Cactus Desert Thirst (solo exhibition, Ho Chi Minh city, Vietnam, 2018)

Artist’s Statement

Cactus Desert Thirst is a project that materialises the healing wounds of the misfit by the use of a mixture of paintings, video and sculptures. Lies behind the works is the inner anxiety of the artist’s attempt to reconnect with the world after a period of alienation caused by external conflicts. By constructing an intoxicated fictional character, named Water, the artist places herself in the position as a sick person, who is in need of a catharsis. Water is a recurring motif in the artist’s life and work; tears and blood of the people contain water; water is symbolic of the ebb and flow of emotions… The exhibition is a way to reconcile with a state of being that is one’s extreme spiritual thirst in a dystopian desert devoid of hope. The artist creates a sanctuary where her artmaking rituals are prayers for water to flow through “the desert of her mind.” Deeply influenced and comforted by mythology, she offers a series of distorted masks inspired by the imagery of different mythological tales on Water God(desses), extended paintings and performance as a statement of the bleak experience of spiritual thirst and her therapeutic progression.


Curatorial Statement

“There are reptiles in the reservoir of my mind. Before there was water in the reservoir but a storm has dried everything out. Emptied. Desperation is a desert land I live in. No water here and my thirst tells me I am at the end of my rope.” - excerpt from the artist’s journal.

Cactus Desert Thirst attempts to play around the grey zone of art practices: between conceptual practice and the experimentation of materials; within the process of healing personal alienation by seeking order in larger society with mythology and spiritual beliefs; and between making art for aesthetics’ sake and making art as a therapeutic tool.

Derived from the wish to rejuvenate from a period of loss and exhaustion, Lan Anh transforms the exhibition space into her healing room that is filled with extended paintings and sculptures. The project consists of two parts: mixed-media installation followed by a performance. By allegorising herself to a fictional character, the artist exposes her vulnerability in the quest for identity amidst global chaos and calls for the need to move on from conflicts. The performance is thus carried out as the imminent action in response to her prayers inspired by Japanese water cleansing rituals. By casting mythological figures into distorted masks, the artist poses a question on the role of spiritual worship, both as an individual’s and a collective belief.

The project is a continuum of Lan Anh’s exploration in styles, forms and materials, to exceed beyond the mere abstract creation, to shift back and forth between conceptualism and art therapy. By doing that, the artist wishes to focus on not just the final product but also the process of making art itself.

The audience is encouraged to open up themselves to the space as not just only a place for a showcase of artworks, but also as a transformation of a state of mind, and a healing process of an individual.

The show is curated by Vicky and hosted by Chaosdowntown Cháo.

Exhibition dates: May 18th - June 19th, 2018.

All works are available for sale.   35% of profit will be donated to environmental NGO ChangeVN

Rituals Imitate Nature (ongoing)

Jealous of Roses (ongoing)

a poetic narrative in the form of digital paintings and photographic documentations of installations made with found objects

Yosemite Place (2016)

Bureau of Immigrants (2016, 01:28 mins, video)

Some texts from this video have been taken directly from Kara Walker's "Bureau of Refugees." The rest of the texts have been composed by Hoa Nguyen.
The voiceover is reading from a poem that I’ve written, entitled "Healing from anger from (bereavement)." Poem is published in the Stanford Journal of Asian American Studies and can be found here

I have filmed my friend, Laetitia Walendom, perusing Carrie Mae Weems’ dyptich “You Became Playmate to the Patriarch,” “And Their Daughter” (attached below) that are installed at the SF MOMA, to create a narrative suggestive of Laetitia’s meditation on the history of Black womanhood and intergenerational lineage.
I had written about Carrie Mae Weems’ work in my senior thesis in Comparative Studies in Race & Ethnicity ("Dismantling Myths: Reverting the Misrepresentations of the Black Female Body in Contemporary Art") and the significance of her contribution to the field as a Black female photographer. In “The Kitchen Series,” her photographs contain a poetic and tender yet earnest melancholy and are powerful commentaries on the Black family household and their domestic life. Laetitia Walendom is a classmate from Stanford who is working on her M.A. in African and African American Studies. She and I have had many conversations about race in America and the history of racial violence, especially sexual violence against Black female slaves in the antebellum South. I have invited her to perform in my film, “Bureau of Immigrants,” which is a tribute to Kara Walker’s “Bureau of Refugees.” The film is edited based on our shared political conversations.

