Bowditch Alphabet,

Danh Vo, Danish, born Vietnam 1975
Gold leaf on cardboard
4.3 x 4.3 x 10.1 m (14 x 14 x 33 ft.), variable with installation
Acquired 2011
Danh Vo explained, “All of my projects tend to deal with issues that are taking place right around me—my private sphere, my love life, my desires, other people’s projections on me and my identities.” When he was a child, Vo’s family left Vietnam in a boat built by his father. By chance, they were picked up by a Danish freighter and brought to Denmark, where they became citizens. Through performance-based works inspired by his life experiences and historically rich readymade objects, Vo reveals the construction of inherited cultural values, conflicts, and displacement. For Bowditch Alphabet, Vo collaged letters of the worldwide naval code system with contrasting ethnographic materials. When constructing the 25 naval time zones in the early 1800s, American mathematician Nathanial Bowditch decided to skip the letter J as it is the most difficult to pronounce in multiple languages. Bowditch’s navigation system, created with the Latin alphabet (which has its own storied history of adaptations and modifications, and was the source of the Vietnamese alphabet), became a shipping industry standard that advanced global trade and the potential for colonialization. Vo’s cardboard came from unfolded boxes for condensed milk—a foreign product that was likely introduced to contemporary Thai and Vietnamese consumer culture through wartime care packages. The artist applied gold leaf to the packaging in the traditional style of gilded Asian temples in order to contrast the cultural and monetary values of each.