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.
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.
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)
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.
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.
Momentarium creates situations where our very presence becomes the catalyst for shifting experiences we can integrate into our lives by fusing reality with co-created artifice.