Blown Away is a collection of art works that deal with issues particularly urgent for today. Encompassing photography, sculpture, drawing and installation, the works in this exhibition are a collaborative project by two artists, Vivienne Dadour and Liz Ashburn. Here they reconsider the well known facts surrounding the US bombing of Laos in 1964 to 1973, and the continuing carnage in the Middle East. These actions are not hidden as they have been reported in the media, but their very notoriety obscures and obliterates the individual tragedies and cultural displacement that are part of the reality of past and present, war and conflict in these regions.
In 2013 and 2015, I visited Luang Prabang, Laos PDR to participate in an Artists Residency Program. I wanted to develop a project that related to my longstanding interests concerning the complexities of identity and place.
During my residency I was constantly challenged about how to work within a culture so different from my own – separated by language, ethnicity and income level-while at the same time manage to avoid cultural insensitivity? I was struck by how this gentle environment, where the spiritual imbues the rhythms of everyday life could exist, in spite of its violent political history during the Vietnam War. Impermanence suite and Installations Blown Away– Meeting Place and My Grandpapa and Uncles Used to be Soldiers address these challenges.
I remember as a teenager during the Vietnam War marching in Sydney against this war and like most people having no knowledge of what was happening in neighbouring Laos. Forty years later I found myself as an artist drawn to finding traces of this war. My journey led me to visit Xieng Khouang Province and the pre-historic Plain of Jars site, Northern Laos. Between 1964-1973 more than 2 million tons of ordnance was dropped by the US Air Force on Laos (known as the secret war) for the general purpose of preventing arms reaching the Vietcong and incidentally killing civilians and destroying centuries old revered structures.
My Grandpapa and Uncles Used To Be Soldiers features children’s responses to the war through drawing with Charcoal from 2013&15 Blue Mountains Bush fires overlaid with photographs from my travel diaries -act as reminders of the war.
A chance encounter with a monk at Wat Phan luang, Luang Prabang was another significant experience of my residency. Through my guide the monk invited me to sit in his space and take photographs. I was highly moved and felt that his offering of hospitality to a perfect stranger truly made his space a meeting place. Here was a meeting of cultures, histories and identities that evolved into the installation Meeting Place. It features photographs from my travel diaries referencing aspects of Laos’ Buddhist beliefs, epics and legends, people and places overlaid and intertwined with artifacts and stencils I collected in Laos relating to the War.
Special thanks to Emi Weir from Ma Te Sai, Luang Prabang who organized and sponsored the Artist Residency program.