Harry C. Tabak: Material, Movement, Memory — A Return to Vietnam

  This interview was conducted in December, 2017 Harry C. Tabak’s recent artwork draws on his affinity for natural materials and explores how their forms translate into and inspire interpretive dance and movement. This work, created both close to home and in Vietnam, includes sculpture, digital imagery, and video. Tabak was stationed in Quang Tri with the American military at the height of the Vietnam War, 1968-1969. In 2016, he returned to Vietnam for an art residency under the auspices of Indochina Arts Partnership. He divided his time between Hanoi and Muong Studio AIR, in the mountains west of the city. The work executed there utilized bamboo and employed Vietnamese artisans, dancers, and a musician. The resulting body of work, at once haunting and exuberant, reflects the artist’s journey of discovery, connection, and reconciliation. Here, Tabak reflects on his experiences: When you decided to return to Vietnam in late 2016 as an artist, it had been decades after serving there in the U.S. military. How long had you been thinking about making this return trip? I never really thought about returning to Vietnam. It was a dark part of my past I couldn’t resolve. During an artist residency at MassMoCA in early 2016, I was trying to come up with a creative way to build some large-scale sculptures. I thought of bamboo (even though I never worked with the material) as a possible solution for the work I had in mind. The rest was an inspired stream of thoughts on how to get this done. I had this sudden urge to somehow connect my art with this unresolved part of my past. A return journey to Vietnam must have been emotionally charged. Did you have any fears about returning? I must confess I had some reservations about making the trip; I didn’t know how people would respond to my visit. I was also nervous about my own feelings in facing the people the American government harmed so much. The planned trip revived old wounds I never really talked about. “Emotionally charged” is the right term for my trip. As an American, what kind of reception did you receive in Hanoi, and what were the residents most curious about when they met you? At first, I...

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