In August 2021, Vice President Kamala Harris was due to go to Vietnam, but her trip was delayed after two U.S. officials were medically evacuated from Hanoi after experiencing “anomalous acoustic incidents” that led to symptoms associated with the mysterious Havana Syndrome.
The Vietnam-born artist Sung Tieu, whose work is centered around warfare and its psychological impact, has been making work about the mysterious illness for years. A year after the alleged Hanoi attack, the artist has continued to investigate the ailment. The results are now on view at Emalin’s booth at Art Basel Miami Beach.
Tieu was able to find a declassified recording from the American government of an alleged sonic attack that is said to have resulted in officials falling ill. Using an MRI machine, Tieu took scans of her brain as she exposed herself to the sonic weapon.
Exposure To Havana Syndrome, Brain Anatomy, Coronal Plane (2022), a 12-piece work at the fair, features image captures of her brain, taken at different depths, that were engraved onto reflective metal plates. The brain slices are lit up in dusty yellows, blues, and oranges.
Knowing the context of the work, it’s impossible not to look for evidence of harm. Are these scans supposed to look this way? Is a particular color some evidence of the weird legend that is the Havana Syndrome?
Accompanying these self-portraits are two other bodies of works produced in 2022, “Protective Cover” and “Anti-Vandal Clocks.” Tieu often uses ready-made objects that she has acquired from companies that manufacture appliances or produce infrastructure for high-security environments. The “Anti-Vandal Clocks,” sourced from one of these manufacturers, displays the time in Cuba, Hanoi, and Washington DC, the cities where the U.S. government claims the Havana Syndrome has occurred.
“Protective Cover” is a group of four industrial radiator covers, complete with tamper-resistant screws, that are manufactured to prevent the passage of contraband. Flipping the covers’ impenetrability, Tieu has fitted each with a sound work made by Tieu to represent the four common symptoms of Havana Syndrome: vertigo, tinnitus, headaches, and nausea.
Tieu set out to prove, through her subjective experience, whether Havana Syndrome is real. A representative of Emalin gallery said the results of her inquiry are inconclusive.
“It’s hard to tell. She has a headache, and is it because she had a headache or because she exposed herself to the sonic weapon?” the Emalin representative said. “But it’s exactly this ambivalence, these stories, that activate our imaginations. Exploring these responses and their unresolved impact is what interests Tieu so much.”