Carrie Mae Weems' You Became a Playmate to the Patriarch/And Their Daughter , 1995-1996, C-print with sandblasted text on glass, 26 1/2" × 22 3/4"

Carrie Mae Weems' You Became a Playmate to the Patriarch/And Their Daughter, 1995-1996, C-print with sandblasted text on glass, 26 1/2" × 22 3/4"

Goldfish and Pipeline (Dakota Access Pipeline protests) #NoDAPL (2017, 03:02, video)

I started making this by layering footages of the Standing Rock Dakota Access Pipeline Opposition and of other ecosystems thriving in water; this is a film meditating on the precious value of water and the political wars that have been fought over it. Dedicated to Mia Ritter-Whittle and Malcolm Al Zaabi and their political acts. I have been keeping myself updated on what activists from different backgrounds have been working on at Standing Rock Indian Reservation. I have chosen to abstain from the protests due to fear of facing police brutality. However, I still felt an urgent need to meditate on and respond to the events of Standing Rock. 

Videography by BBC News, Lan Anh Lê and Mary Kalcic, edited by Lan Anh Lê (Fair Use Video of BBC News' footages - for educational and artistic purposes)

Goldfish Dreams (summer and fall 2016)

Photographic recordings of performance pieces / multi-media

Goldfish Dreams (0:50, video, 2016)

I made this movie by editing the footages that I recorded of a performance piece that I have directed, working with non-actors who play fictional characters inside a pop-up installation space that I have set up in my studio. The installation as a dream-like, fantastical setting tells a story, through abstract paintings on fabric and canvas used as costumes worn by the characters... The texts printed or painted on top of the costume breathe a story into the installation space, which the characters interact with to add figurative characterization. The performance is directed according to experimental screenplays that I’ve written.

Crocodile Tears, Oakland Twenty Three (2016)
Abstraction Series, drawings by Lananh Lê 

"This project is a series of abstract drawings I've done throughout an elongated and challenging period of growth inspired by healing from past triggers, including intergenerational traumas, cultural shocks, the traumas of racism & patriarchal violence, etc. The series chronologically charts the psychological landscapes through which I have been traversing in time, to make an arrival at my artistic practice from a place of living in modern neoliberal America as a queer female-identified Vietnamese immigrant... Although I have intended this project to be a space and time to experiment only with black inked lineworks, the series includes many pieces in multi-hued watercolor and acrylics. 
Some of the drawings are accompanied by poetic recordings of my musing and meditations. The abstract gesture is a form of meditation itself, heavily inspired by Eastern spiritualism and calligraphy."

The project started out with a meeting at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts (YBCA) with artist Xxavier Edward Carter, who was working on his performance "Exercising A Popular Fiction: Black Spring to Black Summer" for the ICI exhibition entitled, "The Ocean after Nature." At the time, I was working with Jeff Chang, Roberta Uno, and the Institute for Diversity in the Arts (IDA) cohort on our research project on Future Aesthetics (Ford Foundation, ArtchangeUS). During this period of living in a gentrifying Bay Area, I started socializing with a well-connected circle of Southeast Asian artists and scholars. Influenced by these visionaries, I started to make works which engaged with my Southeast Asian heritage. 

A voicemail with love to Tina (01:03 mins, video, 2016)

I made a video postcard for my friend Tina, in honoring the holiday spirit and the kind customs of gifting.

