What would you say to a family member you hadn't seen in years?
James Nguyen's piece On The Border Of Things (Part One) explores exactly that. Showing at PACT and co-commissioned by PACT and Next Wave, this piece is a mix of performance, documentary and installation. Nguyen explores his journey reconnecting with his uncle who migrated to Australia and then shunned city life to live as a fruit picker in rural communities as well as his Vietnamese history.
This piece is challenging as an audience member because it doesn't fit neatly into any box. It's billed as performance but Nguyen doesn't really perform in the traditional sense.
The warehouse space is sparse with chairs scattered around and a sit on the floor section in the middle. Hanging over the floor area are dried plants, conjuring up images of the Vietnamese tea plantations that James Nguyen describes.
He enters in a ute, driving into the space in a dramatic entrance, but then instead of capitalising on the suspense he just created, he introduces himself and begins to talk a little about himself and the history of the piece. Nguyen shares some stories casually, but these feel unscripted and not theatrical. In some ways, this is refreshing and genuine, although the storytelling could use some work to make it continuously engaging. Nguyen also pauses in between stories to spray the ue, but this also doesn't seem to have a purpose and forms a bit of a crutch – a way for Nguyen to hide behind an activity.
That said, Nguyen has a lovely gentle personality that definitely shines through his storytelling. Where performance elements may be found wanting, he definitely has the audience engaged and eager to be brought on the journey.
When Nguyen finally exits and we turn as one to see footage of his time out bush in Australia with his uncle Cong, this is where the magic happens. The old adage of don't tell me, show me is absolutely relevant here. Instead of telling these stories, I'd love to see the film work expanded upon and for Nguyen to tell the stories he told us in the audience via this medium complete with the footage he's collected.
The footage here is absolutely beautiful. It's subtle, heart-warming and there's something really fascinating about seeing this other side of Australia that us city folks aren't privy to. Combine that fascination with the simple, moving nature of Nguyen's re-connection with his uncle and it's easy to see that this is gorgeous work.
Part Two premieres as part of Next Wave Festival in Melbourne later this year.