Twinning: Twin artists LE Brothers
A curator’s look at LE Brothers’ life and practice
My first encounter with LE Brothers was in Paris at the opening of ‘Secret Archipelago’ (2015) at Palais de Tokyo. Upon entering the museum, my field of vision was captured by their 24-channel video installation titled ‘The Game’, which occupied much of the gallery space and equally monopolised the other viewers’ gaze. LE Brothers and I subsequently met in Saigon where we discussed their works and practice. Since then, I have had the pleasure of curating their works in several exhibitions, recently ‘The Game | Viet Nam by LE Brothers’ (2016–17) at the Jim Thompson Art Center in Bangkok.
Throughout our collaboration and in-depth conversations, from their dreams and beliefs, to their relation to the history of their country, my appreciation of LE Brothers has widened from the duo as artists making art to artists making art with the desire of effecting a more embracing world. LE Brothers often revisit the past in their works as sites of personal and communal histories, employing their lookalike physical appearances as identical twins to create powerful performances, durational projects and video documentations that typically involve performative interactions with the local communities.
LE Brothers were born on April 3, 1975, in Quang Binh province in North Vietnam. In 1991, they moved to Hue, the ancient capital of Vietnam, where they currently live and work. They studied drawing and graphic design at the College of Arts, Hue University, with a foundation in traditional lacquer painting. They have never received formal education in new media and performance art, and yet their command of both is remarkable.
In time their artistic pursuits evolved and from working independently they joined forces in 2008 as LE Brothers, marking a clear shift from traditional to conceptual video and performance art. Since 2015, LE Brothers have also been experimenting with other performers, engaging the audiences with and through their collaborators, to connect individuals by their experiences, regardless of social or educational backgrounds or nationalities.
In the mixed-media and video installation ‘The Game’ (2015), LE Brothers traced their journey around Hue. “With this project, we wanted to discover Hue, which is to us the centre of the universe,” the artists shared with me during one of our conversations. The shooting of ‘The Game’ took one year to complete, in numerous public spaces and with audience interaction. LE Brothers “wanted not only locals but also tourists from around the world to see and experience the work.”
The three-part series ‘The Bridge’ (2010–16), another recent composite work, highlights the brothers’ sharp eye for video art, and unravels their investigative approach towards perfomative practices. Developed over the course of four years, ‘The Bridge’ is a five-channel video installation that explores the notion of socio-geographical divide, and the need for reconciliation, essentially in three significant locations: the Vietnamese Demilitarized Zone, established at the Geneva Conference in 1954 and today accessible to the public; the Korean Demilitarized Zone, established in 1953 and currently the most heavily militarised border in the world; and the Berlin Wall constructed in 1961 by the German Democratic Republic as a barrier between West Berlin and East Germany, which was completely demolished in 1992.
While shooting in each location, the artists invited the local communities and selected musicians, singers and performers of all nationalities to join them in impromptu as well as carefully planned performances with the aim of bridging the cultural distances between the audience and themselves, and to celebrate tolerance and diversity.
Another aspect of LE Brothers’ practice by large as art connectors is the New Space Arts Foundation, which they founded in 2008, a residency devoted to connecting local and international artists in Hue. “Our intention is to promote contemporary arts for the city of Hue in particular, and for Vietnam in general. This is achieved through artistic exchanges among international and local artists as well as the city’s local residents,” say the Le Brothers. The result of the residencies are numerous exhibitions that foreground new and challenging ideas, and that place the city of Hue takes on the international platform.
While busy preparing for their upcoming trip to Germany for the performance festival ‘Fields of Vision’ in Tübingen, where they will also present earlier video works, I ask LE Brothers, “What is the aim of your work? To generate new ideas? To revisit the past or to inspire new dreams for the future?” Succinctly and unhesitatingly, they tell me, “Our works are an inseparable part of all that. Through our art we express our desires and dreams for a better future, we share our new ideas, which may connect to the past or to the future. Like a shadow of a shadow, our art wishes to reach out and become one with the audience.”
This article was written by Loredana Pazzini-Paracciani for Art Republik.