The films and theoretical works by Trinh T. Minh-Ha blend different forms of writing and narrating; the mutual challenge of the theoretical and the poetical, discursive and “non-discursive” languages tell of Trinh T. Minh-Ha’s resistance against categorizations and limitations, which is carried out right across ethnicities and cultures. She shows five films at the Secession and gives an insight into her publications from recent years.
“I always work from the borderlines of multiple shifting categories. I expand the borders of things, learn about my own limitations and how to change them,” as Trinh T. Minh-Ha described her methods in a conversation. This way of thinking can also be followed in her theoretical texts, which sublimely ignore the predominant demarcations of discourse: her first book Un Art sans Oeuvre (1981) contains a chapter that relates the works of Jacques Derrida and Antonin Artaud to texts of Zen Buddhism. In place of an interdisciplinarity that usually leaves the boundaries of the fields intact and goes no further than merely adding them together, she sets openly defined fields with randomly or strategically drawn borders that are always flexible. And in the place of a language that produces unambiguous identities through categorizations, she sets a way of speaking, both in her texts and in her films, that “reflects on itself and can come very close to a subject without taking it over; a way of speaking that, as soon as it is finished, only indicates moments of a transition, which in turn enable other possible moments of transition.”
In the interviews for Surname Viet, Given Name Nam, it only gradually becomes evident that some of the conversations are not authentic in the conventional sense, but rather were taken from a book and then posed. What is irritating is not only how Trinh T. Minh-Ha arranges her films, but also what she shows: Reassemblage and Naked Spaces – Living is Round were created in Senegal and West Africa. Trinh T. Minh-Ha is aware that one would tend to expect films from a native Vietnamese woman about her land of origin, and this is one of the themes treated in the film.
Trinh T. Minh-Ha is not concerned with denying or blurring the boundaries, neither in her films nor in her theoretical works: “For me, the question of hybridity or cultural difference has never been a question of canceled borders. We are permanently inventing borders, but these borders, which can be political, strategic or tactical—depending on the respective demands of the circumstances, and different circumstances always create a different kind of border each time—should not be taken as an end in themselves. The idea of the nomadic self, which has been given a new impetus in our times, is quite relevant here. The dislocated self or the being-created self is taken today to explain the changes and cracks in the construction and destruction of identities, and for this, specific but mobile borders are needed. For example, when do I call myself a feminist, when do I not refer to myself as a feminist, when do I consider myself part of the east, when do I say that the west is also in me? When I talk about the west, I am not talking about some reality that is outside myself. It is not a matter of blurring or revealing borders. It is about shifting them as soon as they start to become limitations (…).”
Production and Setup of the Films: Jean-Paul Bourdier
Exhibition Design: Adolf Krischanitz