‘Thank you. The Dinh Q. Lê exhibition is spellbinding’. Visitor, September 2016.
Immersing the viewer in panoramic scenes of timeless and desolate islands, Dinh Q. Lê’s new film installation The Colony gradually reveals a sublime landscape with a complex history; set in the Chincha Islands off the coast of Peru, the rocky home to an enormous colony of birds.
By the middle of the 19th century the islands had become mountains of guano. A potent fertiliser, guano quickly became one of the world’s most valuable natural resources. British merchants controlled its trade, using indentured Chinese labourers working under brutal conditions. War was triggered by Spanish, American and Peruvian forces scrambling for control of the islands and in 1856, the US Congress Guano Act enabled it to seize uninhabited islands around the world. The advent of chemical fertilisers saw the islands re-colonised by birds. Architectural traces of the conflicted past remain in ruins.
The islands have not been permanently inhabited for more than a century, but labourers return to harvest the guano by hand every few years. Accompanied by Daniel Wohl’s elegiac soundtrack, Lê films from a boat approaching the islands, cameras on the ground and drones circling above to capture a bleak landscape haunted by its brutal past.
The Colony is commissioned by Artangel, Ikon, Han Nefkens H+F Collection and Proyecto Amil, Lima. It is part of The Artangel Collection, an initiative to bring outstanding film and video works, commissioned and produced by Artangel, to galleries and museums across the UK. The Artangel Collection has been developed in partnership with Tate, is generously supported by the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation and The Foyle Foundation and uses public funding from Arts Council England.
Dinh Q Lê was born in Hà Tiên in then South Vietnam in 1968. In the late 1970s, his family escaped by boat before eventually settling in the US where he completed his education. He is the co-founder of Sàn Art in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, where he has been based for the past decade. In 2010 he was awarded the Prince Claus Award for his outstanding contribution to cultural exchange. Lê’s work has been included in many international group shows including Documenta 13 in Kassel, Germany (2012), the 2nd Singapore Biennale (2008), the Gwangju Biennial (2006) and the Venice Biennale (2003). He was the first Vietnamese artist to have a solo show at the Museum of Modern Art, New York (2010).