Nhu Xuan Hua, Lulu Yao Gioiello
When I first met Nhu Xuan Hua in 2017, we immediately clicked. I was working on the first volume of FAR–NEAR, and our conversation over coffee stirred and expanded my own internal thoughts on identity and the difficulty of navigating intergenerational family relationships. We spoke about the effects of trauma on the way our parents and grandparents shared or withheld their own stories, on the desire of learning more about ourselves through them. We touched upon their particular way of expressing affection, which could sometimes hit too hard and cause greater distance even if it was coming from a place of love.
A few months later, she sent me early versions of a project she was working on. It was a series of digitally manipulated archival images that obscured the person or people in the photograph, in turn obscuring the memory and offering new interpretations of the context in which they were taken.
Nhu Xuan titles the series Tropism, Consequences of a Displaced Memory. It utilizes the word, “tropism,” which is a biological phenomenon that indicates growth or turning movement of an organism, usually a plant, in response to an environmental stimulus. For Nhu Xuan, the word encapsulates these visual memories that don’t belong directly to her but to her family, and thus to her personal history.
We are proud to have published Nhu Xuan’s project in Vol. One, when it was still in its early development. Last September, Area Books published Tropism in its complete form. A “treasure hunt on paper, [Tropism maps] a route connecting past and present. Places and people merge: he, she, they, here, there become one after having been separate for so long. In this imaginary bi-dimensional city, the elements from the photographs walk around, meet, dance, multiply, dissipate, transform, lose themselves and disappear – leaving behind them the mere and haunting presence of nostalgia.”
Below, Nhu Xuan Hua offers FAR–NEAR readers a glimpse into the book and the letter that accompanies it.
Dear fingers with crayon lines,
Have you ever experienced a strange body reaction
initiated by scattered emotions ?
I tried to capture nothing else than a feeling.
The knots in my inner voice
Singing loud in colour blue
from inherited pieces shuffled.
Can you hear the vessel roaring?
The sounds of plates and cutlery
Knocking on the table
Calling for dinner.
Would you sit down with me?
Share the meal of anamnesis
crack the egg
revealing the sleeping forms of the Annamese
It’s an invitation for a treasure hunt on paper
Images mapping a route connecting past and present
The contour of a familiar crowd
is stating a country
Merging places and people.
He, She, They, Here and There become one
after having been set apart for so long.
They have been sent to wait until it comes.
Passports for new exchanges
They walk around, meet, dance, multiply, dissipate
leaving behind them
the mere and haunting presence of nostalgia
just in time for Gladiola season.
To remember is to accept that something has been forgotten
That something has been lost.
And something that was once owned
Needs to be found again.
We then go on a hunt
sometimes with clues, sometimes with nothing
Cracking the skull of the real enemies
Omission and Forgetfulness.
Shield the distance that has been bruised.
Recalibrate the trajectories so we won’t miss the path buried by the dust.
Hey wind, don’t mistake the movements for one of a ghost.
The resemblance will trick you.
What you must see is the unforgettable commons
Streaming in circles.
Be all ears for what you now comprehend clearer
as for the black and white dog who barks
and signals that something transformed will be coming.
Hug of a Swan, Nhu Xuan Hua’s exhibition, travels to Fotografie Forum Frankfurt, February 10 – April 09, 2023.
Opening reception, Thursday, February 09, 7pm.
Nhu Xuan Hua
Lulu Yao Gioiello