The Colony

The Colony is part of The Artangel Collection. Since its initial presentation in 2016, the work has been shown a number of times including at Ikon Gallery, Birmingham in 2016, at Void, Derry in 2016 and Shetland Arts in 2018

  • Artist: Dinh Q. Lê 
  • Title: The Colony
  • Date: 2016
  • Medium: Five-channel video installation, three projections, two monitors, colour, sound
  • Dimensions: Overall dimensions variable
  • Duration: Various durations

With “The Colony,” Lê cleverly weaves the past and the present together, delivering a film that discloses today’s various and dissimulated forms of imperialism. — Francesco Dama, Hyperallergic, 28 March 2016

The Colony is a five-screen video installation filmed by Vietnamese artist Dinh Q. Lê on the Chincha Islands off the coast of Peru. Home to huge colonies of birds, by the mid 19th century the islands had become mountains of guano. Discovered to be a potent fertiliser, guano quickly became a valuable natural resource. British merchants controlled the trade, using bonded Chinese labourers to harvest under unforgiving conditions. Meanwhile Spanish and Peruvian forces scrambled for control of the islands and war broke out. In 1856 the United States Congress passed the Guano Act enabling it to seize islands around the world. This geo-political conflict was abruptly halted once chemical fertilisers were developed at the start of the twentieth century and the trade of guano collapsed. The islands were recolonised by the birds. 

For The Colony, Lê has filmed the islands from a number of different perspectives, a boat circles the land while drones give a bird’s eye view. Accompanied by Daniel Wohl’s elegiac soundtrack, Lê's films capture the contemporary labourers involved in the backbreaking work, transporting and loading the guano onto boats, echoing the burden of their predecessors. The arid and unforgiving landscape and the drones’ unmanned explorations of empty and abandoned buildings, with their traces of former inhabitants, leave viewers in no doubt of the human suffering and isolation that haunt the island landscapes. 

Image: Dinh Q Lê, The Colony, 2016 (detail) at Ikon Gallery, Birmingham, 2016. Photograph: Stuart Whipps

at Shetland Arts

Lerwick, 01 February - 9 March 2018

The Colony was presented by Shetland Arts as part of 'Beyond Bonhoga' the organisation's offsite programme of visual art exhibitions in locations around the Shetland Islands. Lê’s three-screen installation that explores the effect of the guano trade on the inhabitants and landscape of the Chincha islands where it is mined took on a new resonance when presented in Shetland, a place that has its own history of dependence on a single commodity, and has a similarly isolated island landscape dominated by seabird colonies.

Image: Dinh Q. Lê, The Colony 2016 installed in Lerwick, Shetland in 2018. Photo: Jenny Leask


at Void

Derry, 14 May - 2 July 2016

Dinh Q. Lê's video installation The Farmers and The Helicopters (2006) was included in Spring Watching Pavillion, a group exhibition of contemporary Vietnamese artists held at Void in 2015. Following the success of that exhibition. Lê was invited to return to Void to present The Colony as a solo exhibition in the summer of 2016. 

Image: Dinh Q Lê, The Colony, 2016 (detail) at Void, Derry 2016. Photograph: Paola Bernardelli

at Ikon Gallery

Birmingham, 27 January - 3 April 2016

It's the Earth, but not as we know it. — Graham Young, Birmingham Mail, 28 January 2016

The Ikon Gallery co-commissioned The Colony, and the work had its initial presentation at the gallery in early 2016. Presented in the first floor galleries, Daniel Wohl's eerie soundtrack swirled over the three large scale projections of footage from the islands, and two flat screen monitors installed on the floor, which showed confrontations in the South China Sea.

Image: Dinh Q Lê, The Colony, 2016 (detail) at Ikon Gallery, Birmingham, 2016. Photograph: Stuart Whipps

Previous Presentations

Since the launch of The Artangel Collection, The Colony has been exhibited at: