Monday, March 23, 2020

Contemporary Performance Almanac 2020

The Contemporary Performance Almanac is an annual overview of Contemporary Performance created within the previous 3 years and the 2020 edition was the 6th volume of the almanac since it was initiated in 2013.

For the 2020 edition I submitted details of my performance series 'The Path To Enlightenment', with the accompanying photograph that was taken when the work was first performed on the island of Cheung Chau, Hong Kong.

Once again it was great to receive the e-version of the almanac and see the work listed among the other engaging work performed by performers / performance artists from around the world.

Cover of the 2020 Almanac

Artist page covering the 'The Path To Enlightenment' performance

Friday, February 28, 2020

Saigon Canal Walk - Terminalia Festival 2020

Following on from the previous post: Saigon Canal Walk - Planning, 22 January 2020.

On the morning of Sunday 23rd February, I once more travelled to District 1 of Saigon accompanied by Nina, Yiu Lai Lei to mark the occasion of the Terminalia Festival 2020.

This one-day Festival of Psychogeography has been held every year on the 23rd of February since 2011 and brings together individuals and groups who mark the Festival of Terminus, the Roman god of boundaries and landmarks.

To participate in the festival this year Nina and I chose to follow the previous routes of two canals in the city. Most of the city's canals have been since filled in and transformed into streets and boulevards.

The main route follows the edge of a canal that used to carry trade right up to the walls of the old citadel, which was the focus of last year's Terminalia walk. This canal, now transformed into a 'Walking Street' called Nguyen Hue (named after the historical figure), ends at the main road running along the bank of the Saigon River.

The area in District 1 that would be the focus of this year's walk

Google maps version (red circle indicates start and end points of the walk

Nina and I began our walk at the junction of Nguyen Hue and Le Thanh Ton (almost opposite the City Hall) and began walking South East towards the river. As we prepared for the walk, we first looked at the City Hall that stands roughly where the wall of the citadel would have stood and tried to imagine ships and barges bringing goods up the canal from the river. As we considered this bustling trade, a road-washing truck made its way along the street, spraying water in all directions. It appeared to be pushing the water before it as it progresses, almost like a bow-wave. As the truck passed it left a film of water that spread across the road surface like a shallow wave, providing a poetic reminder of the barges that used to make their way up the old canal, heavily laden with goods from other parts of Vietnam or from overseas. The water quickly evaporated in the heat of the mid-day sun.

The shops, cafes and restaurants along Nguyen Hue are stocked with a variety of products such as:

Sake from Japan... 

Plush unicorn toys from an imaginary land...

A little further on we found a white, modular structure reminiscent of Metabolist Architecture or, perhaps more appropriate for our canal setting, stacked tea chests. Following this line of thought they have obviously been emptied of the tea and ready for their return or to be used for some other purpose. 

We found a quick-fix 'No Parking' sign that, in the present context, took on the form of an inventive sailing boat ready for launch with its small, white single sail.

The links to trade continued, rows of sewing machines cast our minds to the silk trade, bearing in mind the strong local tradition of silk weaving. The terracotta container also spoke to a possible trade in oil or wine. All connections such as these suggest international trade between cultures. 

The visual connections to France are never too far away in Saigon. This window is an absolute delight.  We wondered what the room inside may have looked office perhaps? 

At the end of Nguyen Hue the road merges with Duong Ton Duc Thang, which runs along the bank of the Saigon River. We imagined the ships and barges that would have turned into the canal from the river and in sympathy with our line of thought we saw the 'Elisa' floating restaurant. It appeared to be moored in readiness for the disembarkation of passengers or the unloading of precious goods. 

There are several well-placed Hotels along Ton Duc Thang, with rooms facing onto the river and many of them feature restaurants and splendid entrances enticing clientele to visit. At one establishment we found a monument to a Merlion, a mythical creature half fish and half lion, though this particular example seemed more agile, graceful and less top-heavy than the one found in Singapore. As we passed it was enjoying a constant, cooling spray of water.

