In Heirloom Model with Scale Natural Disaster (Preserving Memories is What We Do Best), a shoddily-constructed foam core gallery model is elevated to a different status of objecthood by its gold metallic sheathing. Sitting on an old, paint-splattered art school-style stool and leaning against the wall, the sculpture is a (be)littled representation to the site in which the viewer stands, a kind of false monument to the white cube.
In Lê’s meticulously clean, hyper-real animation, rough waters lie in wait to claim metal wreckage as helicopter after helicopter falls into the sea. The helicopters are without pilots; some hover, struggling desperately to maintain air above the waters before finally giving in; some seem like lifeless masses being purged, thrown violently from a merciless sky, while still others dive into the waters manically, as if suicidal. In a spectacular, never ending display, the U.S. war machine, once symbolizing American might and technical prowess, fails over and over and over again.
To be sure, cultural objects, and the discourse surrounding them, have consistently served as pawns in our civilization’s long, ugly history of war and violence. Consider the collections of artifacts and antiquities housed in major historical museums across the Western world. These collections can be seen as a record of imperialist desire and the power to steal – often in the name of science and preservation. A weapon of nation-building, art objects are inextricably bound up with a kind of global ordering. They allow nations to claim history and shape it, to locate themselves via friend and foe alike.
The effect echoes the earnestness of the teachers – a shared desire of wanting to really get it right. In each of the post-class interviews, Lange asks the teacher and the students for feedback on the video – about whether the camera’s presence affected them, and what they thought of the videotape of the lesson – responses which guided the subsequent sessions. In Lange’s approach, then, the videos also serve as a kind of record, rather than a representation, of its own making.
The dancers’ queer movements and nonsensical gibberish, all dictated by a sense of jouissance, reflect the unintelligible, undisciplined body hovering dangerously at the edge of pre-linguistic consciousness. Clearly transacting emotions within themselves, to each other, and to us, If I Sing to You is about the body coming into language, and all the gender disciplining (bodily or otherwise) that goes along with it. And through our kinetic familiarity with the performers’ everyday actions, the performer / spectator binary is recast, our subjectivities splayed out as raw as the bodies thrusting in front of us.