The work of Los Angeles-based artist Simon Leung serves as a companion guide for examining the dislocation and disparities that are left in the aftermath of war. Pulling inspiration from objects, people, and writing that have been removed from their origins—through the effects of time, circumstance or historical violence, or through his own tactical displacements—Leung recombines these parts to form new allegories that parallel and challenge the received meanings of his source material. This amalgamation of historical specificity and against-the-grain interpretation is rendered in ways that both bestow credence to his original subjects, and open new narratives that question their previous certainty. Using video, performance, and other media, Leung obliquely reinvents the war stories of our time.
On view at CUE Art Foundation, Leung’s first solo show in New York since 1996, is a new single-channel video exploring these themes: War after War (2011). Revisiting the artist’s friend and frequent subject/collaborator Warren Niesuchowski, War After War serves as an accompaniment to the an earlier work, Warren Piece (in the ‘70s) from 1993. Niesuchowski, born in a displaced-persons camp in Germany, immigrated to the United States as a child, only to leave again when he became an army deserter during the Vietnam War. During the last decade he has become, in Leung’s words, a “cosmopolitan nomad”, often spending his time as an international houseguest without a permanent home of his own. These periods of transience in Niesuchowski’s life, paired with his original displacement, provided timely inspiration for Leung – it is not coincidence that both of these pieces were created during times of war – the Gulf War and Iraq/Afghan Wars respectively. Indeed both works function as meditations on the dislocation— physical, psychological, ethical—that wars create. In War After War, the viewer follows Niesuchowski, playing a version of himself, as he wanders through a library and guesthouse of possibly of his hosts, where he reads, rest, sings “leftist songs” in several languages, and reflects on his collaborations with Leung over the past twenty years. Throughout the video are voiceover readings from Immanuel Kant’s essay “Perpetual Peace: A Philosophical Sketch”, a text which considers the possibility of a world beyond war. For Kant, “peace” is a difficult, if not impossible ideal, given that that “the state of nature is rather a state of War.” This is where Leung’s work steps in – taking its audience to the place where ethical ideals and war’s remains look upon themselves, and we are left to consider the ramifications and to imagine otherwise.