On October 7, 2006, an exhibition featuring several of the artist projects organized by The Quiet in the Land opened at the Luang Prabang National Museum, where it remained on view until July 2007. The works for the exhibition were installed in the galleries around the museum’s courtyard and at the House of Guards, which were renovated with the support of The Quiet in the Land and Maison du Patrimoine (Heritage House). The exhibition was conceived and organized by France Morin, in collaboration with Vanpheng Keopannha and Francis Engelmann.
Janine Antoni exhibited To Ply, a conversation in thread between women across cultures and generations. On her first visit to Luang Prabang in January 2006, she decided to work with the Hmong women who sell their goods at a craft market in the city because she was inspired by their unique needlework. During her month-long visit, she worked with Mo Ly, a Hmong vendor at the market, and Xia Song, her mother. In the work they produced together, their common ground was the handmademore specifically, the needlework traditions passed down from woman to woman. As the project progressed, Antoni,Mo Ly, and Xia Song made objects that told the stories of their lives and that responded to each other’s stories. Their language took many forms, including embroidery, appliqué, crochet, and surgical suturing. For the exhibition, these objects were presented on a long table in one of the museum’s galleries.
Hans Georg Berger showed 50 large-scale photographs portraying aspects of the spiritual life of Luang Prabang. Eight photographs were from a series he produced from 1994 to 1998 on the sacred rituals of the city. The remaining photographs were from a series he produced for The Quiet in the Land on two teaching retreats for young monks and novices, which the Sangha of Luang Prabang organized in 2004 and 2005. These retreats represented a courageous attempt to reintroduce the tradition of Vipassana meditation into systematic Buddhist teaching in Laos, strengthening in this way Lao Buddhism in a complex situation of social, economic, and cultural change. Berger’s role in the retreats was that of an artist-documentarian who accompanied the teaching and the meditation practice. Reflecting his theory of community involvement, he produced the photographs by relying on the knowledge and expertise of the people he portrayed, liberally giving them the last word in a subtle, carefully orchestrated process of choice, discussion, and shared decision on the value and importance of the images produced.
Ann Hamilton presented The Story of the meditation boat, a series of more than 75 photographs by the artist and others documenting the story of the fabrication of the meditation boat that she designed for the project, as well as various influences from the life and heritage of Luang Prabang. During her first visit to the town in August 2005, she was struck by the flow of the Mekong River, which became for her “a visual embodiment and confluence of cultural currents, where a traditional past mixes with the modern present.” She also visited four monasteries in the forests surrounding the city, each of which included a long, narrow building designed specifically for walking meditation. Inspired by these structures, she decided to design a boat for spiritual meditation by the monks and novices of Luang Prabang. The architects Laurent Rampon and Yushi Kawaguchi, along with Jean-Pierre Cuomo, refined her designs, and the boat builder Sichan Phongsavath and his team at the boatyard in Luang Prabang built the vessel. The boat was blessed in a ceremony at the stairs of Vat Xieng Thong on the Mekong, on October 9, 2006, by Phra Acharn Onekeo Sitthivong, five monks, and three novices.
Dinh Q. Lê and Nithakhong Somsanith exhibited three large worksThe Banners of Luang Prabang, Inner Self and Outer World, and The Blessing of the Landthat they developed during their collaboration with the anthropologist Catherine Choron-Baix. On their visits to Luang Prabang, they were struck by what they perceived to be a town under the pressure to modernize, yet stay the same. Their works feature motifs that are part of the town’s everyday life, such as funeral banners and satellite dishes, that explore the coexistence of tradition and modernity. These motifs were embroidered in silver and gold thread onto silk by Somsanith, one of the few practitioners of the courtly tradition of gold-thread embroidery, which he learned from his family.
Vong Phaophanit showed a 35-minute film, titled All that's solid melts into air (Karl Marx), which he produced with his collaborator, Claire Oboussier. Although Phaophanit was born in Savannakhet, Laos, his first visit to Luang Prabang was in 2005, when he came under the auspices of The Quiet in the Land. During his two visits, he shot footage for the film, which is built as a collage of images and sounds of the town. He sought to explore the minutiae of the town, touching on intimacy and on that which we normally might not notice. An antidote to the tradition of didactic documentary film-making, the film features a poetic narrative written by Oboussier that is spoken in Lao.
