Drawing on their experiences in the post-war period, the twin brothers explore current day Vietnam.
The LE Brothers have placed themselves between the north and south of Vietnam in order to explore the challenges and opportunities after the reunification.
Jim Thompson Art Center presents “The Game | Viet Nam” by LE Brothers from 2 November 2016 to 19 February 2017. Held as part of the centre’s regional perspective and curated by London-based Loredana Pazzini-Paracciani, the mixed-media exhibition explores Vietnam’s post-war era.
Although there have been a lot of books and movies based around the events of the Vietnam War, the post-1975 period has been less remarked on by the public and yet it played a fundamental role in the formation of present-day Vietnam. The period after the war was a time of complex transformation of the country into the Socialist Republic of Vietnam. There were rigid government policies in this transition that included the censorship of art and culture. It was only during the late 1980s with Doi Moi (Reform and Renovation) that these policies softened.
The Le Brothers is comprised of artist duo Le Ngoc Thanh and Le Duc Hai, twin brothers who make art together about contemporary Vietnam. The Le Brothers first began painting with lacquer, but for more than ten years they have been working in performance and video. Their work mostly critiques the social and political challenges of developing Vietnam. They have exhibited widely including at the Goethe-Institute, Hanoi, Vietnam (2016); the Centre A, Vancouver, Canada (2015); the Free Art Space, Taipei, Taiwan (2014); the “Asiatopia: Performance Art Conference Southeast Asia”, Bangkok, Thailand (2016); Staten Island, New York, USA (2016) and Gwangju Museum of Art, South Korea (2016). They are also the founders of the New Space Arts Foundation in Hue, which was founded in 2008 and fosters exchange among international and Vietnamese artists.
The brothers were born in Quang Binh in the northern part of Vietnam in 1975, just before Vietnam gained independence. In 1991 the brothers moved to live and work in Hue in the central part of Vietnam, which is also Vietnam’s ancient capital and is near to the line that divided the two Vietnams. This position in between the northern and southern identity has been developed throughout their creative practice.
When talking about the differences between the northern and southern regions in an interview with Hyperallergic, the Le Brothers explain:
Like in Germany, the people are now together, but there are still problems because the North and the South are different. Not just different food, but different in their thinking. But time can make things better.
In one of their projects, The Bridge, they looked into this divide between north and south through making three movies in Vietnam, Korea and Germany. They chose these countries as each of them has experienced the division between Communists and non-Communist communities.
“The Game | Viet Nam” investigates Vietnam in the four decades after the reunification. The brothers examine their childhood and past memories, as well as those of their generation, in order to gain insight into the impact of growing up in a country scarred by war and divided ideologically into the North and South. Influenced by images of destruction and death throughout their youth, they both turned to an imaginary world of peace and healing.
In the exhibition, the brothers have developed military clothes that combine the uniforms of both the southern and the northern Vietnamese armies. They have worn these uniforms at a number of sites where there had been fighting, which they have then documented in photos. They wanted the uniforms to represent a meeting of the North and South, where it was impossible to tell the two apart.
A featured work in the exhibition, The Game, involves a 24-channel video installation, photo documentation of the development of the video and military paraphernalia, including two larger-than-life rifles, the AR-15 (United States) and the AK-47 (former Soviet Union). The rifles are constructed from lacquer, a reference to Vietnam’s traditional fine art.
Another part of the exhibition explores archival materials, including geographical maps of Vietnam, posters, books and novels that capture the post-war period. In addition, there are more personal artefacts, including photographs from the Le Brothers’ friends and relatives taken before the Doi Moi, a period in the late 1980s which saw the softening of rigid government policies, economic repression, strict intellectual censorship and state guidelines on culture and art. The photos cross the divide between north and south and are all taken in black and white in a similar style. They capture a moment in Vietnamese history that was defined by totalitarian values, before the period of reform and renovation.
The Le Brothers use their own experiences of the period, but they also reach out to other local voices through interviews about identity and social consciousness as a result of the post-war divide. The interviews, and the exhibition as a whole, reflect upon the process of reconciliation and solidarity that emerged in more recent Vietnamese history.
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