The Vietnam-born, Berlin-based artist Sung Tieu has won the 2021 Frieze Artist Award for her film Moving Target Shadow Detection (2021).
The work reconstructs the events that occurred around the first known cases of the mysterious medical condition Havana Syndrome. The still-unexplained illness struck diplomats from a number of Western countries in Cuba between 2016 and 2017—they reported symptoms including nausea, memory loss and brain injuries akin to concussions. Almost all patients spoke of unusual sounds and pressure sensations in their head, which have been theorised to be the result of covert sonic weapons using radiofrequency energy. Tieu’s film takes footage from a Havana hotel where the syndrome was first reported and uses drones to survey the building's interior from the viewpoint of a small flying mosquito.
The film will be shown during Frieze London (13-17 October), where Tieu has a solo booth with her London gallery Emalin in the fair's Focus section.
Tieu has previously explored Havana Syndrome in solo UK exhibitions at Emalin and Nottingham Contemporary, for which she subjected herself to the sound conditions thought to bring about the illness and then displayed MRI scans of her brain taken after the event.
The judges who decided this year's winner are: Steven Cairns, a moving image curator at the Institute Contemporary of Arts, London; Anna Gritz, a curator at KW Institute of Contemporary Art, Berlin; Eva Langret, the artistic director, Frieze London; Chris Rawcliffe, the artistic director of Forma; and the artist Alberta Whittle.
Symptoms related to Havana Syndrome have been increasingly reported since 2016, most recently three weeks ago by two US officials working in Germany.
Of Tieu's win, Langret says in a statement: "Tieu's ongoing research into sonic warfare has an eerie prescience in light of current events."
Rawcliffe adds: "Sung’s exploration of geo-politics, the legacy of Cold War dynamics and for this commission, sonic warfare and the Havana Syndrome are more relevant than ever—with alleged attacks reported in Vienna and Berlin this year alone. Her research and new film exposes both the threat and vulnerability of opaque global power."