The Farmers and the Helicopters

If you are fortunate enough to live in New York City I strongly advise you to check out this new art exhibit by Vietnamese Artist Dinh Q. Le at the Museum of Modern Art. The exhibit is part of MOMA’s “Project” series. What’s really incredible and groundbreaking is that Dinh Lê’s exhibit will be the first solo exhibition by a Vietnamese artist in the institution’s history.  It has already started running and will go through January 24, 2011.

Dinh Q. Lê in collaboration with Tran Quoc Hai, Le Van Danh, Phu-Nam Thuc Ha, and Tuan Andrew Nguyen. Still from <i>The Farmers and The Helicopters.</i> 2006. Three-channel video (color, sound), 15 min., and helicopter. The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Gift of the artist, Fund for the Twenty-First Century, and Committee on Media and Performance Art Funds. © 2010 Dinh Q. Lê. Courtesy the artist; P.P.O.W. Gallery, New York; Shoshana Wayne Gallery, Santa Monica; and Elizabeth Leach Gallery

Lê creates work that frequently references the Vietnam War and is definitely informed by his own personal history.  The art installation takes place in two adjacent galleries.  It comprises both a helicopter that was constructed by hand from scrap parts by two Vietnamese men and also a three-channel video. Lê collaborated with two Vietnamese men Le Van Danh (farmer) and Tran Quoc Hai (a mechanic) to construct the helicopter.  Whereas, the video was made with artists Phu-Nam Thuc Ha and Tuan Andrew Nguyen. The video weaves together  interviews and personal recollections of the war by Vietnamese men and women along with clips from American movies and documentaries about the war.

For Lê the image of the helicopter is important. The helicopter is an image that still resonates with many Vietnamese because of the strong military role it played during the war.  During the interview many of the people spoke of their associations between childhood memories of horror and helicopters. It is interesting as well that in the video he includes interviews with helicopter makers that look at it as a positive machine to help Vietnamese life.  The collaboration between Lê and the other participants is an important part of The Farmers and The Helicopters, since it provides the work’s multilayered insight into the country’s complex perspectives on this machine, which has become a symbol of negativity.

If you have the time, please go visit this important art exhibit.  Lê does with art what I try to all the time with my own poetry and that is to give life to objects. To really examine one object meaningfully and closely and see all the different effects it has not only on people but on the world as well.  Lê has taken the helicopter and put it in his audience’s faces and asks us to reflect. What comes to mind when we think about a helicopter?

-Anhvu Buchanan

Interview with Dinh Q. Le

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