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Asian art on screens @ YBCA

January 26, 2009

On Saturday, I visited Yerba Buena Center for the Arts’s exhibition transPOP: Korea Vietnam Remix. I really enjoyed the show, comprised of photographs, several video works, sculpture, painting, and a little bit of installation. I submit that the name is pretty lame, especially since only one of the sixteen artists had (it seemed to me) a serious interaction with East Asia’s world-famous pop culture. In fact, the largest concentration of bubble gum in the place was the little reading nook, the walls of which exhibition organizers had papered with Korean movie posters and magazine pages. 

Far and away the star of the show was The Farmers and the Helicopters (2006) by Vietnamese artist Dinh Q. Lê and collaborators, a three-channel video that is not just art but pretty good journalism, in the sense that it reports a very specific concrete story with a growing awareness of that story’s larger significance, its semi-poetic standing in for much larger (in this case, global and historical) shifts and tides. Lê is better known for eerie woven photographic images (like these from P.P.O.W. Gallery) of Eastern temple iconography and the like interwoven (literally) with old black-and-white portraits, frequently those of doomed Cambodians during the Khmer Rouge era. Needless to say, they speak to the inexorable pull of difficult national (global?) memories and to the desire to reconfigure and shed new light on these memories. The Farmers and the Helicopters, one of the artist’s first forays into video, consists of original, historical, and Hollywood footage of helicopters in Vietnam, with segments of interviews with residents of a village, old and young, about their feelings about helicopters. Some of the farmers are building a helicopter to use to help them in their work; it becomes an issue of national pride, that they can build and have what others have, and the importance of rewriting the symbol of the Vietnam War is not lost. I loved it. Read more and see some pictures here.

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