Your silence will not protect you / Your passivity will not protect you , 2012
December 1937: Chaos reigns in Nanjing, China—mass murder, war rape, military crimes perpetrated by the Imperial Japanese Military. Decades later, images become evidence, letters documentation. It is a history disputed, thrust into the public imagination in 1998 by the release of The Rape of Nanking, the first English-language book published about the massacre. The details of the event remain contested. Events, like taxonomies, can be explained through difference, a regulation of that which threatens to unsettle the natural order of what is knowable.
November 2004: Order is disrupted with a single gunshot that echoes off the coast of northern California—the author of The Rape of Nanking, Iris Chang, commits suicide after suffering a nervous breakdown in the midst of interviews with U.S. veterans. She was collecting narratives, videotaping stories told in the first person, testimonials from the mouths of survivors. Traumatic memories, like parasites, can tax the body without being recognized as a burden, a monster that emerges only in the “violent attempt to know.”
One narrative is a public history; one a private history.
A dispute of the depressive
A dispute of the obsessed
A dispute of the unsatisfied
What kind of dispute can one level against the factual things they have recorded?
* * *
In a large metal cabinet, one peers into a small opening to see slides slowly shuttling; through headphones one hears the shuddering release of the projector entombed inside. The projector releases image after image, stills from footage from Iris Chang’s interviews with survivors of the Nanjing massacre. With the sound of the slides changing, like deep, heavy sighs from a mechanical beast, come two voices from the other side of history (asking questions of her informants, making statements about history, determining themes and sub-themes, voicing rules to live by) in English and stuttering Chinese. Her silence is broken but what comes back is unavailable, erased. We decipher the narrative the same way we decipher her personal notes. The handwritten scrawls on index cards—now safe in an archive—erase chronology. The topics she determines are a kind of bracketing, an artificial structure that she imposed on the world around her. Things, ideas, events, people, objects, simply become subjects she can discipline; total control over these unruly creatures (needs, demands, failings, desires). Voice against image, the fissure becomes more palpable. Are the themes organizing the audio? Organizing the images? Or a thing unto themselves? It is a microarchival structure. My interpellation of history, document, and archival trace are a way to work through the troubled zone between trauma and memory, history and event.
Hong-An Truong is an artist and writer based in New York and North Carolina. Her work examines structures of time and memory by engaging in archival materials, individual and collective narratives, and transnational histories. Recent experimental collaborations include The Gramsci Project with students at LaGuardia Community College and Acting the Words is Enacting the World with Huong Ngo and participants at EFA Project Space. Her video, photography, and performance-based work has also been shown at the International Center for Photography, FLUX Factory, Art in General, Parson’s Aronson Gallery, and BRIC Rotunda Gallery in New York; the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Monte Vista Projects, and the Torrance Art Museum in Los Angeles; PAVILION, Bucharest; and DobaeBacsa Gallery, Seoul, among others. Truong received her MFA at the University of California, Irvine and was a studio art fellow at the Whitney Independent Study Program. She is an assistant professor in the art department at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill.