Any image as famous, and as shocking, as Malcolm Browne’s Pulitzer Prize-winning photo of the first Buddhist monk to immolate himself in Saigon begins as a transparent window to the event pictured, a way for people all over the world to share a terrible momentary experience. But its very fame almost instantly turns it opaque. So Dinh Q. Lê, who lives and works in Vietnam, used Photoshop to stretch this image vertically and then printed it, in color, on a roll of glossy photo paper 150 feet long, as The Scroll of Thich Quang Duc. It hangs down the wall and billows in rolls halfway across the floor, with a rippling path of orange running through the middle of a background of blackish gray.
To make WTC in Four Moments, Mr. Lê took three photos of the World Trade Center—before, during, and after the September 11th attack—and one of the Freedom Tower, stretched them to a notional 347 feet, and converted each long still into a six minute video. All four videos play, with eerie, ambient sound and in perfect synchronization, on four parallel flatscreens flipped sideways. They begin on blue sky, gray sky, white mist, and rainy dark, and then what looks like a pinhole tear moves up the length of the first screen, doubles, and turns into two gray skis. On the second screen, black smoke looks like erasure or a tape error. On the third, blue streaks move through the mist. On the fourth, a white stripe spirals up on the left. Then a thin orange band splits the second screen, and quickly the colors grow more complex, becoming undulating, Gerhard Richter-like striations in purplish-black, light blue, dark blue, and green. They pass briskly from bottom to top with a motion that could equally well be smoke rising or the viewer falling.
Mr. Lê’s simple trick at once denatures and restores the impact of the original source content: You can look without queasiness, and even take aesthetic pleasure, but the color orange, because you know where it’s coming from, still makes your stomach drop.
(Through May 24, 2014)