From the Streets of Vientiane

In September 2019, I worked with a cultural group and a wine bar in Vientiane, Laos, to run an art benefit. This is how it all came about.

The trash of Vientiane

I lived and worked as a volunteer in Vientiane, Laos, from May to September 2019. While I was there, I selectively picked up trash from the streets, as I always do, in order to create wall sculptures.

The trash in Vientiane comprises plastic, plastic and more plastic. Drink bottles, cups, straws and bags proliferate in the gutters and on the footpaths.

However, amongst this real trash were some treasures. This included unusually shaped pieces of both shiny and rusted metal.

I also found some interesting, though small, backing materials. These included ceramic tiles, varnished ply, metal sheeting and painted veneer.

My make-shift studio

I lived in a small apartment with no studio space. I made do, converting my loungeroom coffee table into a sorting and storage facility.

I also used the coffee table as a studio for assembling and gluing. In this limited area, I was able to create 12 small works.

Holding an art benefit

Whenever I work in Lao, I want to give back in some way. This is because the country has so little, but it has nonetheless been so welcoming to me.

This year I chose to support the Cultural Studies Series. This informal group provides monthly lectures about Lao culture and also supports cultural projects.

Sponsoring a book for young adults

For their current project, the Cultural Studies Series was sponsoring publication of the book The Pen Reflects My Life. It will be published in the Lao language by Big Brother Mouse.

The publisher’s website describes the book as follows: “These stories and personal essays were written by young people in Laos, including college and high school students. They represent the hopes, loves and pain of young people in Laos today.”

Planning the exhibition

The Secret Art and Wine Bar agreed to hold my art exhibition as a benefit. Misouda Heuangsoukkhoun (I just called her Mimi) was an amazing curator. She planned the whole exhibition.

The exhibition was called ‘From the Streets of Vientiane’. The works on display are shown in the column to the right.

Mimi ran the exhibition as a silent auction. She also arranged refreshments and provided wine at discounted prices. On top of her fantastic organisational abilities, she was great fun to work with.

Launch at The Secret Art and Wine Bar

The Australian Ambassador to Laos, His Excellency Mr Jean-Bernard Carrasco, launched the exhibition. I was pleased to learn from his talk that, in addition to supporting Australian artists in Lao, the embassy promotes Lao artists more widely, including in Australia.

Ms Kelly Bornt then talked about the Cultural Studies Series and its role. She also explained why the organisation has chosen to sponsor publication of the Lao book.

And then the best news – Mimi announced a great result! The benefit raised about A$900 for the Cultural Studies Series sponsorship of the Lao book by and for young adults.

Meeting Lao artist Souliya

The following week I gave a talk about my arts practice to art students and the public, again at The Secret Art and Wine Bar. There I was privileged to meet Souliya Phoumivong, one of the most famous artists in Lao.

In fact, Souliya was the Lao artist whom the ambassador had specifically mentioned by name during the launch. Souliya creates delightful animated video works with handcrafted clay figures. His work was featured in the Queensland Gallery of Modern Art, as part of the Asia Pacific Triennial 9 exhibition.

He has recently created a television series called Learn Together Laos to support the new Lao primary school curriculum, which the Australian government has helped fund.

And hopefully next year

I am already looking forward to returning to Lao next year. I hope to work on another exhibition with Mimi and visit Souliya’s Clay House Studio.