The inherent tension of technology – its ability to both destroy and enhance life – was apparent to Tomas Vu at a young age, and is the inspiration for his surfboards. During childhood growing up on China Beach (Da Nang), Vietnam, Vu made money taking care of the surfboards of American G.I.s stationed in his city. One G.I., in particular, took a liking to him and introduced Vu to the Beatles. The modern technologies that made this man into a literal killing machine also allowed him to play Beatles music for a young boy from half a world away, changing Vu’s life and giving the G.I. a sense of personal redemption.
Describing a dystopian vision of our future, Vu’s drawings are burned multiple times onto the surface of the boards through laser-cutting. Reminiscent of spaceships, satellites and geodesic domes, in addition to other geometric and organic forms, these drawings demonstrate an epic clash between man and machine, nature and technology, the defining tension of our modern era according to the artist.
On the opposite side of the boards, Vu pairs his drawings with Beatles lyrics burned at varying speeds and depths and often repeating and overlapping. Although the Beatles often rejected “deeper meaning” being projected onto their works, their music has become transcendent and universal. As a result of the layering and repetition of the drawings and words, the lyrics lose their original sense of narrative and context and are then open to a wholly new set of implications.
Just as the imagery will continue to evolve in the mind of the viewer, the boards will literally change, picking up history as they are used. The surfboards are modeled on the alaia, a pre-20th-century Hawaiian surfboard that was traditionally between 7 and 12 ft long and made from koa wood. Like many modern alaias, Vu’s boards are constructed from paulownia wood and linseed oil. Produced using natural materials and shaped by human hands, these boards are variable and imperfect. By using a mechanical, computerized tool to mark a surfboard made of natural materials and shaped by the human hand, these works hint at the redemptive potential of technology.