Suddenly we were confronted by a large, fierce-looking stone lion. At first we assumed this was a Chinese lion but close by we found the Venezia Restaurant and decided this guardian must be the Lion of St. Mark, though this unfortunate creature had lost its wings and had also misplaced its copy of the Bible somewhere. No wonder it looked so annoyed!

From this road junction we turned North West along the river and walked until we reached the next Junction. Here we turned along the inside of the road and passed the Vietcom Bank Tower outside of which we found a rock placed decoratively near the entrance. On the rock was carved a stylistic rendering of the building along with the building’s name in red. The large rock, accompanied by several smaller pebbles could perhaps be a relic discovered and dragged from the river or from the sea beyond. 

At the same junction facing onto the waterbus station we found the area deep in transformative construction work. One area was being used for temporary storage of street-cleaning equipment. One such garbage truck had been left upside down. Within the syntax of our current line of thought, we immediately saw the detached wheel-house of a sailing ship. Within a split second this area became a shipyard with its associated fragments of ship components scattered around.

Not far from our discovered 'shipyard' the area is overseen by the dominant statue of 13th century military leader Tran Hung Dao. These days he stands commandingly on top of his pedestal, surrounded by a protective moat, perhaps overseeing his fleet.

After following this road we turned into the road Thi Sach in order to make our way back towards the site of the old citadel. This street is probably not the exact line of the old canal but after attempting to transpose the canal locations onto a current map I found that the closest road is actually blocked, removing the possibility of tracing the route continuously. We therefore decided to shift the route slightly to allow a continuous perambulation.

Along Thi Sach we found the inescapable Hollywood reference to Vietnam. Such an apocalyptic welcome, combined with a dark interior did not tempt us inside on this lovely, bright day. Above the entrance I noticed the familiar Taoist symbol attached, similar to the Pak Kua mirrors that can assist in reflecting bad energy away. However, this symbol appears to have been placed upside down when compared to the usual configuration. A fitting symbol to accompany an apocalypse?

Even in the most disrupted, less-frequented, parts of the street some artistic soul has imparted a friendly sign to greet passers-by. Despite the mess caused by the nearby construction site, a simple drawing can elicit a smile.

This bar / restaurant has employed a barrel motif for its entrance. More symbols of celebration, wine drinking...although the scale of this barrel also suggests the hull of a wooden ship, maybe laden with a precious cargo of Bordeaux or Burgundy wine?

It's good to keep track of the days if your work has a fixed schedule. Most offices have a calendar of some sort. Here we found a calendar attached to a tree. Could this be a make-shift office? The date is correct, which means someone conscientiously keeps the calendar up to date. Good work!

Around lunchtime it's pleasant to seek refuge in the shadows, and even better if you bring your own hammock. A relaxing street-corner hammock underneath an appropriate sign; the sleeper even wears a mask to ward off any coronavirus which may sneak up while he sleeps.

Our walk approaches its end and its time for refreshment. We could have a coffee or a beer here. The bar name seems to sum up the essence of beer drinking quite succinctly.

Our Terminalia Festival walk 2020 came to a close as we made our way back to the start close to the City Hall. Similar to our experience last year, the walk has encouraged us to engage more with the city, and not just with its landmarks. Every pebble, sign, quick-fix solution, pile of detritus contains a story within. It simply requires patience, an open mind and a poetic approach to life. 

A period of reflection as we eat lunch, a break and then what? Where shall we walk next?

Saturday, February 15, 2020

Performance / Recorded Event Map

Looking back at various performances and events that I had managed to record (or obtain a recording of following a live event), the thought came to me that it would be useful to devise a method of overseeing the collection of activities and the idea of a map suggested itself as the most obvious method.
To do this I created a personal Google Map onto which I then plotted the locations of each recorded activity. When each location pin is clicked, a pop-up box presents the title, exact location along with a link to a video recording of the event hosted on my YouTube channel.

Some locations have multiple activities posted and these can only be differentiated by zooming gin on the map. Alternatively, a table of activities can be toggled on the left and from this table each activity can be selected individually.

