Trinh Minh-ha operates on the boundary of documentary, experimental and traditional film, focusing on several powerful themes. As well as the status of women in society, she examines the life of migrants, portraits of whom she depicts in the background of the dynamic relationship between traditional and modern societies. The artist calls these figures the “inappropriate/d other”, and says in one of her interviews: “We can read the term “inappropriate/d other” in both ways, as someone whom you cannot appropriate, and as someone who is inappropriate. Not quite other, not quite the same.”
However, anyone expecting objective documentaries in this exhibition will be surprised. Trinh Minh-ha draws on her own experience, transforming the personal into the public and socially engaged, and in this way her films becomes “poetic-political” works. The artist’s sensitivity and empathy is not simply a way of presenting political themes in a user-friendly way, but is also manifest in unobtrusively recurring motifs of love and friendships.
What are the most powerful impressions we receive from films by Trinh Minh-ha? Firstly, there is a balance to her treatment of themes that offers the viewer the possibility of examining things from many different perspectives. Then there is the persistence with which she attempts to offer a three-dimensional image of “those others”.
However, even upon a first viewing our attention is caught by something else. Trinh Minh-ha works with the viewer’s senses, which she attempts to provoke into total vigilance. The sounds and music she uses are not any in any sense background, but at certain moments take over the narrative role, at others withdraw discreetly in order to allow the actors themselves to speak. The combination of stylised interviewers and theatrical scenes, modified in the postproduction stage by archival materials and linear film narration, along with sounds and suggestive colours, creates an almost synaesthetic experience, in which words express the same as sounds and colours. However, concentration on the part of the viewer is essential. How, otherwise, might they perceive all these levels simultaneously with the same intensity? How can such films be shown in a gallery? How does one create an environment in which the visitor does not just gaze, but accepts the role of a genuine film audience? Walls and chairs soundproofed in soft foam and the proximity of the screen will perhaps make it easier to accept the role of attentive viewers, who will insist on following a film from beginning to end.