Tran was born in Viet Nam and emigrated to the U.S. in 1975, receiving her MFA from the California Institute of the Arts in 1993. She began exhibiting her videos internationally in the late 1990s, with a solo screening of her seminal Blindness Series collection at the Museum of Modern Art in 1999. Her work has evolved steadily since then, and now includes investigations of the spatial dynamics of media reception, vision and visuality; activist media production; performance; and critical and creative uses of virtual worlds.
As a member of a generation of artists dedicated to the use of video as a discursive medium, with specific attention to the format’s affordances for critical and political communication, Tran and her work are especially relevant now, as a new generation adopts video as its vernacular. While the most prominent examples of this new work tend to be short and humorous, there is a growing interest in video’s potential to express critical ideas, and to allow for a complex intersection of form and content. This interest is reflected in the growth of what is known as the “digital humanities,” which brings the tools of media and computation to humanistic inquiry and the scholarly communication of ideas and research findings within an academic context. Scholars are increasingly turning to video as a tool for expressing ideas, but they often lack the aesthetic and technical sophistication to render these ideas in their complexity. Tran’s work finds a natural home here, offering models for critical inquiry through video.
While Tran’s work is finding new audiences among groups just beginning to recognize the potential of video, it has always had a comfortable home within another context, namely within media art, where the work has been exhibited widely, written about frequently and celebrated for its contributions to the field. However, while video has enjoyed a decade-long rise to prominence within the spaces of museums and galleries, much of the work showcased in such venues has been large-scale, often narrative in form, and designed specifically to appeal to audiences enraptured by cinematic spectacle. Tran’s work has consistently championed a far more subtle deployment of the medium, preferring the critical investigation to the bombastic display, the brilliant essay to the bestselling novel.
More Than Meets the Eye showcases the range of significance of Tran’s contributions to the field of video art as a form of critical investigation and knowledge production. It collects essays from leading figures in the media arts community, who offer nuanced assessment of the work, and it promises to jumpstart a conversation about the relevance of video as a form of critical authoring, a practice undertaken at a moment when the tools were in their infancy, but shared now at a time when authoring in media has never been more accessible nor the ability to disseminate one’s ideas through video more possible.
The 2-DVD box set of The Blindness Series is available from Video Data Bank.