In my notebooks I have a long list of potential locations that appear to present suitable environments along with the type of activity that could be appropriate and when the opportunity arises I grasp the opportunity on each occasion to realise the concept. Consequently, I plan to update the map as more activities are realised.
The map only displays events and performances that employed video recording. Other events that were recorded photographically are not shown at the moment.

The map can be found here.

Wednesday, January 22, 2020

Saigon Canal Walk - Planning

As the Terminalia festival approaches once again I began to consider another walk in Saigon. On 23rd February each year a one day festival of Psychogeography is held across the UK and the world, entitled 'Terminalia'.

As the festival website states, it is 'a one day festival of walking, space, place and psychogeography' named after 'Terminalia...the festival of TerminusRoman god of boundaries'. 

Many events are group walks and encourage participation but there are also 'private, solitary walks' that are also listed on the main festival website.

I had again been reading about the history of the city and I was interested to learn about the canals that were once a feature of the city. Most of them have long since disappeared, some of them were filled in and became streets or boulevards such as Nguyen Hue 'Walking Street' in District 1.

Thinking back to last year's walk I decided to target the period during which the large old citadel had been constructed and so I concentrated my planning on the canals that were originally built to provide water access to the citadel's main South Gate. 

During the 1790s two canals were dug from the Saigon river up to the walls of the citadel. One was along the course of what became Nguyen Hue (known to the French as the Grand Canal) and a second one further up the Saigon River. After consulting the maps I assembled when I was planning the Citadel walk, I estimated that this canal would have been somewhere in the area of Thái Văn Lung. However, as this street appeared to have been blocked off mid-way along I decided to adopt the nearby Thi Sách as the road to follow.

Once again, in the time I had available to plan the walk I managed to locate the area to be circumnavigated. 
To commemorate this year's Terminalia festival, I will begin on Le Than Ton (which marked the old citadel wall), progress South East along Nguyen Hue, turn left along Ton Due Thang and then left again along the North Eastern side of Thi Sách. When I again reached Le Than Ton, I would then return to my starting point near to the People's Committee hall.

Thursday, December 26, 2019

Do you know the Muffin Man? Walking in Da Lat.

On 24th November 2019 Dr. Blake Morris initiated his latest marathon walking project entitled '52 Scores'. The envisioned plan is for a walk to take place each week throughout the coming year, spanning 2019/20. Once again this project allowed for other participants to join Blake, walking either in person or remotely in response to the score composed each week by him.

As Blake outlines on the 52 Scores website, "Every day I am picking a piece of scrap paper to add to a weekly walking collage. After 7 additions the collage will form a walking score, i.e. instructions for walking. Each score will be finished on Friday, made public Saturday, and walked on Sunday."

As Nina and I had greatly enjoyed participating as remote walkers in some of Blake's previous walking projects, I immediately suggested joining him on one of the forthcoming walks. As we had planned a trip up country, to Da Lat in the Central Highlands, I thought that responding to one of Blake's walking scores would be the perfect way to discover and negotiate this small town that was completely new to us. Thus Sunday 2nd December became the assigned day of the walk, designated as score No. 5.

As the day approached I picked up the composed score on Instagram and sat down with a nice Vietnamese coffee to allow the collaged texts to trigger possibilities and suggestions.

Score No. 5 (Photo: Blake Morris, posted on Instagram)

The traditional nursery rhyme 'Do you know the Muffin Man?', sometimes also sang/recited as 'Have you seen the Muffin Man?', provided the motivation for the walk which therefore developed as a search with the phrase 'We need you!' adding a sense of urgency. The further clarification 'Dough Bake Assemble' helped to focus our attention on a search for small baked confections. The important element here of course being the local contextualisation of the guiding instructions, how to interpret the score within the local setting.

'Seven Magic mountains' supplied a suggestion for the number of the confections to discover, 'Ring' suggested that the search could be conducted around the periphery of the local Xuan Huong Lake, and the word 'Sunset', along with the accompanying photograph of the setting sun acted as a reminder that the search should be completed within the day. The exclamation 'Sings!' became meaningful as the walk commenced when a street food vendor cycled by broadcasting a recorded advertisement for his products recited in the local Vietnamese dialect, punctuated with musical inflections to add emphasis to each line.

