Returning The Negatives: Comments.
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.
Returning The Negatives was a way to come to terms with the power structure underlying the community art project Shadow Followers was part of. 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.
On Friday night (March 21st, 2008) the exhibit How Fast Your World Is Changing opened at Ampersand International Arts, 1001 Tennessee Street, in San Francisco. The opening reception was a lively event showcasing the work of Harrell Fletcher, Christine Hill, Hope Hilton, Jessica James Lansdon, Jennifer Delos Reyes and Markuz Wernli-Saitô.
In contrast to most of the gallery openings I've been to lately, this exhibit featured work that directly requested the viewers to take an active role in the work. It was less about gazing and more about participating, and as such, blurred the boundaries of a traditional art viewing experience. Curator Lori Gordon sets up opportunities that intentionallydeviate from the viewers expected experience.
Of all the interesting work presented, there were three pieces that I found myself continuing to think about: Hope Hilton's project Walk with Me, Jennifer Delos Reyes's piece Choral Society (for Lori Gordon), and Markus Wernli-Saito's project Returning the Negatives. Each one of these works asked me to engage in the experience in an almost invasive way, allowing me a participatory role in the outcome.
Returning the Negatives by Markuz Wernli-Saitô is perhaps the piece that I connected the most with. Wernli-Saitô spent 5 weeks working with a village of tea and coffee farmers in Bao Loc, Vietnam, providing villagers with a one-time-use camera, and requesting that they photograph their days in two hour increments. The villagers were the photographers. The artist meet with them weekly, encouraged their efforts, and formed a lasting relationships with the community. In his presentation at Ampersand, he created a mosaic of prints and profiles of each photographer and allowed their stories to unfold on the wall.
What do you think about art that involves you in the act of creation?
Your project was so well thought thru and executed going back full circle to the originators. it must feel very fulfilling.
You really do inspire me. And I think it was just so much fun for people to get a chance to really participate. You could see how carefully they followed the wonderful directions.
Looks very cool, Markuz. I like the idea of having gallery visitors mail back the negatives.
Kane, San Jose
This project is so great. Did you hear back from the curator? I'm interested to know how / what she thought.
Jean Marie Casparian, Amherst
I looked at the photographs with a lot of joy. Among them are a few very precious images. What impressed me was that so many photos showed truly happy people. It is maybe a cliché that people who live in very modest conditions tend to be happier. But these photos demonstrate that small village communities are still socially intact and harmonious. Your project description brought up certain images in me but seeing the actual result was really remarkable.
Thomas Sturm, San Francisco
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), 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.