Review :: Erasure

July 26th 2011

Dinh Q. Lê, Erasure, 2011, installation view. Commissioned by Sherman Contemporary Art Foundation. Photo: Aaron de Souza

Ever have that feeling like you’re walking through a dream? That what you’re looking at surely couldn’t be real? Go along to Erasure, Dinh Q. Lê’s new exhibit at the Contemporary Sherman Gallery and you might actually experience this.

Walk out of Five Ways into another universe in the form of a multi-sensory installation. In an attempt to represent the plight of immigrants around the world Le has created a pseudo 18th Century boat ruin on the gallery floor. Surrounding the wreckage and acting as the ‘ocean’ are thousands of discarded photographs faced down. The audience are invited to pick them up and examine them; the photos are all of immigrants, whose outcome is not known. The first photo I picked up was a black and white image of a small, Asian boy in overalls staring at the camera with a look of surprise at such a device, the innocence pasted on his face.

Now this is where the audience come into play. We are invited to pick up a photo from the ocean and scan it into the online database Le has created for the exhibit. A computer and scanner sits next to semi-submerged boat ruin with instructions. I scanned in the picture of the little boy, and couldn’t help but wonder what his story was. The database is for families hoping to find answers about their “lost souls.”

Projected onto the gallery wall is a digitally mastered image of a 18th century boat run aground on the shore, encapsulated in flames. The crackling fire resonates through the room, creating this feeling of claustrophobia and the slow movement of time.

Lê has tried to evoke memory and discovery of human experience with his complex installation. I find that empathy is always quite difficult to evoke in art, unless you’re photographing human suffering, and even then. Yet Le’s sea of lost souls creates such loss and despair for the viewer, the installation room is encapsulating.

Go along to Sherman Contemporary Art Foundation for an experience you will not regret or forget.


What: Erasure
Where: Sherman Contemporary Art Foundation
When: Until September 10

How Much: Free



Read more from Nick La Rosa