Xuan Huong Lake at Da Lat (Google Maps)

The walk began with breakfast in a local bar/cafe called 'Woodstock', which suggested the famous song of 1971 by Crosby, Stills and Nash pilgrimage describing a musical pilgrimage to the famous concert in 1969. Of course our 'pilgrimage' today was not toward 'Woodstock' but away from it though the connection put a smile on our face and the lovely cafe also provided our first confection of the day.

 Woodstock bar/cafe, Da Lat (Photo: Patrick S. Ford)

Croissants / pastries - section for breakfast (Photo: Patrick S. Ford)

After breakfast in Woodstock our walk continued downhill toward the lake and along to Da Lat Market where a rich vein of delicious and sometimes mysterious confections were found.

Da Lat Confections (Photo: Patrick S. Ford) 

Da Lat Confections (Photo: Patrick S. Ford)

Da Lat Confections (Photo: Patrick S. Ford)

Da Lat Confections (Photo: Patrick S. Ford)

Da Lat Confections (Photo: Patrick S. Ford)

Da Lat Confections (Photo: Patrick S. Ford)

The search for confections lead us through the streets and markets of Da Lat, around the lake and our discoveries are recorded in the photographs posted here. The walk could have had other focuses: fruit, drinks, local basket-ware crafts, clothes, flowers etc. and each one of these topics could have resulted in alternative experiences of Da Lat. 

At the end of the afternoon, the sun dropped to the western end of the lake, closing the day's explorations. The orientation of the lake provides picturesque sunsets, especially when viewed from one of the lake-side restaurants. This was a great way to become familiar with Da Lat and once again, Blake's walking projects have provided an unforgettable and rewarding experience. 

Sunset over Xuan Huong Lake, Da Lat (Photo: Patrick S. Ford)

Wednesday, December 11, 2019

International Drawing Dialogue Phase 3 - 2019-20 (Second Stage)

The second of the three-stage drawing dialogue project draws to a close. Only one stage remains, with the drawings making the final exchange before heading off to the exhibition venue(s).

For this stage I was responding to drawings initiated by Andrea Thoma in the UK. Once Andrea's drawings arrived I first laid them out under a stack of other work in order for them to have some time to settle down and to unroll properly after their journey from the UK to Vietnam in a cardboard tube.

After giving them some time to settle down I took them out and spent some time looking at them. As the sculptor Philip King once said (paraphrasing here) "looking tells you more than if you think about it" (1:00), its about trying to 'feel' or 'sense' what an appropriate response to the work would be.

Overall, in response to the drawings I developed an urge to counter what was already going on in the drawings. For example to answer the fairly light marks already laid down in the image I added darker, heavier elements and in some cases I introduced straighter lines / marks to counter the movement set up by Andrea's work(without closing the drawing down by preventing the eye from wandering).

I responded to each of the four drawings as follows:

Andrea 1

Andrea + Patrick 1

In this drawing there was an obvious space left for me slightly off centre, towards the right and I began to sense either a building standing within a clearing or a yacht moored at a dock in the background behind the fence that linked the two groups of trees. 
However, as I worked, the image I was creating started to move forward until it had finally arrived in the foreground. I erased a little more of the fence to allow it to come through and at the same time allowed it to lose its definition as either a building or a yacht to become something that might possibly resemble an abstract structure set up a garden immediately in front of the viewer. Once I had sited this collection of lines and marks within this space, I stopped working and left it for the next participant to to resolve.

Andrea 2

Andrea + Patrick 2

This drawing had a couple of vacant spaces that I could attend to so I felt I initially needed to work within these two spaces. There were several parts of the drawing where Andrea had added small areas of shading that subtly began to define form and to push and pull the various elements within the space of the drawing. I picked up on these and began to adjust them, and in some cases link them together.

