In a metal workshop in Shanghai, the artist Danh Vo is in the process of having a full-scale copy of Bartholdi’s 1886 Statue of Liberty recreated. However, the intention is that the pieces will not be connected together, but will remain in parts and disconnected segments. And not only will the pieces remain unconnected, but different groupings of the pieces will be exhibited in different sites across the world. The installation, “We the People,” has already been exhibited in Barcelona, Chicago, New York, Bangkok, Kassel, and Paris. Presently 110 pieces are on display at the National Gallery of Denmark where, over the course of the year-long exhibition, some pieces will move out into other exhibits and new pieces will join. Only 50% of the replica has been completed.
Danh Vo’s piecemeal re-creation of the Statue of Liberty is a powerful statement of the immigrant experience. Vo fled Vietnam with his family in 1979, when he was four, and was picked up by a Danish container vessel in the Pacific. Though their original goal was to come to the United States, they were granted asylum in Denmark and became Danish citizens. Vo has been haunted and intrigued by this almost random immigrant redirection, as well as what determines cultural and political identity. A significant meta piece of the exhibit is the itinerant, impermanent, and constantly changing pieces of the exhibit as a literal reminder of the immigrant experience, as well.
This is not the first time that Vo has dealt with dislocation. His “Les fleurs d’interieur” (2009) displays one of the 19th century chandeliers, that Vo carefully dismantled (before the room was renovated), which hung in the room at the Hotel Majestic in Paris where the Peace Treaty between the United States, North and South Vietnam was signed in 1973. The dislocation of the contextual, the beauty and the intricacy of the cut glass, and the poignant closure and painful history it oversaw create a powerful tension (as well as including the French involvement)— just as the pieces of the Statue of Liberty and its symbolic hope and embrace of difference, are dismantled and constantly reconfigured in “We the People.”
xx(photographs by Nils Klinger)