When I moved to Luang Prabang, Laos, in 2017, I had been creating wall sculptures from street trash for about six months. In Laos I worked as a volunteer in the Australian Volunteers for International Development program, which was funded by the Australian government.
I wasn’t sure whether I would have any time there for making art, but just in case, I brought along my glue gun. Luckily, I found plenty of trash to use as raw material. I was also able to eke out some space to work in my small room that overlooked the Nam Khan River.
How different the trash in Luang Prabang
Luang Prabang trash was very different from Melbourne trash. Melbourne has lots of building and construction going on, so I find lots of nails, bolts, nuts and screws on the streets. Because I live near a main road, I also find squished lug nuts, brake pads, and other car and bike parts. And then, of course, there are the street cleaner brush bristles, oodles of them.
Luang Prabang doesn’t have as much metal on the streets as in Melbourne. A lot of the metal building materials, if they are in useable condition, get reused.
However, on the main street, I would occasionally find pieces of metal that looked like monkey faces. Initially I had no idea what they were. Later I figured out that they were the bases of the marquee tent poles at the night market.
There were also keys of various sizes. Some came from the hordes of motor bikes buzzing the streets. Others were no longer useful in broken locks on pulldown doors.
A plastic nirvana
Nonetheless, Luang Prabang is plastic nirvana. Blue plastic water bottle lids are everywhere. Lime green and lurid orange bits and bobs of plastic are also common. Most get imported from China or Vietnam. Plastic spoons and forks abound as well, in all shapes and sizes.
In effect, Luang Prabang was a found object assemblage sculptor’s paradise, if the found object assemblage sculptor was into plastic. Previously in Melbourne, I hadn’t been. In Luang Prabang, I rethought and relented, and decided that plastic would do.
So I picked up plastic (and some bits of metal), and glued and glued. The question was: What would I do with the works I made? There were too many and they weighed too much to take them back to Melbourne.
As a volunteer, I was not allowed to undertake any paid work—which would include selling art. But it didn’t stop me from holding an exhibition, called ‘From the Streets of Luang Prabang’, which resulted in a win-win.
Exhibition at the Lao Friends Children’s Hospital
The Lao Friends Children’s Hospital allowed me to exhibit my works, 45 in all, at their visitor centre. In return, anyone who made a donation to the hospital was able to choose one of them to take home when the exhibition ended.
The full exhibition is on Instagram. Use the hashtag #nancydeelaoexhibit.
The hospital made several hundred dollars in donations through the exhibition. I was pleased that I had been able to turn junk from the streets into funds for such a good cause.