Dinh Q. Lê: Warp, Woof, Zero, One @PPOW

JTF (just the facts): A total 6 large scale photographic works and 1 video, generally framed in black and unmatted, and hung against white walls in the main gallery space and two of the smaller back rooms. 5 of the works are c-prints and linen tape, all made in 2014; they range in size from roughly 90×30 to 53×137, and are each unique. A 150 foot c-print scroll is on view in the central back room, mounted to the wall and spilling onto the floor; it is accompanied by a gold lacquer box. It was made in 2013, and was not accompanied by any edition information. A second lacquer box in silver, with a roll of color photographic paper sealed inside sits on the floor of the main space; it measures roughly 8x54x10 and is available in an edition of 9+1AP. A four channel color video with sound from 2014 (running time 6 minutes) is shown on four screens in the final back room. It is sized 49×145 overall, and is available in an edition of 5+1AP. (Installation shots below.)

Comments/Context: Push, twist, bend, stretch – Dinh Q. Lê’s newest show is all about taking photographic imagery and pulling it beyond its normal boundaries. A sealed silver box placed on the floor of the gallery gives us an initial clue to where Lê now stands; it contains a roll of unused photographic paper, as from his perspective, the analog, chemical world of photography is forever dead and buried. As a result, his new works set off to embrace the power of digital manipulation, bringing multi-image digital collaging, software transformation, and video extrapolation to his existing practice of physical photoweaving.

Lê’s recent weave patterns have loosened the strict rigidity of the grid, allowing his intricate interleaved images to undulate into broad curves and textural waves. Cascading paratroopers, a screaming man, the jagged rubble of the World Trade Center towers, and faces of soldiers and babies from war torn Vietnam and Cambodia intermingle with graceful figures from the Sistine Ceiling, combining politics, history, and mythology in shifting uncertain patterns. While most of the works have edges that have been burned or melted to hold the strips together, in a few cases, Lê has allowed the fragments to hang in long ribbons, the stories unraveling into visual noise.

The other works on view find the artist experimenting with pictorial extension and elongation. Starting with the famous photograph of the self-immolating Buddhist monk from 1963, he has digitally stretched the single image to fit the length of a 150 foot long vertical scroll, turning the horrific flames into a stream of glossy vibrant color that billows onto the floor. Lê applies a similar technique to four views of the World Trade Center towers – before, during the attack, after the collapse, and during the recent rebuilding. Each has been elongated and turned into a slowly tilting video; hung together as group, the videos turn the imagery into meditative sets of changing stripes, where abstract hints of color (black, orange, silver) are the only clues to the underlying narrative.

All of Lê’s approaches turn specifics into echoes, where snippets of identifiable imagery become the raw material for process-related reconstruction. Charged memories are alternately sharpened and muted, the original context lost, leaving behind a slurry of image fragments whose meaning is in flux and perhaps negotiable. Pushing and pulling is going on at many levels (the physical, the digital, and the metaphorical), the results rearranged in such a way that history is being constantly redefined.

Collector’s POV: The works in this show are priced as follows. The woven c-prints range from $50000 to $75000, with some already sold. The c-print scroll is priced at $50000, while the video is $60000. Lê’s work has little history in the secondary markets for photography, so gallery retail remains the best option for those collectors interested in following up.

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