Turning the Camera on U.S 

The latest exhibit at Solvent Space takes a startling look at war.

More than just a warning, the sign gives us an indication that we're about to witness not only the behavior of some American soldiers during the Vietnam War, but also how this behavior has informed a whole culture about Americans in general. These images will no doubt come as a shock to those of us who are uncomfortable that a war with such derogatory implications has been named after us.

The American War, as the Vietnamese call it, is a show that documents an exhibition at the War Remnants Museum in Ho Chi Minh City via photography. Actually, photography of photography — each of the 70-plus images represents a photo and caption of a corresponding image shot with the artist Harrell Fletcher's own digital camera. Fletcher spent a month in Vietnam in 2005 as part of an artist retreat. He was so affected by the horrifying imagery he encountered at the museum that he felt compelled to represent what he'd seen by way of a traveling exhibition in the states.

The photographs are hung tightly packed in a procession along the gallery walls, which creates a montage effect — much like the nightly news circa 1969 minus the editing of graphic content. The scenes, most of them far too striking to describe with words, depict American G.I.s committing atrocities and the Vietnamese victims of those atrocities. In addition, as testimony to the numerous Vietnamese people still living with the consequences of the American War, a group of photographs illustrates victims of birth defects resulting from American wartime use of chemical defoliants and herbicides. Many of these victims were born in the late '70s and early '80s, years after the war's end.

Throughout Fletcher's career as an artist, the participation of others has been a crucial element of his work. In keeping with this, Fletcher invited anyone wishing to join in a discussion about experiences directly or indirectly related to the Vietnam War to the gallery April 1. As part of the exhibition, the event demonstrated that sometimes art can be most constructive when the artist steps out of the way. S

"The American War" is up through April 15 at Solvent Space in Plant Zero at Hull and Fourth streets. The gallery is open Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays, noon to 4 p.m. (except holidays).


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