The Living Need Light, the Dead Need Music, a new acquisition for the Museums in the context of its contemporary art initiative, is a cross-cultural ode to death that grafts the funerary ceremonies of southern Vietnam to those of the southern United States.
Originally commissioned for the Prospect 3 arts festival in New Orleans, the film conjures a spatial confluence of the Mekong River and the Mississippi Delta, places that are similarly grounded in swampy landscapes and processional music traditions. It combines the documentation of actual rituals with staged performances in a joyous and poignant celebration of death that moves fluidly from the city to the country while charting the central character’s transition from gendered body to androgynous spirit.
In The Living Need Light, The Dead Need Music, rational constructs of difference begin to fall away. Categories such as fact/fiction, East/West, living/dead, male/female, and past/future disintegrate as the artists inhabit multiple modalities simultaneously and at all times.
The Propeller Group collective thus defines the spectrum of the “other” as a flexible construct, granting primacy to shifting vantage point over fixed identity. By operating in the slippages between self and other, the film closes the distance between the two. Here, otherwise distinct cultures and their respective funerary traditions meld into one rousing parade through the Global South, drawing connections between the Museums holdings from Southeast Asia—which include many objects related to funerary rites—and its significant collection of African American Art from the Deep South currently on view in Revelations: Art from the African American South.