New York–based artist Alison Nguyen joins us for the premiere of her newest film, history as hypnosis (2023). A speculative road movie that unfolds through cultural memory of the US war in Vietnam, it follows three women, recently reprogrammed by an artificial intelligence that has wiped all traces of their previous lives, as they journey through an uncanny desert landscape to a nearby metropolis. In Nguyen’s hands, these figures without memory or history become a cinematic use case for themes of alienation, assimilation, and refusal. Freely combining genre, fact, and fiction, the film draws on its Southern California locations’ postmodern glass facades, mimetic architecture, and roadside infrastructure—markers of car culture’s entanglement with American expansionism and cinema history alike—to uncover the more ineffable links between collective consciousness and the Cold War military-industrial complex.
Nguyen’s first major live-action project (in which she also appears) underlines recurring themes in her work, which spans film, new media, installation, sculpture, printmaking, and writing. For the artist, embodied performance bridges research and lived experience, and is also a means to engage with emergent technologies. Nguyen presents history as hypnosis alongside a pair of previous projects that explore labor, affect, and image circulation in virtual spaces: the game engine–generated digital laborer Andra8 at the heart of my favorite software is being here (2020–21) and the found-footage short every dog has its day (2019). The screening will be followed by a Q&A between Nguyen and Sophie Cavoulacos, Associate Curator in the Department of Film.