Return to home page
Venue information
Contact the exhibition
Sally Clark
Binh Danh
Ian Everard
James Fee
Shelby Graham
Hanna Hannah
Robin Kandel
Aaron Kerner
Elyse Koren-Camarra
Keith Muscutt
Katsushige Nakahashi
Rebecca Ramos
Hideki Shiozawa
Robynn Smith
Kenji Yanobe

Binh danh

Binh Danh is the most recent addition to the exhibition. Whereas many of the artist in the exhibition examine how catastrophic histories are inscribed into geography (e.g., Fee, Ramos, and Smith) or architecture (e.g., Clark), Danh's work on the other hand is far more organic. It is not just the material alone that calls attention to the organic, his medium is tropical leaves, rather it is the process by which the images are formed and the very quality of them. Danh in fact invented an entirely new technique in order - not just to superimpose - but to grow the image into the leaf.

Whereas artists like Fee and Clark demonstrate how catastrophic history is inscribed into a place - Pelelui, or concentration camps in Europe - Danh on the other hand illustrates how history might be woven into the very fabric of our being. Danh was born in Vietnam on October 9, 1977, he was too young to remember the war, and as a child it was not possible to fully comprehend the significance of what was unfolding around him. Just as with the process of photosynthesis where a leaf absorbs ambient energy, the human spirit too is marked by historical events. In this sense Danh's work is quite similar to Robin Kandel's. As a child Kandel knew something of her father's experience during the Second World War, but she didn't know many of the details, much of what she knew was intuited; history and personal memories were not experienced cognitively per se, rather they ran through her blood. In Danh's work this intuitive experience of history and memory materializes in the veins of the leaves. Moreover, because the imagery is produced through the process of photosynthesis, the imagery itself - which stands in for individual episodes of history and memory - are inscribed, not just on the surface, but within the very tissue of the leaf. The fragments of a historical moment are woven into the organic celluloid.

As with all the work in Collapsing Histories there is something of a paradox in Danh's work. All the work in this exhibition at once calls attention to the fact that personal memory and even history itself is fragile, and even though the work in the show demonstrates how history decays, the works at the same time resist the inevitable decomposition of history and memory. The subtly of Danh's imagery - its near translucency - gives material form to our tenuous grip on history and memory. The leaves themselves are subject analogously to the laws of human history and memory. A leaf, for example, while attached to a tree thrives, absorbing the radiant energy of the sun, and reaching the end of its life cycle yellows and eventually falls to the ground. On the ground the leaf decomposes and while it does not continue to collect radiant energy, it might still nourish the soil and in turn the tree. People are like leaves. They too, analogous to photosynthesis, participate in the kinetics of historical events and the process of creating memories is an absorption of that dynamic history; and finally like leaves, people whither and eventually die. The residue of their existence, fragments of their collected memories eventually nourish the history and the memories of the living. The very medium, the very flesh, of Danh's work then showcases the characteristics of human memory and history.

Danh's work offers some resistance to the nature of history and memory by presenting his leaves in 'suspended animation'; his work fossilizes this delicate hold on historical memory. His work does not fossilize memory at its strongest or most acute, rather it captures memories as they begin to fade. These are not memories of an earlier generation, these are related memories, not directly lived, but potent nonetheless. These images, these fragments of memories, are infused into the tissue of the living. Like some pre-historic insect forever suspended in a piece of amber, Danh's leaves are encased in resin; and as fossilized records they do not show us memories as they are, but memories in suspension.

See more of Binh's work at the Haines Gallery in San Francisco.

click to view full-size image