Allan Sekula presented A Short Film for Laos, a 40-minute digital video, with color, sound, and Lao subtitles, which was on continuous view in one of the museum’s galleries. In January 2006, he had visited and filmed at the Plain of Jars, a series of archaeological sites on the Xieng Khoaung Plateau in Laos containing thousands of stone jarsone of the most heavily bombed regions in Southeast Asia during the Vietnam War and littered with metal detritus. Following the story of the metal, he subsequently filmed the blacksmiths of Ban Had Hien, a village near Luang Prabang whose economy largely depends on the production of metal implements in spite of increasingly stiff competition from imported factory-made tools. In the film, he writes, “the story of the war and the ‘mystery of the jars’ begin to intertwine. An ancient civilization forged an electrical connection to the sky and a secret magnetism brought American bombers to earth, where they were refashioned into spoons.”
Shahzia Sikander exhibited two series of works, Portraits and Sinxay, that she produced over the course of two visits to Luang Prabang. Both series are influenced by elements of the town’s everyday life and visual culture, especially their ephemeral aspects. These elements include the important presence of the monks and novices; the labor of rituals and ceremonies, such as the making of flower and food offerings; the wall murals, stencils, and sculptural elements of the temples; and the great epics of Lao literature, such as the story of Sinxay. For the Portraits, she took photographs of Phra Acharn Onekeo Sitthivong (the Abbot of Vat Pak Khane, Vat Xieng Thong, and Vat Pha O and the Director of the Buddhist Schools in Luang Prabang), as well as of six monks and 12 novices from both monasteries to capture each face. She also spent time with the novices explaining and demonstrating the works’ technique. Afterward, she made portraits based on the photographs in the style of photorealism. Requiring solitary patience, each portrait took a few days of intense labor with various graphite pencils. Sinxay is composed of eight mixed-medium works on paper inspired by Sinxay, the epic poem by Pangkham, a masterpiece of Lao literature. Having worked in depth with the tradition and techniques of Indo-Persian miniature painting, she was particularly excited to recognize the visual links in the Lao mythological iconography to Hindu religious narratives.
Finally, The Quiet in the Land organized a special exhibition in homage to Manivong Khattiyarat. One of the most renowned designers and artists of Luang Prabang, Acharn Manivong was born in Luang Prabang in 1929. Twenty of his historical drawings and six of his masks for the Phra Lak Phra Lam performance were displayed in the museum’s first gallery. The former included drawings of architectural projects, both realized and unrealized, carved doors and other architectural elements, furniture patterns, and embroidery cartoons, as well as sketches for the Phra Lak Phra Lam performance.
The Quiet in the Land wishes to express its profound gratitude to the following people in Laos for making the exhibitions possible:
Bounkhong Khutthao, Deputy Director, Department of Information and Culture, Luang Prabang, and the staff of the department
Sisavath Nhilatchay, Director, Luang Prabang National Museum, and the staff of the museum
And Ms Vandara Amphayphone, Patrice Bleton, Paul Bloxam, Dr. Frederic Bonnet, Soradetj Bannavong, Jean-Pierre Cuomo, Philippe Cavory, Jean-Pierre Dovat, Keomontree Duangbupha, Soumaly Dengchampa, Jérémie de Fombelle, Ms Francoise Gouezou, Khamphanh Inthavong, Phuong Dang, Khampiu Keopanya, Yushi Kawaguchi, Ms Outs Khonesavanh Litthavong, Ms Moly, Laurent Martial, Somchaleune Mingmahalai, Sichan Phongsavath, Bounyang Phanthabong, Onu Sengsourigna Phouttama, Dr. Phanongsay Phakan, Ouane Phothipanya, Laurent Rampon, Ms Pascale Rouzies, Mrs. Somchit Souphamith, Ms Pany Saignavongs, Ms Ratsamy Viphakone-Szafran, Ms Sirivanh Thammavong, Pascal Trahan, Yannick Upravanh, Douangdeuane Bounyavong Viravongs, Gilles Vautrin, Kham Vongpangha, David Wharton, Ms Vilayphone Wongsinchitdala, an Ms Sandra Yuck
Finally our warmest thanks to the population of Luang Prabang without whom the project would not have been possible.