Monday, 18 November 2013

Continuation of the past

A small, narrow, empty space, with a high ceiling and white walls. That was to be one of the possible spaces for my first solo photo exhibition in Taichung next year. A young man was squatting in front of the entrance, wearing a thick jacket to keep him warm, waiting for people to come and have a look at his exhibition: two large photographic print mounted on a big wooden box frame placed at either side of the entrance, and a third one at the back which seemed to be a photo but was actually a video installation. Suddenly I heard some French being spoken and it took me a few seconds to realise that the young man was talking to me! Adrian had introduced me to him as a Parisian born Vietnamese and as coincidence has it, he had studied fine arts in Nancy. His name was Tsao Chun.
We went in together. The shots of Nancy weren't that exciting at first glance. What was it about? He led me to the very back of the gallery, behind the wooden box where he had placed an open suitcase and displayed some books and a few letters. 
"This belonged to the owner of that suitcase, an old lady who lived near my flat, and who passed away. One day, I saw all these pieces of furniture on the street and my eyes caught sight of this suitcase." He pointed at the open suitcase. At the centre of it was placed a letter addressed to a certain Mrs. Joachim. 
"Her name was Mrs. Joachim" I read. 
"How do you pronounce it in French?" he asked. "[jôa'kim]"
As I had a closer look at each of the objects, I could start imagining what kind of lady she was. A letter from her grandchild, travel books, children books, a large illustrated volume of Dickens' David Copperfield. Her bond with her grandchild was a close one, apparently. I was wondering where they were now. And how old they were. One of children books dated from 1989. I gather they must be at least in their early thirties now. There was also a small notebook which was also left open. I read the name of Tchaikosvky. The child had written down a few biographical elements. 
"Oh, that child studied music! This whole notebook was used for a music class!" I exclaimed. I was more and more moved by what I was discovering.
"The theme is continuity. I'm the continuity of certain things lost. This suitcase which belonged to that old lady, the swimming pool near my home which is now left abandoned and this hostel, in front of my junior high school." He pointed at the two pictures. "They're gone now. And I keep them functioning through me." 
What part of this old lady was contained in the suitcase? Did she travel to all the places? The very presence of the suitcase would hint that she did.
Had this young Taiwanese art student not been drawn to the suitcase, her story would had ended there on that street.
"Have you met that lady?"
"No. That's why I wanted to do this work on that suitcase. How a story can go on, even when two people have never met."
The evening was cold. I was touched by the exhibition. It felt strange to suddenly speak French in Taichung. I strongly believe in stories. Stories that are carried in time through objects. Objects that contain memories that we try to give to the next generations. I often share my concern that people from this current time will not leave much behind, because most of the things we use do not have a long life span. Computers, phones, cameras don't last more than five years. Buildings are quickly built and start to crumble down after a couple of decades. People entrust all their data - most of their life, on clouds or hard disks at best... How will this be remembered in a century - not even, fifty years?
I found it marvellous that Mrs. Joachim's story would go on and be remembered - at least parts of it, somewhere on the other part of the planet. Probably none of her children or grandchildren will realise that.

I woke from a very peculiar dream. In the last part of it, I was sitting at a table with some friends for an outdoor lunch on the Canal Saint-Martin. One of the girls presents was Vanessa Hochberg, a blond, curly-haired girl who was my attending the same German classes as I (her class had more students). We were never more than polite to each other for the first two years. However, the situation reached a shift when as a teenager, I was sent one summer to Ansbach in Germany for a language training program. As coincidence, she was also in Ansbach. Far from France and from school, we learned to appreciate each other and even had a few good laughs. 
But laughing, we were not in this dream. Vanessa was sitting opposite me. Something was bothering her and she was about to explode. 
"I know what has been going on!!!" she said in a low and angry tone. She showed me two big jars of marmalade - or that's what it thought I recognised it was.
"I have no clue what you're talking about, Vanessa. What has been going on?" I played the innocent but I felt guilty. I knew what she was aiming at.
"You can pretend and play dumb, but I know what has been going between you and William!!!! How dare you???? You piece of shit!!!"
The other friends around us heard perfectly what she said, but it seemed the words only had an impact in me. William, of course wasn't there. It was not my intention to hurt Vanessa. How could I know she was William's girlfriend? I had not seen her in twenty five years - and she looked exactly like the last time I saw her, before graduation. 
Vanessa stood up and left, as if unable to breathe the same foul air as mine. I felt devastated.
Then I woke up.
The devastation lingered on. Since my return from Paris, three weeks ago, we barely exchanged a few words. His silence only signalled that he had not spoken to his boyfriend about us. And he knew very well that there was no point in seeing each other again. 
What pained me the most from the dream was the realisation that in spite of his declared love for me, he wasn't ready to change a thing in his life. 
I woke up with a leaden pain in my guts.   
I don't see the continuation. I'm like the abandoned suitcase filled with memories. 
But why did I dream of Vanessa Hochberg?

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