art reviews  july 2007
Dinh Q. LÍ at Elizabeth Leach Gallery

In “From Father to Son: A Rite of Passage,” Dinh Q. LÍ quite literally interweaves his country’s past with its present. The Vietnamese artist, who was seven years old when the last American helicopter left Saigon in 1975, addresses the Vietnam War’s difficult legacy in the six woven photographic tapestries and one digital video that comprise the most recent of his four one-person shows at Elizabeth Leach since 1998. Using traditional Vietnamese grass weaving techniques, LÍ interlaces long, thin strips of photo prints into patchwork quilts of bracing color. Viewed up close, the works twinkle with abstract crisscrosses that recall late Mondrian. Viewed from several paces back, imagery emerges: hammer and sickle, tropical flowers, and a densely populated street scene in Crowd; American flag-draped coffins and Vietnamese war propaganda in Energizer; and, in Coca Cola, a cornucopia of Western foodstuffs—soft drinks, Spam, Oreos, Cornflakes, and Altoids—intercut with a Vietcong soldier wielding a shoulder-mounted missile launcher. The vibrant palette and witty pastiching of incongruous elements lends levity to subject matter that might otherwise implode under its own gravitas.

This buoyancy does not characterize LÍ’s digital video, from whose title the show itself takes its name. The video’s split-screen edit presents scenes from Oliver Stone’s film Platoon and Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now, the former featuring scenes with actor Charlie Sheen, the latter with Sheen’s father, Martin. Just as the photographic tapestries are built around the conceit of intersplicing, so the video’s leitmotif revolves around the intercutting of movie clips, such that the two Sheens appear to dialogue with and comment upon the other. The meta-conversation between the films yields no lack of political and familial themes, but the tack wears thin as the video’s 10 minutes drag on. The viewer’s mind wanders from deeper musings on patriarchy, imperialism, and war to more peripheral questions, such as “Which Sheen is the better actor?” and “Who is the more astute director, Stone or Coppola?” Ultimately, the video highlights cinematic contrasts more effectively than it illustrates ideological parallels. Despite this, the piece and the exhibit as a whole point to the uneasy relationship between a country’s forward-focused present and a past that refuses to fade away.


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