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BINH DANH: THE GHOSTS OF KHMER: LIGHT AND MEMORY
Meet Binh Danh Wednesday, April 4th: 2pm-7pm // Thursday, April 5th: 11am-1pm
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*Meet Binh Danh at Booth 604* Wednesday, April 4th from 2pm - 7pm Thursday, April 5th from 11am - 1pm
BINH DANH THE GHOSTS OF KHMER: LIGHT AND MEMORY
In the comfortable histories of our youth, genocide seemed an answered question; the retrograde horrors of a generation removed, a closed book. A decade before the present moment of uncertainty in our global existence, the photographer Binh Danh refused this pat conclusion. Danh’s early work compiled the Khmer Rouge regime's eerie death portraits—taken in the moments before victims were executed—and transformed them into a living archive of proliferation.
In The Ghosts of Khmer: Light and Memory, we are invited to explore the issue of human individuality and responsibility, and the ways those concepts shift over time, in both the ethereal reflective surfaces of Danh’s large-scale daguerreotypes and the images’ paradoxical subject matter.
The reflective surfaces of Danh’s daguerreotypes act as a mirror, and the portraits are created at human proportions: “You will see the leaf and the portrait,” says Danh, “and you will see your own face overlaying the face of the victim.”
Danh’s daguerreotype plates are glimmering tributes to the photographic moment, seeming to capture in monumental scale a world left behind, and a glimpse at the extremes of our tenuous existence.
“With Angkor Wat,” says Danh, “here is this beautiful architectural achievement of art and religion and Buddhist culture. And it was through the beauty of the Angkor Wat temple that the Khmer Rouge emerged, as the regime sought above all to return Cambodia to its glory days. In order to do that, they had to remove anyone who did not go along with their ideology. This is a theme I return to: the darkness and beauty in our history.”
The artist’s insight came from one of his visits to Tuol Sleng Museum. Danh saw an enlarger that a Khmer Rouge photographer had abandoned under the staircase in one of the buildings. This enlarger haunted the artist: “This enlarger had projected the dead into light, and for a moment, their likeness became photons. It occurs to me that my daguerreotype plate also projects itself on the wall or the floor of the gallery, a photographic image, like the way an enlarger would.” These photons, which literally mean “visible light,” resurrect the dead in a sense and liberate them from the materiality of the original photographs.
Whether in the stark chambers of injustice or the luminous expressions of monumental gods, Danh’s images record a secret energy at play in all human endeavors. As we contemplate the mysterious machinations of human destruction, we cannot lose sight of the generative mystery of the Buddha’s form, rising up from the forest floor.
Artwork Images: First: Binh Danh, Untitled #1, from the series, "Aura of Botanical Specimen", 2017, photogram on Daguerreotype, 7" x 5" plate / 11.25" x 9.25" framed, Unique Second: Binh Danh, Reflection of Angkor Wat Temples, Siem Reap, 2017, Daguerreotype, 10" x 12" plate / 15" x 16.75" framed, Edition of 3, 3AP Third: Binh Danh, Photo Enlarger at Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum, 2017, Daguerreotype, 10" x 8" plate / 14.75" x 12.5" framed, Edition of 3, 3AP