Born in Vietnam and educated at the School of Visual Arts in New York, the works of Dinh Q. Lê typically investigate cultural representations of the East. But they do so in a way that is inextricably entwined with the West. In a world rapidly shrinking at the hands of technology and an increasingly globalized economy, it's a fittingly contemporary worldview. But these juxtapositions of the East and West—an opposition that, in many ways, is fast collapsing—also serve to illustrate how history is constructed like a palimpsest.
Lê's photoweavings literally weave together strips of photographs, using a traditional grass-weaving technique he learned as a child in Vietnam. The six new works on display in From Father to Son: A Rite of Passage, his fourth solo exhibition at the Elizabeth Leach Gallery, are among his most ornate and dazzling. As images of varying sizes momentarily disappear and resurface in rigidly geometric stitching, the images layered in each piece dissolving into a grid of neon hues and tiny squares of advertisements (a Pringles canister here, a can of Diet Coke there). At a distance, though, the larger images come into focus: a Soviet hammer and sickle; a crowd of Vietnamese protesters; Buddhist icons; and the unmistakable scripts of brand names, from SPAM to Energizer batteries. It's a disorienting spatial mapping of cultural heterogeneity that, both formally and conceptually, splits the difference between the giddy coloration and consumer obsessions of Pop Art and the abstract illusions of Op Art.
The inclusion of a video work by Lê—a two-channel projection that uses scenes of Martin Sheen in Apocalypse Now and his son, Charlie Sheen, in Platoon to create a new narrative—breathes even more life into these works. The thin photographic slices that make up the photoweavings seem to visually pun on "film strips" and, by extension, film editing. As such, they can be read as a painterly equivalent to the cinematic montage, flattening jump cuts into a two-dimensional plane. It's a move that further complicates his theory of history. Unlike the more or less linear progression of film editing, here chronological sequencing implodes into a sensational wash of chaotic stimuli.