"Wet Ghost Swimming" (01:02, video, 2016)

A short experimental film, based on the short story "Wet Ghost Swimming" which I have written about my grandparents' past lives as freedom fighters in the Mekong Delta during the revolution against French colonial occupation of Vietnam

The Kitchen Scene (02:03, experimental animation, 2016)

a set design quickly made in the form of experimental animation, named after the space where femininity can be practiced by many different individuals, women, men, and third-gendered people: The Kitchen. #virtualreality #experimentalanimation

I can't Breathe (2015-6)
Abstraction Series, drawings by Lananh Lê

(various sizes) mixed media, in response to social cataclysms specifically related to Black Lives Matter movement + resistance against racial profiling and racist police brutality. 

Endless Meanders (6:41 min, video, 2015)
Experimental Film "Endless Meanders" 

Writer, Director, Cinematographer

The experimental film entitled “Endless Meanders” was made as a project for Cherrie Moraga's "Performing Identities" (Stanford University Department of Theater & Performance Studies , 2015), and as a reflection on writings from the anthology This Bridge Called My Back: Writings by Radical Women of Color. dir. Lan-Anh Lê, 2015

Brief synopsis: The film explores the possibility of queer love as a healer from the pains of sexual violence and colonialism. White supremacy is embodied in an all white suit to convey a sinister enigma. Spiritual rituals from my own Southeast Asian culture have been appropriated into scenes depicting queer sexuality. Dynamism and restraint in the bodies are intertwined to convey what “freedom” means in a colonized world. 

Excerpt from the screenplay: “Now that you're gone, what part of me do you live in? What is beautiful and worth pursuing: dream-like vignettes of A Story in the Process of Self-Alienation, endless projects on staying true and the constant churning and re-making of her identity. The attributes, sugary wholesome person-hoods, bitter shards of marginalization that she have adopted, swallowed, discarded or internalized, are all worth revising. The act of Surviving Pain and creating artistic expressions about and out of that experience of surviving. Beholden to caretakers like an unyielding grandmother. Gratitude shaped by a distinct cultural upbringing as elegant as antique blue ceramics. You underestimate the toxicity of pride, until you live the life that has been slapped onto your colored body. Years of wars and ancestral history can truly open otherwise ignorant eyes. Our ancestors are with us as the thunders murmur… Our ancestors are always here with us,…"

Mirrors in the Morning (6:58, video, 2015)
Short Experimental Film

Co-writer, Actor

Mirrors in the Morning was made as a project for Black Independent Cinema (Stanford University Film and Media Studies, 2015). Script written by Lananh Lê and Tulio Ospina. dir. Tulio Ospina, 2015

Adorn (5:21, video, 2015)
Short Experimental Film


Lananh Lê, Natasha Tamate Weiss, and Atheel Elmalik collaborated to make the film entitled Adorn for Cherrie Moraga's "Performing Identities" (Stanford University Department of Theater & Performance Studies , 2015), and as a reflection on writings from the anthology This Bridge Called My Back: Writings by Radical Women of Color. dir. Natasha Tamate Weiss, 2015

The Lemon of Pink (2015)
(24"x26") acrylic, spraypaint on found wood

(24"x26") acrylic, spraypaint on found wood

"The Lemon of Pink" is a modern interpretation of the magical ability of the Japanese daruma doll to bring its owner the fortitude to accomplish goals. The painting's experimental title, the handling of colors and paint textures combine to create a dreamlike suggestion of a subconscious and supernatural dream reality that coexists with reality as it truly exists. The choice of wood as my material is an attempt to create a nontransient artifact that is as spiritually valuable as an amulet like the daruma doll.

The photographs and the painting feature the same subjects. Taking a photograph of real subjects posing beside their painted representation highlights the blurred distinction between what's real and what's not. It is partly a reflection on making several pieces of artwork that nurture each other's depth and meaning.


Transnational Nostalgia (2015)
(5"x8") - Collages on Paper by Lananh Lê