Thursday, August 6, 2009



Two Pieces, 2008


……."at the gates of a labyrinth, ready to lose myself in the city and this story."
Sophie Calle.

Back in VienChan red leaves falling, falling through the shadow’s night… into the everlasting season… riding my bicycle along the dusty streets; the poetry book in my basket is a tenuous thread which connects me to that other city, another home: Melbourne… MAKING LISTS FOR FRANCES HODGKINS (Aukland University Press, 2007) by Paula Green; placed in my hand when I leave Collected Works Bookshop. I am inspired by this New Zealand poet who names artists I have been reading about (and sometimes viewing their work) while I have been in Victoria….. Frances Hodgkins, painter ( at Modern Britain, NGV) Sophie Calle, performance photographer, Anne Hamilton, installation artist. Reading REPOSITIONINGS by Frederick Garber, the essay on Sophie Calle. The title of her photographic, performance piece, Suite Vienna, I read as Suite Vientienne… Who is following who? ...I imagine Sophie Calle following me about the quiet, and at night the very quiet, streets of Vientienne…..clicking her camera……
I ride down and around a lane to locate an art gallery after I see a new sign. Houses enclose the narrow dirt path. Children play. People watch me from their doorways. Saturday afternoon clear sky blue quiet. Khamsouk Gallery 1; the work of one “Senior Artist”, Khamsouk Keomingmuang. The subject, Lao people, Lao culture, in a style best described as impressionist, a popular form here. A gallery for one artist; a life time of paintings, sketches, hand held images on mulberry paper. I am the only visitor. Lone Gallery hideaway …riding away, retracing my path I meet another cyclist where the lane turns….I wonder if he is the senior artist! Late afternoon dreamy light reflects back the rust red colours of the laneway houses……the cyclist turns his head to watch me disappear as I ride out of the lane.
Early morning light I notice a wall graffiti, the first I have ever seen other cities called Graffiti Art! I stop and try to read the muted text of green and yellow embellishments on peeling plaster over brick. The artists sign off in a blue cloud….floating away… Mack, Rip, Abfa, Awnsk…is crew; Toronto , Canada..from the rose, red, white, blue I can only decipher ASK THE QUESTION. So silent in this morning air, clear white, writing in my notebook, I am aware someone is standing by Ong Teu Temple wall, watching.
The thread unwinding all the way from Melbourne to riding around wondering about the interconnectedness of cultures...looking for connections… Paula Green writes for Anne Hamilton, "the words that wound off as a continuous line to be rewound"….. the more I unwind………another new sign : prefaced with the phrase, oriental bookshop…a Lao bookshop appropriating the language of the colonialists.
The old police station I liked as it always was from when I first arrived in this city; a shutter- windowed, faded curtained, faded charm has succumbed to the Vientienne building construction site mania... now reduced to a rubble of concrete blocks…sculptural blocks... a Rachel Whitehead building imprint….
At the Monument Bookshop yet another photographer portraying another version of “ethnic" adhering to the exotic…. I have tried to take in all these exhibitions...recording the photographers' names in my note book...but this day when I see yet again the nameless portraits of faces staring out...I decide to not even register the photographer’s name…..(in taking time to photograph these portraits why do they not ask for the subject's name?)... the photographers mesh into one...the faces into one.... Walking away...behind me the camera clicks....
Riding on into the sunlit colours of the dust, walls….absorbing the sun…age old sun on age old doors, windows, bricks and palm trees near the temple….. My head in Victoria, Melbourne…I make the threads as I wind back into this place.....….


The art of luminous night fire flying fairy lights along the Mekong….
I live on the last stretch of bumpy, pot-holed, muddy, dirt, dark at night road along the Mekong River, which is only a fast twelve minute walk from the ‘city centre’ of Vientienne. A rare patch of riverside vegetation it is also one of the remaining habitats (endangered) for fireflies. When I step out of my gate in the evening, the nearby Mongol Riverside Hotel and restaurant, beyond my patch of dark, seems to be even more festooned with tiny fairy lights, and the acoustic singing, coming from the restaurant balancing over the river, seems even more romantic …being some type of off shoot of the local Issan/Mor lan music which can be narrative, fast, at times almost hysterical but more than often a romantic, lilting, longing song from far away in time as voices across water…. Before I reach the corner where the Mongol is and all the fairy lights, I pass through the darkness by the vegetation on one side which skirts the river's edge and the other side a silent, empty house with a scrambled abandoned garden and an even more abandoned spirit house. It is while walking through this dark patch, dodging pot holes and bumps, and sometimes stepping into a muddy puddle, in the midst of this darkness, I see the first firefly...then another...and and out of the abandoned garden, along the river's edge… The fairy lights form a beacon towards which I walk... One night, walking along this stretch, I heard a most exquisite voice coming from the blackness of that garden. A voice that seemed to have fallen out of a Mor lan music song, a lost voice…but in that moment an ancient song from across the water. Once I heard a recording of Lao voices, songs which had been collected in the 60’s by David Fanshawe; he had heard these voices singing one night down by the river… It was a faraway sound…and here was this one opera voice, Mor lan style…with the fireflies… When I later described the voice to my Lao neighbours they said they were feeling shivers down their spine and assured me that it could only be a ghost.....

"Mor lan music is essentially flexible melodies tailored to the tones of words. Traditionally the tone was developed by the performer as an interpretation of poems and accompanied by Khaen instruments (bamboo pipes)." from article in The Vientiane Times, August, 2009.]



Anonymous said...

Catherine O'briens Two Pieces 2008
revisiting this post, was impressed the first time. . . this time want to say . . . lovely writing, very evocative takes the reader right into the place and mood, like being there, breathing the atmosphere.

Chris Barron said...

Thank you Catherine for remembering the late David Fanshawe ... I had the same experience of hearing his collection of African pieces before going to the Sudan.
Your writing is so visual, inviting .... great work of recording, just like Fanshawe, carries the essence.