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?

Sunday 17 November 2013


Beside Kaoshiung, I have never ventured out of Taipei and its vicinity. I passed Taichung by bus when Bévinda and I visited Nicolas in Kaohsiung for his birthday last year. But barely saw anything of the city. 
Adrian managed to convince to drag myself to Taichung. He wanted to show me several potential places for future exhibitions, as well as the GDI Centre where we were to have our show next month - in three weeks!!!
My train arrived at 1:15 PM and I had a couple of hours to kill before meeting Adrian. 1:15 was a good time to have lunch, so I walked around the station in search of a nice place. Later I could find a coffee shop to relax myself and read.
I knew there was a big community of Vietnamese people in Taiwan. Most of them come as workers or to marry a Taiwanese man, as far as the women were concerned. But they had been invisible, save for the two ladies who work at the beef noodle shop near my house. 
I had noticed from the train some words painted on a dilapidated house: "Đài Loan buồn đời", which means Taiwan, sad life. Someone who was homesick and at loss in this foreign island...
I was walked near the pedestrian area near the train station. I saw a dog with eyebrows pencilled on his face, then my ears caught more and more words in Vietnamese. Obviously I had reached the Vietnamese quarter. Posters plastered on the walls advertising for upcoming galas or events, small nail shops, boutiques and restaurant. So that's where they would meet every week end...
I picked one restaurant at random. It was packed and very noisy. The customers were at the end of their meal and had consumed a considerable amount of beer, speaking on top of their (usually nasal) voice. The floor was littered with beer cans!
I ordered a bún riêu (vermicelli soup with crab balls, shrimp and tomato) and a gỏi cuốn (fresh spring rolls). My palate was not aroused. The food was below average. But I liked being in this Vietnamese pandemonium. I can't say it reminded me of home, since I had never lived in Vietnam. However hearing my mother tongue allowed me to indulge in some sort of familiarity.

Adrian arrived by bus from the airport. I'm always so happy to see this little man. I consider him my little brother. He drove me to the GDI Centre by bike. 
"I love the atmosphere in Taichung. It always relaxes me, while I usually feel angry and stressed in Taipei." he told me as we were driving. "And the weather is much less hot than Kaoshiung. Not as humid. You will see. You'll love that city!"
I had no comment to add, but I felt good there. 
The GDI, Taichung gay and lesbian centre, was located in a building, so only people who know about it can find it. They suffered harsh complaints from homophobic neighbours who demanded they left their previous office and now had to hide in at the eighth floor of the unnoticeable building. It was Sunday, so the place was crowded, mostly young boys who certainly happy to find some relief in each other's company. The place was not ideal for an exhibition. The main room was basically a big office, with a nondescript whitish wallpaper. 
"That will be to kick off the whole series" Adrian said.
I didn't want to make any remark. 
"We'll our best with what we have" I replied. I had told Adrian that there was no point in doing any exhibition if it had to look like some amateur or student work. He nevertheless convinced me to do something for the GDI. 
"We're going to find some good galleries for other exhibitions. This is just a warm up!" His enthusiasm is communicative. But my reluctance remains.
He then took me to a couple of places, nearby then to an area near the art museum. I liked the spirit of it. Colourful and lively, it could be perfect for a film or a music video! (Ideas are already growing). I know things will take shape at the right time. Just for now, everything seems so joyfully messy and I revel in it. 

Tuesday 5 November 2013

Sleepless in Taipei

Nearly two weeks to recover from the jet lag. Going (back) East is always more tiring for me. Since I could hardly sleep on the plane - which resulted in me watching five films in a row and taking care of the little sick girl sitting next to me, lack of sleep accumulated, the four hours of fragmented sleep every night were largely insufficient. 
The nights are lonely. I wish for a presence near me. Having seen family and friends for five weeks and finding myself alone again triggers that impression of void. I don't miss Isaac, but I fondly remember how comforting it was to sleep by his side. I haven't heard from William. I gather he has not talked to his boyfriend and therefore, there is no point in seeing him, unless I want to start the whole cycle again. A conversation with a long lost lover one night pushed me deeper in the well. 
The one thing I enjoy is to wake up with the birds and start working on my music when everybody else is sleeping. Time and space belong to me and everything is possible. 
Shang-Shin is still casting the female lead before shooting of his film begins in two weeks. Edwin Gerard, a model turned TV actor has been cast as the half American the busking singer in search of his Taiwanese mother. I wrote a song for him and have to train him vocally everyday. Progress is visible day after day. 
I didn't think much about models doing anything else, but I was glad to discover a young man with the desire to learn and do more. We set him to do a recording of the song he has to sing in the film but he won't be ready. He deep and raspy voice needs more practise, but I'm confident he'll do well eventually. Now more and more in demand, he's go to fly to Nanjing and stay there two weeks for the shooting of a TV drama. Time is tight and Shang-Sing has to handle everybody's schedule, not even knowing if the production company will validate the project in the end! I don't envy his position. But if I want to be a director at some point, I will have to go through that as well... 

First night of non stop sleep last night. I couldn't believe it!

Friday 1 November 2013

Halfway toward the Sound

Back to Taipei, back to my life and my project. I saw Raymond at his studio. He wanted to show me the pictures he had selected for his book, now entitled Halfway toward the Sound. It is not yet out that he's already considering a second book! For this one, each musician will get about ten to eleven pages. Portraits but also objects he feels distinctively represent them - a fancy pair of shoes and a record player as far as I'm concerned... why the shoes? But that's what Raymond wanted.
The pictures of the other musicians are great for most of them. Dynamic, always inventive, lively and classy. Some are less interesting to me, more so because I do not really connect to the subject: a girl walking the field with her guitar in all her cute glory and  pastel tones, an image that has been used and re-used for more than one CD covers. Another one is of this black singer I often see busking in popular spots of Taipei. The pictures make him look very good indeed, but again, the impression of déjà vu creates a reverse effect, especially because he channels images of all these famous jazz / blues singers  and ape their poses: eyes soulfully closed, mouth wide open as a hint that he's vocally well endowed (why not play the cliché), head up to the sky, as if receiving the inspiration of the Lord almighty...
"That singer wanted the Bible to appear in the pictures." Raymond told me. Of course, the Bible... "He also gave me his CD and I played it to my teenage son."
"And...?" I was curious to hear the answer.
"He didn't like it". I couldn't contradict the verdict. Each time I would hear that singer on the street, his nasal, piercing and often off-key voice would prompt me to suddenly walk faster and bring to my mind the vision of a strangled duck. It's a mystery why Raymond picked him... 
On the other hand, I loved the pictures of that young teenage cello player, and nearly gasped when I saw that one shot of her crossing the street on her skateboard while carelessly holding her instrument with one arm!!! Raymond likes to show the musicians with a different connection to their instrument. Pianists are rarely been shot sitting at the piano, rather on it, under it or far from it, one beautiful, long haired female contrabass player was shot playing in the middle of the street, a crazy drummer with a pink wig and his pink drum set had his pictures taken on a red bridge!