Bowditch Alphabet, 2010.
Gold leaf on unfolded cardboard boxes, Dimensions variable
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.