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Exhibition presents an important but rarely seen series by Lutz Bacher
Lutz Bacher: Bien Hoa, 2006–07 (detail); inkjet print mounted on aluminum; 24 x 36 in.; courtesy of Ratio 3, San Francisco.

BERKELEY, CA.- The Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive presents Lutz Bacher / MATRIX 242. Now a leading figure in contemporary art, Bacher had her first BAM/PFA MATRIX exhibition in 1993. She has had recent solo exhibitions at MoMA PS1 and Kunstverein München and was included in the 2012 Whitney Biennial.

Many of Bacher’s works utilize found objects in unexpected ways. This series, Bien Hoa (2006–07), originated with a collection of Vietnam-era photographs discovered in a Berkeley salvage store.

Large inkjet reproductions of the black-and-white pictures float above handwritten notes written on the backs of the original prints. A man, known only as Walter, stationed at Vietnam’s Bien Hoa Air Force Base in 1969, is both the author of the notes and, frequently, the subject of the photographs. Viewers find Walter posing at a military desk with his section chief, in an armed helicopter, in sandbagged barracks, and at gunpoint “surrendering” to a Vietnamese woman. Other photographs depict the bleakness of military life during wartime—burned-out helicopters, fire drills, and base fences.

In the museum setting, Walter’s inscriptions—originally intended for an intimate audience—take on new meanings. His comments have a surprisingly casual tone, given his circumstances as a soldier stationed in Vietnam. At times, Walter’s notes 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. Bacher’s enlargements invite us to hone in on these details and scrutinize the photographs aesthetically, as Walter directs: “This is a practice session that the Fire Department has every now and then. They are practicing on a burning helicopter. I messed up on my border at the top of the picture.”

Despite being composed of discarded photographs, Bien Hoa resonates as a pivotal description of a fraught moment in United States history. In exhuming these images and aligning her voice with Walter’s, Bacher recontextualizes her source material, opening it to interpretation and resisting any sense of its historical cohesion.

Lutz Bacher has had solo exhibitions at Kunstverein München, Munich; P.S.1 Contemporary Art Center, New York; and the Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis. She was recently included in the 2012 Whitney Biennial in New York and previously participated in group shows at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; the Walker Art Center, Minneapolis; and the New Museum of Contemporary Art, New York. Bacher lives and works in Berkeley and New York City.

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