thao nguyen phan_mekong mechanical_3.jpg

2012

Video Installation and artist book

Video: 18:33 min, color, sound

Artist book:  watercolor on silk, photographs, fabric, silver leaf 

Mekong Mechanical focuses on a night shift of a young female worker who works in a fish factory in Tien Giang province, Mekong Delta, south of Vietnam, producing Pangasius fillets for export. The video is a day-dreaming journey of the worker constructed from the perception of the artist who intertwines scenes outside of the factory with a single repetitive footage of the worker trying to straighten fish fillets. Every time the footage repeats it is slowed down by 10% until both the worker footage and the viewer’s attention reach a state of boredom. The film quietly criticizes the Pangasius industry and other forms of industrialization of agriculture, which emphasizes on quantity and productivity regardless the rapid environmental degradation of the Mekong delta region.

My idea for the project evolved when I went to the Cuu Long delta in South Vietnam and visited catfish factories in an industrial zone. Entering the factory, I had to wash my hands, wear a mask and put on a protective suit. The peculiarity of the factory setting made me more sensitive to the smell and the atmosphere surrounding me. The real experience was so different from the version of the Mekong delta popularized in guidebooks and documentaries, which always promote the river as beautiful and welcoming in nature. In reality, the delta is not always calm and placid, but a place with a diverse and turbulent history. This leads me to great aspiration to explore the complexity of the region which for me carries personal and social meaning.