Long Time No See
Out of the Vietnam-America War came some of the most dramatic and alarming photographs of conflict ever recorded. While these now-iconic images spurred the American public to protest the war, they framed a limited, victimizing story that focused on the hopelessness and trauma of the U.S. soldier or presented the Vietnamese people only in extreme anguish. Against these representations, Long Time No See opens a space for Vietnamese perspectives and authorship and offers a counterpoint to Western-centric narratives of the war. Long Time No See is a collaborative visual exchange between artist duo Andrea Orejarena (b. Colombia) and Caleb Stein (b. London) and the residents of Làng Hữu Nghị, an assisted-living facility in Hanoi for veterans and their descendants living with the effects of Agent Orange, passed down genetically from one generation to the next.
Over two years, Orejarena and Stein worked with residents at Làng Hữu Nghị to bring together a constellation of paintings, photographs, and video that explore the memory of the war. Orejarena and Stein’s process challenges the rigid divide between ‘subject’ and ‘author’ and seeks the radical vulnerability and dignity that comes from engaging person to person with their collaborators. Paintings that appear in Long Time No See were created by younger-generation Làng Hữu Nghị residents in a workshop facilitated by Orejarena and Stein. With no previous artistic experience, these teenage residents use self-portrait to contend with inherited memory of war. Orejarena and Stein’s photographs follow many of these same teenagers over two years at Làng Hữu Nghị; reflexive and collaborative, the photographs often picture residents with their own artwork—and at times, the people photographed contribute by drawing directly on photographs. Videos, dream-like vignettes co-directed with Vietnamese veterans, blur the lines between memory and reality, dreams and wish-fulfillment. Through a series of freely associated images, the videos in Long Time No See emphasize firsthand experience and strive to redress some of the traumas of official narratives. Featuring essays by editor, curator, and photographer Brad Feuerhelm and artist and writer Hannah Mezsaros Martin for Forensic Architecture, along with curator Đỗ Tường Linh’s interviews with Vietnamese artists, veterans, and academics, Long Time No See offers a complex reckoning with a conflict that lives on not only in American and Vietnamese cultural memory but in the bodies of survivors and inheritors of Agent Orange.