Wednesday, February 15

one million photographs from Vietnam

i've just got back from my studio after two days of helping Andy (he did most of the work) install the Harrell Fletcher show, "The American War" (see link in title). This photo is from the original San Antonio showing and not the Solvent Space installation about to open in downtown Richmond. our methods were much more meticulous as we toiled to hang over one hundred photographs of photographs and i'll probably post a photo of our version later.

in a true post-colonialist fashion, Fletcher took these photographs in a war museum in Vietnam of all the photographs and captions in their collection, "The American War". so there's this offhand quality to them because they're snapshots, and some of them are familiar (remember the pulitzer prize winning one of the naked girl, burned with napalm, running away screaming) but their impact, for me, was unexpectedly effective. i've been reading Susan Sontag for our critical theory class and we have specifically been talking about how there are so many images of everything in the world that we get desensitized to pictures that should probably alarm us. mutilating torture, GIs who have become monsters, and chemically deformed children spread across the walls. even so, i expected to be numb to the images and ambivilent toward someone doing 'political art'. instead as i removed each harrowing photograph from it's bubble wrap and read all the captions i sunk deaper into sadness and disbelief of what had happened in that war and what must happen in all wars. i think part of the effectiveness was due to the knowledge that it was a factual presentation of the vietnemese point of view. the greater part of their potency was clearly due to the fact that i was carefully spending time with each image and mulling the whole thing over a period of hours. i wonder if people at the opening reception will have a hard time being penetrated with the depth of this show.
i think Fletcher is successful in riding that line of political art well. by just showing us the facts found in this museum without his own embelishments or commentary he is able to take a step of distance away from the work - freeing us from a heavy handed anti-war protest from a portland hippie (which is where Fletcher is from) and allowing space for us to re-contextualize the kind of images we have, unfortunately, become accustomed to.

Harrell Fletcher, it turns out, has a lot of great ideas (i just checked out his website - linked to this title), loves Sasquatch, and is rumoured to do insightful studio visits, so i'm excited to meet him tomorrow.


Cache said...

hey i like your friend joe mc..spaden?'s stuff... it would have been great if you could have been at the midwife crisis show...

savoury toothed tiger said...

i'll tell joe - i like it a lot too.
i know. i totally missed out.
in attempting to make-up for my absence i listened to their pod cast four times.