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Review: Prospect.3 exhibitions

D. Eric Bookhardt on The Propeller Group’s new film and Christopher Myers’ sculpture



The Propeller Group's film The Living Need Light, And The Dead Need Music was perfect for All Saints Day. A dreamily surreal evocation of Vietnamese funeral rites, its title — a Vietnamese proverb — suggests commonalities with New Orleans. But how similar can such a distant place possibly be? Set in Saigon and made by the Vietnam and Los Angeles-based Propeller Group, the film reveals startling similarities, but even the differences were like familiar ideas taken to hyperbolic extremes. In the film, a Vietnamese woman who is dead periodically reappears to make pithy, poetic comments, presumably reflecting the Vietnamese belief that the recently dead are actually still with us — they're just going through some changes. If that sounds odd, consider the way the embalmed bodies of Mickey Easterling or Lionel Batiste were propped up at their own funerals, seemingly greeting their guests. Although the film's magic realism style can make it hard to tell fact from fiction, much the same might be said of New Orleans lifestyles.

  Another parallel is the way mourning is interwoven with partying, but the similarities become mind-boggling as the band in the funeral procession plays bouncy tunes while wearing uniforms that look like those worn at a New Orleans jazz funeral. (A brief Internet search reveals that some Vietnamese funeral bands really do dress that way.) In the film, they're seen parading through swamps to cemeteries with raised tombs — another deja vu touch. What gives? The artists cite the "nonlocality" theory of quantum physics, whereby some things can become "entangled" at the particle level and resemble other things across space and time, an idea even Albert Einstein found "spooky." Maybe that explains why Vietnamese food is a "local" specialty here, while illustrating P.3's underlying theme that no matter how different others may seem, most of us are very much the same inside. Meanwhile, Christopher Myers' adjacent sculptures — multiple marching band horns fused into surreal hybrid concoctions — provide iconic expressions of entanglement.

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