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, Dinh Q. 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.