Since Lutz Bacher’s first MATRIX exhibition in 1993, the Berkeley-based artist has become a leading figure in contemporary art; she was the subject of a retrospective at MoMA PS1 in 2009 and was included in the 2012 Whitney Biennial. MATRIX 242 presents an important but rarely seen series from 2006–07 that sheds light on the artist’s often elusive practice.
Bien Hoa is is based on a set of ten photographs Bacher discovered at a Berkeley salvage store. All of the photographs were created by an American soldier named Walter, who was stationed at Bien Hoa Air Base during the Vietnam War. Walter inscribed the backs of all but two of the pictures before mailing them home to his partner in Oakland. Bacher has enlarged and reprinted the photographs to hang above the verso of the originals, which disclose Walter’s annotations. These have a surprisingly casual tone, given what must have been the harrowing experience of being a soldier stationed in Vietnam. In some cases, Walter’s inscriptions sound almost like a tourist writing a postcard; in others, he seems to have been more concerned with the composition of the image than with the grisly content of a scene. “This is Bien Hoa looking at it from the Air Base. This is a pretty good picture. Now do you think that’s beautiful? Can you see the wire, keeping the people from attacking the Air Base? That’s what those fences are out there for.”
By strategically juxtaposing these images and texts, and placing them in a museum setting, Bacher reveals the slippery nature of perception. She prompts us to wonder, Why was Walter so concerned with the quality of his images? Why were these photographs discarded? What became of Walter?
MATRIX 242 is organized by Assistant Curator Dena Beard. The MATRIX Program at the UC Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive is made possible by a generous endowment gift from Phyllis C. Wattis and the continued support of the BAM/PFA Trustees.