By Giulia Cennamo

The Propeller Group brings an artistic view of Vietnam to San Jose Museum of Art until March 25, 2018 – San Jose, California

The Propeller Group

The Propeller Group

The Propeller Group anchors its ambitious projects in Vietnam’s history and its paradoxical present. Based in Vietnam and Los Angeles, the art collective extends its reach to address global phenomena, from street culture to international commerce to traditions shared across cultures. Organized by the Blaffer Art Museum at the University of Houston, Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, and the Phoenix Art Museum, “The Propeller Group” is the first major survey exhibition dedicated to the collective. The exhibition brings together a number of multi-part projects from the past five years, comprising video, installation, and sculptural works that represent the scope of the group’s artistic practice. In conjunction with the exhibition The Propeller Group and internationally acclaimed muralist El Mac will also create a new public mural in the streets of San José. The Propeller Group “In multifaceted projects, The Propeller Group blurs the lines between modes of cultural production and embraces the formats of branding campaigns, television commercials, Hollywood movies, and music videos to address the complex ideologies that drive global commerce, war, cultural ritual, and historical memory,” said Lauren Dickens, curator at SJMA.
The Propeller Group: The Living Need Light, The Dead Need Music, 2014. Single-channel film, 21 minutes

The Propeller Group: The Living Need Light, The Dead Need Music, 2014. Single-channel film, 21 minutes

Among the highlights of the exhibition is “The Living Need Light, the Dead Need Music” (2014), a film that follows funerary traditions of the Mekong Delta. It combines documentary footage, staged reenactments, and fantastical scenes to explore slippages between real and imagined rituals shared across cultures. It will be paired with accompanying sculptures inspired by traditional Vietnamese funerary objects: a carved jackfruit wood snake with gold fangs and an adorned water buffalo skull. Also on view will be “AK-47 vs M16” (2015–16), a multi-part mixed media work that includes a film, a video, works on paper, and accompanying objects. The project references the two weapons popularly associated with opposing sides of the Cold War.
The Propeller Group's AK-47 vs. M16 bullets colliding in ballistic gel

The Propeller Group’s AK-47 vs. M16 bullets colliding in ballistic gel

Working with ballistics experts in a lab, the artists fired the weapons at each other into translucent blocks composed of a dense gel used for ballistics testing. A related film assembles clips from news reels, Hollywood films, YouTube, and other sources to illustrate how these weapons came to be indelibly intertwined with the Cold War in the popular imagination. The San José Museum of Art’s presentation of the exhibition will include additional works not seen at previous venues, such as the 2016 sculpture “Antique Earth Satellite”. Carved from jackfruit wood and found tracwood (a type of Vietnamese red wood) the intricate sculpture combines a traditional Vietnamese carving method with a futuristic subject matter drawn from science fiction. SJMA’s exhibition will include several related objects, in which the imagination of the future is projected onto objects of the past.

Public mural

The mural is a collaborative undertaking by the San José Museum of Art, The Propeller Group, El Mac, award-winning children’s author and artist Christopher Myers, San José’s Empire 7 Studios, and the Children’s Discovery Museum. Monumental in scale, the new permanent public mural will feature a single portrait of a young refugee.
Mural work in progress mock up San Jose, The Propeller Group

Mural work in progress mock up San Jose, The Propeller Group

The Propeller Group has created public murals around the world as part of its ongoing project Vietnam: The World Tour (VNTWT). Previous iterations have been presented in Kabul, Singapore, Brisbane, Los Angeles, Paris, Lyon, and Amsterdam. The mural will bring a larger-than-life face of a refugee youth to a highly-visible wall of the Children’s Discovery Museum in downtown San José. The wall faces a city park and is visible from the freeway. It is the product of extensive and ongoing work by the collaborating artists.