journalism on this blog. Writing for Salem-News.com, Tim King has also called into question initial reports on the excavation that led to the discovery, which was carried out by the now notorious Dave Macmillan.

In the article, King, the executive editor of Salem-News.com, says Macmillan may not deserve that notoriety. He covers some of the aspects that initial reports left out, including the following: “Investigator Dave MacMillan, told Salem-News.com that his team acted with the consent of the Cambodian military, local police, local community leaders and landowners, and with the full knowledge of JPAC, (Joint Prisoners of War, Missing in Action Accounting Command) in Hawaii.”

He quotes Macmillan as saying, “We are not amateur bone hunters, we volunteered to help Rory [Flynn] on her mission and worked as her field agents and did not receive payment for what we have done and are still doing, both Mr.Scott Brantley who is a registered private investigator from Nashville Tennessee and myself have combined 35 years of investigation experience between us.”

King was also contacted by Mike Luehring, a representative for the Flynn family, who confirmed Macmillan’s statements and referred to early press coverage of the event as “crazy.”

In an earlier article written by King, the writer includes Macmillan’s 8-point response to implications and accusations made by Sopheang Cheng, who wrote the widely circulated AP article, and Tim Page, the famed war photographer who has also been searching for Sean Flynn, his personal friend, for years. Among Macmillan’s more scathing rebuttals is the following:

“The article neglects to mention that Tim Page had in fact worked closely with me for at least a year on a recent search for Sean Flynn and had publicly stated his intention to publish a book about the project—which would have been his second book about his search for Sean Flynn. He had also been in discussion to make a documentary film about his search, which also would have been his second. His public claims pertaining to our crew being freelance bone hunters and that we desecrated a mass grave is so he can hold onto a production deal for a major documentary he is due to start shooting in Cambodia with Wall to Wall.”

Page has publicly criticized the means by which Macmillan and his acquaintance Keith Rotheram carried out the excavation, saying that their use of an excavator could have potentially disrupted nearby mass graves.

Macmillan responds directly to this criticism:

“Our use of the excavator has been misrepresented. Page’s claim that we potentially harmed a mass grave is inaccurate. The area we dug was a single gravesite. We used the excavator because we knew the grave was deeper than usual, due to the body being weighted down with rocks. All we had to do was carefully skim the soil and feel for rocks, at which point we stopped the machine and I did the rest by hand.”

The remains are currently being DNA tested at a JPAC facility in Hawaii. It is not known when the results will be in, but in the meantime, the events that led to the discovery and the aftermath are adding up to a story in itself.

Contributed by Tom DiChristopher

Jeff Holt/Bloomberg via Getty Images

The international media seems to be cadging on to the minutiae of everyday life in Vietnam. Michael Sullivan recently contributed this piece to NPR that chronicles Vietnam’s epidemic of motorbike text messaging, a major contributor to the country’s abysmal traffic safety record. (According to the Asia Injury Prevention Foundation, traffic accidents are the leading cause of child and adolescent deaths–approximately six children a day died in accidents in 2007.)

Our favorite part is the bit in which Sullivan quotes Pham Thi Thuy Linh, a 21-year-old student who was named fastest text messager in a contest sponsored by a mobile phone company: “I think I’m about 20 or 30 percent slower texting on my bike. And it’s easier to make mistakes because I’m trying to watch the road in front of me.”

Yikes.

Contributed by Tom DiChristopher