An-My Lê

(Vietnam/USA) b.1960

Lives and works in New York

An-My Lê was born in Saigon, Vietnam in 1960. She left Vietnam in 1975 and eventually settled in the United States as a political refugee. She is one of the most significant photographers working today. Her photographs and films examine the impact, consequences, and representation of war.

In Lê’s recently completed epic work, Events Ashore (2005-2014), seven pieces of which are shown at the Taipei Biennial 2014, the artist deftly navigated the maze of military public relations bureaucracy to secure access to U.S. naval ships preparing for deployment to Iraq, the first in a series of visits to battleships, humanitarian missions in Africa and Asia, training exercises, and scientific missions in the Arctic and Antarctic. As Lê explains, these trips allowed her to study close at hand the military’s non-combat activities, becoming “a point of departure for an examination of the image of the U.S. military on the global stage across oceans and borders as a symbol of conflict, an echo of the age of exploration, and an unlikely (and unsung) force in the unfolding environmental crisis.” This work is as much about her perspective and personal history as a political refugee from Vietnam as it is about the vast geopolitical forces and conflicts that shape these landscapes.

In response to the Taipei Biennial’s stated themes and Nicolas Bourriaud’s formulation of the moment of intersection contemporary art may currently be facing, Lê feels a certain affinity for points of view that focus on complex relationships between competing visions of scale, power, cultural expressions and geographical realities. Relationships between the “cultural” and the “techno-scientific” are inherent to both the medium of photography and the subject of these photographs, which portray the American military forces participating in Arctic and Antarctic operations. These missions could potentially benefit an understanding of climate change as well as inform policies concerning the control of new navigational routes and the race for extraction of natural resources as the polar ice cap melts.

The endless contrasts between utility and romance, nations and individuals, hardware and ideology, biography and psychology all inform Lê’s motivation to photograph subjects larger than herself. It is the “speculative” aspect of Bourriaud’s phrase “speculative realism” that Lê finds most provocative, since, for most audiences, photography is either real or fake but rarely, if ever, discussed in terms of “realism.”

Lê has had solo exhibitions at Baltimore Museum of Art (2014); DIA: Beacon, New York State (2007-2008); the Henry Art Gallery, Seattle (2007); the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (2006); the Museum of Contemporary Photography, Chicago (2006); and MoMA PS1, New York (2002) among others. Her work is held in many public collections in the United States, including the Museum of Modern Art, New York; the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York; The Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; and the Art Institute of Chicago; as well as Bibliothèque Nationale, Paris; and Queensland Art Gallery, Australia. Lê is a professor of photography at Bard College, Annandale-on Hudson, New York.

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