Việt Lê

eclipse (2016)

Video Installation

buddhalicious from the eclipse series (2016)
Image courtesy of the artist

Like in music videos where abstract stories are narrated through a song, eclipse is narrated through its song. The lyrics roughly translate to “Don’t be distant/ I give up everything/ I forget everything/ Forget my name/ Forget my age/ Forget the path.” The title of the art work is adapted from the song “Nhật thực” ( which means eclipse in Vietnamese). The music is adapted from a song by Đại Lâm Linh, a contemporary Vietnamese band, and arranged by controversial composer Ngọc Đại, an ex-soldier from the Vietnam War who writes songs to remember and address the traumas of the Vietnam war.

eclipse is haunted by as much as it is a haunting representation of desire. Việt Lê himself is a refugee from the Vietnam war. His desire as a refugee to return to a land that no longer exists is articulated in one of the haunting love stories performed by the artist in the video. Filmed in a haunted guesthouse in Hà Nội, Việt Lê describes his collaborators (dancer Nguyễn Duy Thành, conceptual artists Nguyễn Phương Linh,Tuân Mami, Nguyễn Quốc Thành and director of photography Jamie Maxtone-Graham) as ghosts performing narratives of longing.

Presented behind tinted glass and only viewable to those over 18 years old, the pop song on loss, desire and longing trickles beyond the borders of supposed propriety. Seeping out into public space as a pop song, eclipse is by definition a spectre that haunts the everyday, a monstrous return of the repressed that leaks out to resist the amnesia of the contemporary.

eclipse is part of a trilogy that the artist describes as “a time-travelling, trans love triangle” which unfolds through three languages: Vietnamese, Khmer and English. Việt’s practice investigates the “gap between historical trauma and Asian pop culture,” examining the complex instances in which the historical returns, masquerading in pop culture.

Việt Lê (b. 1976, Vietnam/United States) is an artist, writer, curator, and academic based in California, United States. His recent projects have been collaborative and based on working with other cultural producers such as artists, designers and cinematographers. Transversing the disciplines of visual studies, ethnography, queer theory and diasporas histories, his works have employed the vocabulary of popular music videos and fashion to speak of the overlaps of  historical and personal traumas as they manifest in representations of identity, spirituality and sexuality. Lê has recently presented his work at Pitzer College Art Galleries, Claremont, United States (2018) and Bangkok Art and Cultural Center, Thailand (2013) and in the solo exhibition lovebang! at Kellogg University Art Gallery, Los Angeles, United States (2016). He is a co-founder of The Diasporic Vietnamese Artists Network (DVAN).

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