A 13-minute film by video artist Jun Nguyen Hatsushiba on view at the List Visual Arts Center through July 6 is inspired by the plight of Vietnamese drivers of cyclos, or human-powered rickshaws.
An inexpensive means of transportation, the cyclo industry is a source of income for many Vietnamese. Modernization, however, has made these vehicles unwelcome on city streets, because although cyclos have little impact on the environment, they are slow-moving and considered old-fashioned. As a result, the Vietnamese government has banned their further production.
Shot in Vietnam's Indochina Sea, "Memorial Project Nha Trang, Vietnam Towards the Complex--For the Courageous, the Curious and the Cowards" (2001) depicts a number of young men struggling to propel cyclos underwater across the rock-strewn and sandy ocean floor. Working in teams, they pull, push and pedal the passengerless vehicles. Periodically and in ever-shortening cycles, they rush up to the surface for air or risk drowning. Finally, the drivers abandon their cyclos and swim together toward an underwater "city" of tents made from white netting strung between boulders. The clear blue water, sunlight dappling the ocean floor, and gentle flute music composed by Quoc Bao and Nguyen-Hatsushiba provide stark contrast in this metaphor for an endangered way of life.
Nguyen-Hatsushiba was born in Japan in 1968 and now lives and works in Vietnam.
This presentation was part of the 2003 Boston Cyberarts Festival.
A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on May 21, 2003.