Faculty Feature | Việt Lê

Việt Lê | heARTbreak! Teaser, 2017 | HD video, color, sound, projection dimensions vary | Duration 1:21 | Courtesy of the artist

I use the format of pop music videos to deal with difficult subject matter such as displacement, and refugees then and now because I believe humor and beauty are strategies. I didn’t want to replicate over-determined and hyper-visible images of traumatized subjects.

Việt Lê heARTbreak! installation view, 2016 mixed media  HD video, color sound, duration: 5:25  Courtesy of Kellogg University Art Gallery

Việt Lê | heARTbreak! installation view | 2016 | mixed media | HD video, color sound, duration: 5:25 | Courtesy of Kellogg University Art Gallery

heARTbreak! was filmed in Bangkok in a fantastical, surreal boy bar-cum-”refugee camp” (connecting refugees—‘70s Southeast Asian refugees and current refugees). The heARTbreak! video is the outgrowth of my 2014  solo exhibition at H Project Space Bangkok comprised of three related installations/interventions based off the 125 year-old building’s former life as a colonial era Christian orphanage.  Queer-ying time and space, the inter-related projects reference the former orphange site, as well as Southeast Asian refugee camps in Thailand.

Việt Lê | vestige solo show | installation view | 2014 | Courtesy H Gallery Bangkok

Việt Lê | vestige solo show | installation view | 2014 | Courtesy H Gallery | Bangkok

In a durational performance  (December 24-29, 2014), I “occupied” H Gallery, conducted research, as well as embodied the historic figure of a lovelorn orphan who once lived in the building. During the durational, meditative performance, I strung together donated beads—religious and otherwise (with the assistance of community volunteers)—to form another “curtain” to be hung  up inside the space.  Dealing with desire and despair, the works reference Felix Gonzales Torres’ mournful installations of curtains (Untitled [Blue Curtains], 1989/9) and beads (Untitled [Golden], 1995) as well as Lawrence Chua’s novel Gold by the Inch.  These strings of associations (pun intended) strides the corporeal and the metaphysical.

Việt Lê | lovebang! | music video, edition of 3, | 2015 | Duration 5:32 | Courtesy of the artist

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Việt Lê | construct | from the lovebang! Series | 2016 | Digital C-print, vinyl banner, edition of 3 | 60” x 90” | photo: Chean Long | Courtesy of the artist

lovebang! is an experimental music video featuring a time-traveling, trans love triangle. It’s also a trilingual (Vietnamese, Khmer, English) “hip pop” song–a fictional combination of rap and hip hop— which I co-wrote with Khmer rapper Dollar. The umbrella love bang! trilogy comes from some of my curatorial work and also my academic work, trying to figure out what is the gap between historical trauma and popular culture.

What is the relationship between the traumas of history and modernity, between war and pop (and agit-prop)?

Việt Lê | heARTbreak! solo show installation view | 2016 photo: Jen Vanderpool |Courtesy Kellogg University Gallery, California State University Pomona

Việt Lê | heARTbreak! solo show installation view | 2016 photo: Jen Vanderpool | Courtesy Kellogg University Gallery | California State University Pomona

7 eclipse install view

Việt Lê with Khvay Samnang and Jamie Maxtone-Graham | eclipse installation (sculpture: Khvay Samnang, film directed with Jamie Maxtone-Graham) from the eclipse Series | 2016 Courtesy of Kellogg University Art Gallery | California State University Pomona

Việt Lê with Jamie Maxtone-Graham | HD experimental film, edition of 3 | Duration: 6:16

Trained as an ethnographer, much of my art and research involves collaboration. I worked with many fantastic artists in Hà Nội, including Jamie Maxtone-Graham, my director of photography, as well as conceptual artists Nguyễn Phương Linh, Tuân Mami, Nguyễn Quốc Thành. The dancer is Duy Thanh and you may recognize Phong (the trans M to F protagonist) from the film Finding Phong.


eclipse is about longing and loss—losing a loved one or a country (as I did, as a refugee) and desperately wanting it back, with no recourse.  It is indicative of our current moment, wanting to “make America great again”: we’ve fallen from grace, lost our garden of Eden, there is no way back.

On the other hand, it can be about spirituality—wanting to give up everything as a path towards enlightenment, towards ego-lessness—and its blind struggle.

2 research books-2


My second academic book and related feature film project centers on spiritualities, sexualities and sonic landscapes. As other artists inform our thinking and making,  these authors form an engaged conversation on aesthetics, historical violence and ethics.

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Việt Lê and Jen Vanderpool, curators | Love in the Time of War | 2016-17 | University of California, Santa Barbara and SF Camerawork

For more information on Việt Lê’s work and projects, click the links below.

 Love in the Time of War

The artists in this group exhibition embody the contradictions of engaging love—its contingency and urgency— in a time of eternal wars.

Special online-only Projects

What’s the relationship between intimate statements and state violence?

1 vegas b&w

Việt Lê, untitled (Vegas) from the boy bang! series, 2007-17 Digital C-print, dimensions variable.

 Sport media | Women's Nike Air Max 270 trainers – Latest Releases

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