Good life (2007) is an installation displaying letters, documents, photographs and objects from a man named Joseph Carrier, and appropriated by artist Danh Vo. The installation features a series of small square vitrines, inset, dark and precisely spot-lit. Inside these are framed photographs, mostly black and white, of young Asian men, taken, as the titles on the neat brass name plates tell us, in Vietnam in the 1960s and early 1970s. In one vitrine, an old-fashioned camera sits propped up on its worn leather case. In another is a typewritten document titled ‘Beliefs, Attitudes and Behaviour of the Lowland Vietnamese’ and a crumpled business card, belonging to one ‘Joseph M. Carrier, National Academy of Sciences’. Presumably Carrier was the owner of the camera, an American in Vietnam during the war on an anthropological rather than a combat mission. We learn while viewing the installation, in the form of letters and correspondence that Carrier and Vo met during a personal exhibition of Vo’s at the Villa Aurora. The fruits of that meeting led Vo to create this archive on Carrier’s subjective experience in the 1960’s and 1970’s, all derived from Carrier’s personal possessions. This work is exemplary for its consideration of the archive and Vo’s incessant attempt to shed light on subdued homosexuality in Vietnam, appropriation, and surrogate biographies.
Danh Vo’s personal history of migration and adjustment is an important reference point for his artistic practice. In his work, he explores themes ranging from identity, authorship, sexuality, and ownership to origin. He uses intimate, personal material to show that identity is a construction of projections, assumptions and attributed values. Vo embarks upon a subtle investigation of the Western fascination for the exotic and unknown with an exquisite conceptual style. For Vo, appropriating the history of others is a way of unraveling monolithic ideas about identity. And he does so with great verve, generally initiating the journey with himself. In addition to his classifiable works, a certain mystified aura lingers around his actions: the artist has married, and subsequently divorced numerous people simply to add their names to his list, he has committed “crimes” later displaying their documentation as show, for example. In his installations he uses objects, photos and documentation that connects his family history to real memories intertwined with a complex imaginary. His refugee status has led him to attempt to reconstruct various derivations of identities, origins, and stories. This requires the questioning of social structures, the endorsement of different identities, the questioning of values, and the undermining of conventions in order set forth a groundwork for his personal depiction in the world of society at large.
Born in 1975, Danh Vo is a Danish artist with Vietnamese origins. He lives and works in Berlin.