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Alexandra Ashurst

Alexandra Ashurst


Artist biography

Alexandra Ashurst

Alexandra Ashurst is originally from the Blue Mountains and the Snowy Mountain region and came to Canberra to study Digital Media. She has always been into art and expanding her techniques ever since she can remember. She had been selling commissions since she was 12 – often traditional media – and managed to get her name out there enough to do small commissions here and there. She took pride in it, and to this day she still has clients with jobs to do.

Alexandra became interested in digital media in her teenage years and became interested in digital drawings, photo-manipulation and wanted to learn about animation. She had no programs at the time, except for Pivot, which was a simple animation program.

It was not until first year at the Australian National University that she started to animate with Photoshop. She chose that program over most others because she liked to digitally paint and spend time drawing with her hand and she liked the effort that had to be made to make every frame. She found it to be a lot of work but liked the rewards.

As time went by Alexandra got more into film, with long-time aspirations to be a director — she had shifted her focus to both. She had no inspirational artists or directors in mind, as she found it much more interesting to explore what she was capable of doing and learning along the way, instead of being influenced into making something similar to what had been done before.

The only thing that inspires her is the music she listens to, often something with a lot going on, such as from the industrial genre. It is like a brain exercise and she just focuses on the movement of the sound and bases her art off that.

Artist statement

Dan Tré Memories is an animated art work that explores an emotional side to the story of Minh Tam Nguyen's journey in which he spent six years as a prisoner-of-war from 1975 in the 're-education' camps of the People's Liberation Armed Forces in Vietnam. It was in the camp that he had invented the instrument called the dan tré, which was created from bamboo and string similar to guitar string. It was an original instrument that was a cross between the Vietnamese bamboo zithers and western string instruments.

He had then made a 23-string version in the Philippines when he fled the Vietnamese camp in 1981. He had then brought the instrument with him upon coming to Australia in 1982 with his son.

When he played the dan tré, it connected him with the family he had left behind in Vietnam. This story inspired me, so I wanted to make an animation that illustrated that emotional side to his story. I imagined he would have memories of the simple things in Vietnam, memories of the life there, and I wanted to illustrate that he is now in Australia but the instrument sends him back to where he once called home.

I wanted to use colour as a way of symbolising how happy his memories were, remembering the beautiful things before the hardship he went through. The music though was a way of showing his transcending into Australia.

I wanted to show the juxtaposition between his country, Vietnam, and Australia as a way of also expressing his environmental change, with the use of the Australian landscape and fauna which surrounded him where he plays his instrument to the memories he may have had in Vietnam.

Artist work

Title: Dan Tré Memories
Medium: Video
Date: October 2010

Artist inspiration

Minh Tam Nguyen's dàn tre (bamboo musical instrument)

A Vietnamese refugee's musical connection

From 1975 Minh Tam Nguyen spent six years as a prisoner-of-war in the 're-education' camps of the People's Liberation Armed Forces, or Vietcong, in central Vietnam.

During breaks from hard labour, Minh invented and played a musical instrument that combined features from Vietnamese bamboo zithers and Western instruments like the guitar. He called it the dàn tre, which means 'bamboo musical instrument'.

Minh made this 23-stringed dàn tre in a Philippine refugee camp after fleeing Vietnam in 1981. He brought the instrument with him when he and his son came to Australia in 1982. Playing the dàn tre connected him to the family he had been forced to leave behind in Vietnam.

Hybrid musical instrument consisting of a bamboo tube with a 'Dante' brand olive oil tin attached to the base. Twenty-three wire strings run along the length of the tube.
Photo: George Serras.

Read more about Minh Tam Nguyen's dàn tre

Curator Jennifer Wilson detailed her research on the dàn tre in a presentation at the National Museum on 8 August 2007.

audio_w15 Listen to 'The dàn tre: a musical migration story' audio