Digital Objects

Lillyanne Pham

cây mong ước / tree of wishes (2023)

Artist statement from Lillyanne Pham:
cây mong ước /tree of wishes (2023) was an interactive sound installation at Portland State University’s campus for the Winter Lights Festival. The idea started from my struggle to regain my mother language after losing it when I entered an English dominated school system. I wished to feel a sense of empowerment and control in being with Vietnamese language and culture.

My installation is a recreation of a Vietnamese tree of wishes inspired after seeing a tree of wishes in-person at Suoi Tien Theme Park, Vietnam as you can see below on the event poster as an overlay image on top of a Makey Makey. The sound installation plays with technology, time, space, and language. It further represents the constant reconfigurations of my mother language, culture, and land.

I constructed the sound-conductive sculpture of a wishing tree out of magnets, colored paper, copper, steel, and aluminum. Using JavaScript, I connected the wishing tree to a Makey Makey, a piece of hardware that allows you to turn any conductive object into an audio circuit.

The hardware is hooked to 1) the computer as a power source with JavaScript for instructions on how to work, 2) the leaves of the tree, giving them a small bit of electricity, and 3) the trunk of the tree, making a return path. When festival-goers touch the trunk and a leaf (or leaves), they complete the circle for the circuit. A completed circuit plays my recordings.

Living in each leaf are conversations that I recorded with my first Vietnamese college friend Teline Trần, Vietnamese librarians in Portland Karen Nguyễn Quan and Trang Oliver, and my mom, Hong Trương, as well as ambient audio I recorded on my first trip to Việt Nam. The sounds involved intimate conversations, đàn tranh, children’s songs, and site-specific field recordings.

Title font by Angela Nguyen, Scott Garner introduced Makey Makey to me. Kevin Truong photographed the installation, which was sponsored by Vietnamese Portland: Memory, History, Community at Lewis & Clark College. Posters riso'd at APANO with Timme Lu.