Off the Clock - A Conversation With True/False Artist Sarah Nguyen | KBIA

Off the Clock - A Conversation With True/False Artist Sarah Nguyen

Mar 1, 2019

Columbia artist Sarah Nguyen stands next to her installation, “Break Into Blossom.” The centerpiece is a life-size replica of Little Boy, the bomb dropped on Hiroshima, Japan, in 1945.
Credit Sarah Nguyen

Columbia artist Sarah Nguyen has never attended the True/False Film Fest, and her first experience will certainly be a memorable one.

Her installation “Break Into Blossom” will be featured at the 2019 festival. Nguyen, who has lived in Columbia for less than a year, said she feels very honored to be part of the festival.

“This festival has so much weight in my mind,” she said. “I'm just psyched. I can't wait to meet the students and see the parades and, of course, see all of the other art installations and then the films.”

“Break Into Blossom” is a multimedia installation centered around a life-size replica of Little Boy, the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima, Japan, in 1945. The replica is made of foam, painted to look rusted and covered in moss and cherry blossoms.

Nguyen’s husband and MU English professor Phong Nguyen inspired the installation through his short story “Einstein Saves Hiroshima.” The story can be found in his book “Pages from the Textbook of Alternate History," which is a collection of “What if” stories. For example, “Einstein Saves Hiroshima” asks “What if Einstein didn’t sign off on the Manhattan Project and Little Boy dropped as a dud?”

Nguyen partnered with friend and sculptor Justin Shaw of Warrensburg, Missouri, to create “Break Into Blossom.” Shaw recreated Little Boy, which was 10 feet long, using foam and built the replica as four separate pieces to make it transportable.

However, when Nguyen brought “Break Into Blossom” to Seattle for its debut at the Wing Luke Museum, she didn’t know it could be separated into pieces. She and her husband rented a moving truck to drive the installation to the museum. They were both nervous that authorities would think they were driving a bomb into Seattle.

Nguyen humorously recalled her husband’s train of thought from the drive.

“He was like, ‘I'll just drive… You know, make sure I go the speed limit, and I have the papers [from the Wing Luke Museum]. Hopefully, people will look at what we have before we get shot or arrested. Hopefully, someone will say, ‘No, it's just foam, it's just foam,’’” she said with a laugh.

“Break Into Blossom” has been displayed in Seattle and Kansas City. As part of the experience, Nguyen allows viewers to write their hopes for the future on paper cherry blossoms and place them on the bomb. She said this interactive element was also inspired by her husband’s book, which prompts readers to come up with their own alternate histories. She said she enjoys reading people’s responses and seeing how they differ depending on where “Break Into Blossom” is shown.

Ultimately, Nguyen said she hopes viewers look at history differently after seeing “Break Into Blossom.”

“[I hope that people can] examine the history and learn from it as we're supposed to and say, ‘We're not going to make these mistakes again,’’ she said.

"Break Into Blossom" can be seen at the 2019 True/False Film Fest, which takes place in Columbia from Thursday, February 28, to Sunday, March 3. The installation will be displayed in the Missouri United Methodist Church lobby on South Ninth Street.