Blindness: Series from Tran T. Kim-Trang

Vietnamese-born Tran T. Kim-Trang started working on The Blindness Series as a MFA student in the California Institute of the Arts.

Fourteen years later, she completed “Epilogue: The Palpable Invisibility of Life” (2006)inspired by the exhibition Memoirs of the Blind, curated by Jacques Derrida for the Louvre Museum. Vastly different in style, the eight videos of the series investigate blindness and its metaphors.

In addition to the Los Angeles premiere of Epilogue, the screening tonight includes amaurosis (2002), a portrait of blind guitarist Nguyen Duc Dat; alexia (2000), about word blindness; ekleipsis (1998), which explores hysterical blindness among Cambodian women refugees; ocularis (1997), a piece on surveillance technology; kore (1994), an examination of the relationship between vision and sexuality; operculum (1993), which focuses on cosmetic eyelid surgery; and aletheia (1992), the introduction to the series.

Epilogue: The Palpable Invisibility of Life (DV; 14 min.; 2006)

When Derrida died in 2004, Epilogue shifted focus from his work on mourning to ruminate on 1) the visible and invisible traces one leaves behind: a font made from Derridas infamous handwriting, my mothers dying words, etc.; 2) the cycle of life and death: my sons birth on the same day, date, and time as my mothers death six years prior; and 3) imaging technologies that allowed me to see my unborn son, leading to fantasies about what technologies it would take to image my incorporeal mother, and discovering that ancient medicine brings me closer to my dead mother.

Amaurosis (DV; 28 min; 2002)

A portrait of Nguyen Duc Dat, a blind guitarist who is a triple outcast: disabled, Amerasian, and an orphan. Dat went from a life on the streets of Saigon selling lottery tickets to winning guitar championships in the state of California, where he now resides. The video unfolds in layers of conversation with Dat about his experiences as a new immigrant and young adult in America.

Alexia (DV; 10 min; 2000)

Word-blindness (alexia) is a condition that afflicts people who have suffered a stroke, causing them to lose the visual recognition of individual letters but perceive the entire word, or vice versa. Metaphors are here discussed in their function to reveal and obscure perception. Divided into five short sections, the tape draws a pattern with several motifsthe finger (pointing as one of the earliest forms of language), the moon (contrasting Buddhist and Wittgensteinian philosophies about metaphors and the visible)to ruminate on language and blindness. Giambattista Vico’s theory on the origin of language is also addressed.

Ekleipsis (Betacam; 22 min; 1998)

An experimental documentary about Cambodian women in Long Beach, California, known as the largest group of hysterically blind people in the world. Hysterical blindness is a psychological condition where one is not able to see despite the absence of physical problems. ekleipsis traces two histories: the Cambodian Civil War and hysteria, to speak about pathology and agency. To transcend what has been described as the eye-searing horrors of war, these women cried themselves into blindness.

Ocularis (Betacam; 21 min; 1997)

Through a 1-800 (toll free) phone number publicized nationally, recorded messages of fears and fantasies about video surveillance were collected from callers: If you were caught on videotape, what would be the worst thing you could be caught doing If you could watch someone, what would you want to see This experimental video highlights several narratives to raise issues of surveillance: the construction of our societys desire to watch surveillance materials and its insatiable voyeurism, as well as what it would mean to have an alter-electronic ego or to be biologically tagged without the recourse to pass for survivals sake.

Kore (Betacam; 17 min; 1994)

This project investigates the conjunction of sexuality with 1) the eye as purveyor of desire; 2) the sexual fear and fantasy of blindness and the blindfold; and 3) women and AIDS. Can the blindfold embody a touch-based pleasure associated with female sexuality, in contrast with a vision-based pleasure assigned to male sexuality Could the choice to not-see facilitate ecstasy for the subject How does fear and fantasy contrast with the reality of vision loss in advance stages of AIDS

Operculum (3/4″; 14 min; 1993)

This experimental documentary juxtaposes footage from visits with seven cosmetic surgeons specializing in blepharoplasty (eyelid surgery) within the Beverly Hills/West Hollywood area with text describing a 1950s lobotomy procedure to treat psychological patients. This juxtaposition comments on cosmetic surgery as a desperate cure. Cosmetic surgery of the eyelids on Asian women is regarded as a self-effacing fantasy of attaining the standard of beauty, a standard which demands conformity to the norm of being average. The artist poses as a potential patient.

Aletheia (3/4″; 16min.; 1992)

An introduction to the series, that provides an index of topics on different aspects of physical blindness and its metaphors. Multiple modes of discourse are employed: journalistic, anecdotal, fictive, and theoretical to bring out various perspectives on the issues addressed. aletheia experiments with non-linear structure to spur associative viewing amongst the seemingly disparate ideas; this structure is also a formal reflection of our perceptual process.

Director’s Statement

In 1991, I conceived of The Blindness Series as an eight-tape project to investigate physical blindness and its metaphors. Three reasons motivated me: 1) a personal fear of vision loss; 2) blindness has been a historical concern for many visual artists; and 3) I wanted to explore the perceptual to conceptual process, which informs all that we do.

The Blindness Series has in many ways galvanized my working methods and thinking about experimental media. As the tapes are stylistically different from each other, I weave in multiple layers of text, image, and sound. I want to re-present the way we are awash in information coming from various sources: journalism, fiction, our dreams, etc.

Working experimentally has enabled me to incorporate multiple practices and realize new approaches, it also mirrors the way my mind works. I aim to create formally progressive artworks that foster progressive ideas and social change. Because video is such a potent and accessible medium, it demands a responsibility that I find lacking in mainstream corporate media. Part of this responsibility is the commitment to accurately portray the underrepresented. I do believe that video can be a tool for social change, foremost by the power of representation to affect and influence peoples beliefs and thinking. I strive for continual experimentation in trying to find ways to represent and understand both my subjects and the medium itself. Tran T. Kim-Trang


Tran T. Kim-Trang was born in Viet Nam and emigrated to the U.S. in 1975. She received her MFA from the California Institute of the Arts and has been producing experimental videos since the early 1990s. Her work has been exhibited internationally. In 1999 Tran presented her Blindness Series in a solo screening at the Museum of Modern Art. In 2000, two of her videos were included in the Biennial exhibition at the Whitney Museum of American Art, and The Blindness Series was featured at the 46th Robert Flaherty Film Seminar. Tran has been nominated for a CalArts/Alpert Award in the Arts and was named a 2001 Rockefeller Film/Video/Multimedia Fellow. The fellowship has enabled her to develop an experimental narrative feature titled Call Me Sugar, based on the life of her mother.

Tran also collaborates with Karl Mihail on a project known as Gene Genies Worldwide ( Their conceptual and public artworks on genetic engineering have exhibited at the Ars Electronica Festival in Austria, Exit Art, the Tang Museum at Skidmore College and in many other venues in the US.

Tran is currently an Associate Professor of Art at Scripps College.

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