Wednesday, November 3, 2010

The Farmers and The Helicopters at MoMA's Project Gallery

In MoMA’s Project Gallery, a three channel video by artist Dinh Q. Le explores the Vietnamese War through the affect of the helicopter. The video room is connected to another room which houses a life size helicopter built by Le Van Danh and Tran Quoc Hai, a self taught mechanic. This extension of the show gives the viewer insight to the complexities of the machine. The video begins by panning over forests and rice fields and then unfolds into a collage of Vietnamese voices and the sounds of helicopters flying through the air from clips of Western films. With the three screens ever changing, the anxiety of the helicopter is present, as are the stories of those who have suffered from them, and those who have transformed the helicopter from a vehicle of destruction to one of innovation and progress.

The Vietnamese War, known as the American War in Vietnam, is one regarded with more stigma than perhaps any other in American history. Le’s video demonstrates the disturbances of the war while humanizing its victims, and still feels emotive enough to belong in an art museum. The three channels change frequently, so that the viewer must turn their heads to read the subtitles on the bottom of the speaker’s screen. The strength of this piece is in the contrasting emotions caused by the feeling of watching an action thriller, and watching an actual war.

The generational difference between speakers affords the viewer a more clear vision of how the war, and the machinery used in it has affected Vietnam holistically. Two older women and three men speak about how the helicopter has affected them, some in war time, some on the farm. One of the most powerful moments of the video was when one of the elderly women said “They listen to our stories like they were fairy tales,” after listening to her fearful story while the sound of helicopter propellers blare in the background of her foreign voice, her comment seems sad and ironic.

What carries this video from start to finish is the transformation of the helicopters as objects of fear, and destruction, to ones that are familiar and helpful. This trajectory is traveled through the voices of the older women, the militant men, and of the younger generation’s curiosity and use of this tool to help with farming. The helicopter remains an object of wonder throughout, but is able to change as Vietnam tries to communicate to the world that they are a capable nation. Dinh Q. Le combines clips of helicopters from Western film and interviews of Vietnamese people who have experienced the helicopter in different venues to create a fifteen minute long trip into the eyes of a Vietnamese civilian affected by the technologies of the western world.


  1. This was a convincing critique of an exciting work. It might be mentioned that the actual helicopter built by the farmers was in the show. I think having the helicopter present was an interesting touch, bringing the subject of the video "home" to us. But the political aspects and the personal engagement of the Vietnamese are all well described by the author as well as describing the actual viewing. Watching three channels was an effective tool by the artist as we were dealing with "the feeling of watching an action thriller, and watching an actual war."

  2. I agree with the comments above. The post provides political and historical context and gives a clear, concise description of the artwork that also captures the viewing experience. The first and final paragraphs are particularly strong because they each do something specific to support the overall review. It could be helpful to mention the significance of the helicopter as a symbol of US wealth and domination. The farmers mention that their government can’t afford to buy one helicopter (while the US has hundreds), but by building their own the farmers are helping bring a sense of pride and self-sufficiency to Vietnam.