Tran T. Kim-Trang

Portrait | About | C.O.L.A. Project | Past Projects

Tran T. Kim-Trang uses exploratory approaches and experimental aesthetics to investigate the human experience, from the sense of sight to the politics of immigration to the fantasy of being someone else virtually.

The Blindness Series consists of eight videos created between 1992 and 2006 in which Tran looked at the topics of cosmetic surgery, sexuality, surveillance, hysterical blindness, language, and actual blindness, framed by an introduction and an epilogue. Vision is inherently subjective yet social. It is about more than the physics of light, the optics of the eye, and the cognitive processes of the brain, and it takes up a disproportionate share of our mental activities. There are basic physiological functions for vision, yes. But there are also ways of seeing, to borrow John Berger’s famous title. These ways are learned, constructed, experienced, historical, personal. Why we look and the meanings we make of what we see are cultural. Seeing can be about desire, about control, about our pasts. As suggested in the fifth video from the series, ekleipsis (1998), blindness may be the scar of

The Blindness Series’ thematic and formal complexity not only suggests the multifarious ways in which visuality can be approached but also reflects upon the complexity of Asian American identity. Since 1970 U.S. immigration statistics have shifted dramatically so that half of all incoming residents now come from Asia, with an increasing proportion of that group coming from South and Southeast Asia. The greater Los Angeles area has emerged as the decentered center for these diverse communities.

Each of the videos in the Blindness Series presents its own strategies of exploring nonfiction media making and has its own internal structure, form, and logic, so that each can be viewed independently of the others. As a collection, the tapes reveal innumerable strategies that span the field of experimental documentary: appropriation and citation, interview and narration, collages of sound and image, recording and manipulation, evidence and association, ethnography and testimony, technological play and historical critique. The series is complex, sometimes challenging, sometimes sexy, sometimes devastating, sometimes distancing, sometimes very human. Looking at it as a whole, we can see how Tran has worked through distinct yet related issues of visuality, race, sexuality, technology, and trauma over the course of more than a decade.

In her current work, to be included in the C.O.L.A. exhibition, Tran takes a turn from embodied experiences to the digital imagination in Second Life, a virtual world in which participants socialize as avatars, and Machinima, a form of cinema created by recording video-game play. Like the Blindness Series, the new project is conceived in multiple parts. It will be a triptych that negotiates family memory and scripted narratives, including installments on fantasy in relation to an immigrant’s idealized hopes, identity in relation to the blurring of Second Life and reality, and nostalgia in relation to writing her mother’s memories into virtual role-playing. In exploring virtual identities and video-game narratives, Tran seeks to understand questions of ethnicity, citizenship, space, and memory. She asks how avatars bear the weight of history and how these new digital modes of self-invention and fictionalized lives open up new worlds, new politics, and new identities.
— Lucas Hilderbrand