Returning The Negatives

Returning The Negatives.

A shared act of redress and closure that looks at failure, appropriation and responsibility between artist, community and commissioner. Fifteen locals in Bao Loc, Vietnam were asked to document everyday things they found important for one month. San Francisco gallery goers, in turn, were enlisted in the respectful act of mailing the negatives back to the picture-takers.

PROJECT ARCHIVE
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In autumn 2007 I was invited to an artist residency in Vietnam and successfully realized a participant-driven photo documentation project with Vietnamese tea and coffee farmers. The artist residency was hosted by a multi-national commodity trading corporation and artistic director — a constellation that brought about fundamental issues on ownership and appropriation of the artwork so closely produced with members of the local community.

Returning The Negatives

300 photos of a collective photo project on display: but to whom belong the film negatives?

When the organizers of the residency program made direct claims to use the artistic outcome from this collective photo project for their own purposes, an emotional discussion arose on authorship and reproduction rights — particularly because all participating artists came self-funded into the six-week residency program.

Returning The Negatives was a way to come to terms with the power structure underlying this community art project. As the artist I opened up my process of finding closure to the visitors of ampersand international arts. By openly declaring my own wrong-doing (committing a white lie) within an art system that is often entrenched with self-interest and egos, I invited the gallery audience to actively engage in a ritual of returning 59 rolls of photo negatives to the actual creators and proprietors in Vietnam.

My Confession of a White Lie
Letter enlarged, 34" x 44" (84cm x 112cm)

Returning The Negatives

RETURNING THE NEGATIVES: On the last day of my artist residency in Vietnam the curator requested the photo negatives of my collective photo project. To ensure that the proprietry material can't be used without the creators' consent I falsely claimed that I had them already given back.


Since I couldn't be trusted anymore I asked the gallery visitors of ampersand international arts to mail the photo negatives to their creators on my behalf.

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Returning The Negatives

Gallery visitors mail back rolls of film negatives to the people of the Shadow Followers project

RETURN THE NEGATIVES
Help ensure that 59 rolls of negatives make it back to their creators!

Instructions:
1. Read the letter above.
2. Pick the envelop of the contact sheet you prefer.
3. Remove the contact sheet; sign its pink slip and put it in the drop-off box on the table.
4. Sign the green slip (you can write an optional note on the back).
5. Seal the envelop (containing green slip, negatives and ampersand postcard)
6. You are now responsible to mail the envelop at your earliest convenience.

Returning The Negatives

Each column of photos was dedicated to one lay photographer

Shadow Followers was a project which distributed creativity by giving out single-use cameras to local participants and fostering relationships over four weeks. The on-site installation featured a selection of 300 photographs (20 images per participant) that payed tribute to the empowering aspect of this shared aesthetic process.

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How Fast Your World Is Changing
Returning The Negatives was part of How Fast Your World Is Changing, an international group show that took place between March 21 and April 25, 2008 and was curated by Lori Gordon. HFYWIC offered works with a profound interest in the viewer as participant, as well as concept of reciprocation. Harrell Fletcher, Christine Hill, Hope Hilton, Jessica Landsdon, Jennifer Delos Reyes and Markuz Wernli Saito each have a practice invested in connecting with others — for art and life to intersect, inclusive of one another. If the title of the exhibition alludes to the idea of change within the boundaries of the gallery (some of the pieces did evolve over time), it also reflects on our general sense of reality.

ampersand international arts
Founded in 1999, ampersand international arts is a contemporary arts space dedicated to championing and nurturing emerging and mid-career artists and creating a critical conversation around their work. ampersand promotes intercultural dialogue and collaboration between artists, curators, & arts enthusiasts, cultivating an understanding of diverse aesthetic and cultural perspectives.

THANK YOU: LeNgoc Son (project assistant), Nguyen Tan Dat (translations), Phan Chi Mai (translations), MD Dundon (editing), Sadao Kawamura & Dung Tang Tan, Fujifilm (cameras & photo processing), Thomas Sturm (scanning), Yuka Saito (Japanese translation), Marianne Erni, Pro Helvetia — Swiss Council for the Arts; Bruno Mauro. Shadow Followers was part of The Bao Loc Project, curated by Sue Hajdu (albb Saigon), 2007.