Dinh Q.Le “Pure Land”
January 12 @ 11:00 am - March 1 @ 7:00 pm UTC+8
Tang Contemporary Art Bangkok proudly presents Pure Land, a solo show featuring newly commissioned works by acclaimed Vietnamese-American artist Dinh Q. Lê. Devised in line with Lê’s enduring interest in the notions of memory and trauma, Pure Land emerges from critical investigation of the ripple effect across Vietnamese society of Agent Orange, a herbicide used as a chemical weapon during the Vietnam War. As much as a memory of war, the ruinous effects of Agent Orange, from birth defects to physical deformities, are still considered a taboo subject, hindering personal and collective reconciliation with the country’s controversial past. For Pure Land, Lê visualises the trauma of the war through thought-provoking photographs and sculptures of physical anomalies and conjoined twins intertwined with lotus flowers as a powerful Buddhist allusion to ascending from the murky depths.
The glaring contrast between this aesthetics of divinity and the atrocity of war, combined with the use of unconventional materials that push the boundaries of art-making, conjure in Pure Land a space of innocence and purity to challenge social stigma against deformity and abnormality, and to confront the horrors of war. At the same time the air of mysticism that imbues the works further fosters Lê’s remarkable artistic narrative and his ability to counterpoise art and social critique—“…and of course, then, only then learning can take place.”
Lê and his family left Vietnam in 1978 when he was 10 years old, following the end of the war. When he returned to live in Vietnam in the 1990s, much to his shock, Lê found Saigon District 1 populated by physically deformed people begging on the streets, many of whom victims of direct exposure to Agent Orange or contaminated food. As early as the 1990s when Lê started his research on this topic, he quickly realised the legacy of Agent Orange had acquired a spiritual dimension, whereby people prayed to the conjoined infants who died, believing they were pure spirits. In life, these infants were dreaded; in death, they are elevated among the deities of the Buddhist pantheon—if only for the people to appease their own fears.
Conceptualised over one year in collaboration with Tang Contemporary Art Bangkok, Pure Land addresses this taboo subject, aestheticizing, through the works, the representation of mental and physical trauma. As such Lê creates life-size sculptures of conjoined twins resting on lotus blooms, cast in high resolution to achieve their fine porcelain finish in tune with local craft traditions. Vietnam is long recognised for its historical kilns and exquisite porcelain, which Lê adapts in his new series as a way to reflect the ongoing social plight of Agent Orange in contemporary Vietnam. Furthermore, the combination of the ancient medium of porcelain, with its resilience to time and pressure, and the new, cutting-edge finish of the figures confers a definitive historical narrative to the works. Alongside the sculptures, Pure Land also features a new series of grayscale photographs showing birth defects, printed on silver vinyl sheets. While the use of this synthetic medium imparts a ‘futuristic’ dimension to the works, the photographs themselves are based on archival images from Tu Du Maternity Hospital in Saigon. On the vinyl sheets the images are spliced and superimposed with the organic likenesses of lotuses, this time viewed from underwater. Together, the sculptures and photographs constitute a provocative, site-specific installation that is able to crystallise the trauma and horrors of war, rendering them both local and universal, and where the viewer becomes the observer and the victim all at once.
The exhibition is accompanied by a comprehensive publication featuring the newly commissioned artworks of Pure Land, including a curatorial essay by Loredana Pazzini-Paracciani, as well as an engaging interview with the artist about his practice and the production of this new body of works.