When I visited my brother Steven and his family at Easter, he took me to a modern art gallery in the centre of Birmingham , the IKON GALLERY. The two exhibitions one by the artist Dinh Q Le whose work includes Installation ,Video and sculpture.Sculpture .
Dinh Q Le who was born in 1958 is a Vietnamese American . His family left Vietnam when he was 10 years old and emigrated to America. His work the Colony is an innovative revolutionary work using video installation. As the IKON exhibition guide says ” The colony is loosely based on 19th century depictions of a cluster of Islands off the west coast of Peru, rich in guano a powerful fertiliser”. 
” Exploring the drama of absurdity , greed and human suffering all for the brown gold of bird excrement”..
The IKON guide also comments that as well as guano and workers ,mainly migrants there is a plethora of wild life on the Islands. ” The Islands in Le’s films are home to huge colonies of birds where mountains of Guano have built up and when its fertilising properties were recognised the deposits became one of the most valuable natural resources in the World”.
Le’s political awareness shows that he understands how the exploitation of the workforce is related to the geo political developments amongst the two major Imperialist countries The United States and China.
” It was only recently that I became aware of the historical similiarity of that narrative to China’s aggression in the South China sea and their believing that these Islands were their right to claim”. .
” Its similar in a way with what happened with Guano and American overseas expansion with their Guano act of 1956. China is fighting for natural gas as well as fishing rights but also critically wanting control of the shipping lanes”. .
What is revolutionary about this Video installation is the use of Drones. As you watch the Video you are taken on a sight seeing tour of the Island , showing the workforce , the natural habitat and the wildlife.
Le comments on the use of these drones and why they are used and how he appropriates these type of imagery. ” I think the drone is an aggressor, a kind of alien of the future but at the same time it is utterly a machine we live with today”..
” These are surveillance videos that I found online .They are extremely beautiful but when you hear the Chinese radio warning ‘You are violating our territory’ and the Americans respond with ‘This is international waters’ the tension is palpable”. . A truly revolutionary work by an artist who has used video imagery to create a series of films , unfortunately the Exhibition has now finished , but if you access http://www.ikon-gallery.org you will find further information.
The second Exhibition which I am reviewing is Varna Road by Janet Mendelsohn , a photo essay journalist and American academic whose work could be equated with the late Allan Sekulla who revolutionised the use of Photo essay journalism.
This photographic exhibition entitled Varna Road shows aspects of life in Balsall Heath in the late 60’s.
The Exhibition notes remind us of what inner city life was like in the 1960’s.
” The photographs depict everyday life in the inner city district of Balsall heath , focusing in particular on a sex worker, referred to as Kathleen. By using photography as a ‘tool’ for cultural analysis she provides a unique insight into a transforming community shaped by increasing immigration from the Caribbean and South East Asia”..
This photographic record shows the changes in working class life depicting poverty and multi racial life in the 1960’s. This then is a unique historical record of working class life in an inner city district of Birmingham.
The IKON gallery needs to be congratulated on showing two very different Exhibitions which highlight different approaches within the artistic Milieu. If you access both exhibitions at http://www.ikon-gallery.org you will find plenty of useful information.
- IKON GALLERY EXHIBITION GUIDE DINH Q LE THE COLONY
- IKON GALLERY EXHIBITION GUIDE VARNA ROAD JANET MEDELSOHN