Time & Realities offered participating curators a platform for peer exchange, freedom to explore any medium we wished, and the challenge of working in multiple, moving and undefined spaces. My chosen initiative, the pairing of visual artist and writer Mimi Kunz with musician and sound designer Tomes (Tobias Paramore), built on my growing interest in the subjective experience of words, as well as the emotional encounter of sound.
Mimi Kunz, based in Brussels, I had the pleasure of welcoming to Vietnam as part of the live.make.share residency programme where she revelled in late night sculpting and newfound humidity. She balances painting and poetry, an intertwined practice leaning into each other with highly visual wordscapes and tactile portraiture. A milestone in her work can be placed in the year-long stay in Thailand, where arriving analphabetic she learned to attach meaning to gestural expression. This experience led her to begin the ongoing ink painting series Pedestrians and Dancers both using minimal colour and basic forms, reminiscent of Matisse or Ellsworth Kelly, encapsulating fleeting postures within vast voids. Stylistically her writing is highly sensorial, encouraging layers of understanding through descriptions of touch, smell, and visual context.
Tomes, a musician, producer and sound designer came to music-making after having broken his TV when a teenager in regional Australia. His initial understanding of music came from live bands, local radio, DIY mixed tapes and popular culture. An awareness that was disrupted in later years through exposure to ethnomusicology and the wider contexts that influence sound practice. Furthering his studies in Europe, his discovery of electronic music that didn't meet a particular criteria of rhythm or tonality, began his ongoing interest in sound as a physical material, one that can be manipulated via spatial design and that can be created outside of mainstream obligations. Currently with two main artistic personas, he contributes to the collaborative project Tiny Giant, and releases solo work as Tomes.
The Time & Realities programme originally proposed a shared research trip on the Reunification Express train line that connects Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh City, gathering materials to inform the production of new works. My preparatory research was interested in the imposition of the system of synchronised time that became necessary in the beginnings of interregional train travel. Its application effectively eradicated local measures and demanded uniform zones, and I was attracted to this exact moment of organisational shift. In the period where an entire population had to understand, conform, and adapt to a disruption in their habits.
This fascination with individual experiences of systems, structures, boundaries and ideologies guided my thoughts as Mimi, Tomes and I began our project. Being based in different time-zones, we quickly found ourselves communicating via audio messages left in group chats. These long conversations, initially seen as peripheral, exposed our experiences and values, illustrating how we negotiate structures such as family, education, religion and adopted cultures. As we developed our experimentations, our discussions gravitated naturally towards the implications of the Covid-19 pandemic that was in the process of sweeping the world, and of course affecting an entire community of artistic practitioners. We found ourselves in a newfoundland of erratic isolation and uncertainty, forging relationships with virtual lifestyles and learning different ways to create and communicate. Thanks for all your messages, our video piece - threaded together via sound - is composed of visuals and poetry. It is the result of these conversations, a combination of our individual perspectives, and a collective reaction to the system-shift we were experiencing during 2021.
The opening poem, a composition of isolated quotes, introduces the notions of conversation and shared space. It is followed by a visual of the view from my desk in Hanoi, one of only three short visual moments interspersed in the piece. Each shows our working areas, our desks, studios. The spaces are void of much action, perhaps a slight breeze moves a tree, some fabric quivers on a window sill…however, perceptively the frame moves slightly, clearly we are holding the camera in our hands, sharing with the viewer our breath, a parallel perspective. These short clips are the only moments when we are represented as individuals, in different locations, with strong identities of context. They acknowledge our independent boundaries, in contrast to the sentiment of co-ownership that could be felt throughout other moments of the work.
One of Thanks for all your messages’ opening audio segments is composed of “spaces in between”. These tiny moments, presented as dense crescendoing layers, are points in our conversation where we pause, inhale, reflect, hesitate, ummmmmmm. These “empty” spaces represent our temporary retraction from the discussion, to later return and contribute. This rhythmic ebb and flow exposes our exchange as fragmented, energetic, and humane. One that was full of negotiation and evolution. By focussing on the gaps rather than the matter, we suggest a conversation where we did not seek to present something predetermined, but rather participate actively and in flux. This segment reiterates the action of conversing as central to the work, and leads into the piece’s first spoken poem Storm.
Three poems: Storm, Us and Process read by Mimi - in interaction with sound by Tomes - are present in the video. During production we discussed the elements of sound and text as equal and as we moved to combine each component, we attempted to eliminate the often lyrically-led nature of music making. This egalitarian plane left selected words inaudible and gave room for the conceptual notions present in the sound. In Us, a reflection on urban community living, Mimi reads:
I like us
here, in this flat
and I like the fact that there is another family,
living to our left...and right
across the street
beyond the window
Mimi’s voice begins clear and crisp, but slowly as the poem progresses a muffled echo presents itself, loudening gently. the effect placing a distance between us as if we had moved into another room and were listening from behind a wall. As the text expands in scope, describing the “us” of family, to neighbours, street communities, suburbs, cities, the audio widens in perspective, delivering a larger sonic landscape.
Thanks for all your messages begins with an audio fractal, an infinite sonic elevation that is highly destabilising, vertigo inducing, and limitless. I feel this point of departure parallels the sentiment of instability present for us in 2021 and though I am not an optimist, in Thanks for all your messages I see a conversation that speaks of hope. One that acknowledges our individual response to the situation of the pandemic and gently, carefully, revisits the act of creating in this new context.
*Curator’s note written by Elise Luong