In the back of my mind I was thinking of early examples of analytical cubism (which I have always loved) in which the image appears to have been shattered, leaving broken fragments clashing with each other. The shadows created by these fragments caused the image to lose cohesion and disturb our understanding of the image. 
2D and 3D readings become confused and a little contradictory. I have always been attracted to this type of contradiction within art works and I guess this is what was urging me to reinforce the shaded areas of the drawing. Some areas didn't really change much but others did create a contradiction, appearing sculptural at one point and two dimensional at another. It was at this point that I ceased work.

Andrea 3

Andrea + Patrick 3

In the third drawing, the foreground was occupied by many plant pots, tubs and vases leaving a narrow vacant space in the top third of the drawing in which I could introduce something. For this work I imagined myself in a garden, gazing across the top of work table that was covered with pots as if a gardener had been hard at work potting and repotting plants. 
My participation here would initially be to introduce something into this imagined garden. Andrea had already added some feint garden chairs but they had already begun receding into the background. At first I worked on them, pulling them forward into the composition. As I worked I added other chairs and small tables, arranging them into a row across the background. Interestingly, the more I worked on them the more I began to interpret the resulting row of shapes as a bridge. 
Could this garden instead feature a view across a wide expanse to a large rail or road bridge? In the end the chairs became more spiky, perhaps in response to the soft curves of the plant pots below. I eventually decided to keep the shapes as half chair - half bridge, hanging in an ambiguous space (my tendency towards contradiction creeping in again) and I ended my participation in the drawing by literally drawing a line under the elements I had introduced.

Andrea 4

Andrea + Patrick 4

The fourth and final drawing took me longer to assess. There was a central element (a tree) around which were scattered other elements, most of which grew more defined the further from the centre they were. The composition therefore offered a kind of donut or torus-shaped void within the drawing for me to work with. 
I considered many additions / modifications to the drawing and eventually decided to trace an imaginary walk around the garden as if I was laying out a rope or line behind me as I walked or as if a long-exposure photograph had captured my walk while holding a light pen (the type of image Picasso had made so successfully) except that my drawing would be the negative image. 
I made the fairly thick line hover above ground level and allowed it to pulsate a little due to the action of the compressed charcoal, eraser and a little white chalk (my long-time favourite combination of materials, picked up at art college many years ago). 
For a while I stopped work but before I decided to cease work entirely and pack up the drawings for postage, I turned my attention to the circle in the lower left-hand corner. I began by adding some texture to it and this texture eventually replicated that I had used in other recent drawings I had made. These drawings featured what could be described as possessing calligraphic qualities, especially when thinking of written languages containing sensuous, looping strokes such as arabic. I tried to avoid thinking of the calligraphic roundels of Hagia Sophia in Istanbul as that would have necessitated going off on a tangent and reworking the entire image. Enough is enough for the moment. For a while I considered treating the eclipse in the top right-hand corner in a similar way but  then decided against it. It would have look heavy siting up there in the sky and I didn't want to remove the sun from this garden. 

I packed up the four drawings and posted them to the third participant, Skye Williams and then moved on to another project which I will work on until the final set of Dialogue drawings arrive.

These drawing dialogues are not easy, but that is a good thing. I find the experience gained from such exercises as these is invaluable. Besides learning how to respond to the work of others, I also learn from the way others work. In fact, in every activity I undertake I attempt to put myself into a situation in which I can learn something from the experience. 

I believe that once we stop learning, we stop thinking.

Monday, November 18, 2019

'Walkings New Movements'

The 'Walking's New Movements' conference was held at the University of Plymouth, UK from Friday 1st - Sunday 3rd November 2019 presenting an opportunity for participants to 'discuss the latest developments and future prospects for radical walking and walking arts'.

The organisers of the conference were: Helen Billinghurst (University of Plymouth), Clair Hind (York St. John University) and Phil Smith (University of Plymouth).

The three days were occupied by paper presentations, provocations and events related to walking arts and psychogeography.

As I was unable to attend the conference in person I sent a conference poster outlining my ongoing walking performance 'No holiday'. On the poster I outlined an introduction to the performance and images of various recorded versions of the performance along with internet links and QR codes that would allow viewers to access the recordings as hosted on my YouTube channel.

My conference poster was displayed on the 3rd floor, between rooms RLB3030 and RLB304 and is included below: