[Vong] Phaophanit & [Keith] Piper

For the peoples who occupy the western and northern corners of what Robert Farris Thompson describes as 'the black Atlantic', the realities of nomadism, of dispersal, of displacement and migration are keenly felt. The metaphor of the journey, the passage of time, being measured by the physical passage through geographical space is therefore a recurrent theme in many of the cultural expressions generated from this segment of the African Diaspora.

'Long Journey/New Frontiers' is an attempt to reference what Amiri Baraka has dubbed the 'Motion of History' as it has impacted upon peoples of African descent through use of the metaphor of physical terrain. It therefore charts a linear journey, tracing both the historical progression of a black presence in the western hemisphere, and projecting that black presence forward into the 'New Frontier' of the post modern city and the digital domain which has come to be known as Cyberspace...

Within our everyday lives the telling and the re-telling of journeys we have made throughout our lives form an important backdrop to our attempts to impose a sense of order and meaning to the disorderly pattern of our emotional, cultural and social lives. Within these re-tellings, journeys act as markers of transition, movement, crisis and discovery. Narratives of journeys and movement take on special meaning and significance for peoples whose sense of themselves is not based in a physical and geographical location but is mediated through the processes of dispersal, dispossession and exile.

Extracts from 'Transcoding the Journey', an essay on the work of Keith Piper ['Long Journey/New Frontiers' ] in the catalogue to accompany the exhibition 'Phaophanit & Piper', curated by Eddie Chambers, 1995.

From light takes as its point of departure simply a number of heterogeneous elements: a circular piece of film, without beginning or end, a few words, a line of neon light and two rooms, one in obscurity and the other in 'natural' light' These disparate elements are kept as simple as possible and deliberately not 'contextualised' or 'conceptualised', thus retaining above all their physical presence, their materiality. Their informational level is deliberately suspended: the film is shot and edited so as to render it equivocal (is it a seascape or desertscape? Swept by rain or sand? Is its yellow hue due to a fading sun light or industrial smog, a post-nuclear cloud or simply a technical ruse?) It is replete with resonance and yet, simultaneously, impossible to locate. In the same way, the Laotian words of neon (a frequent leitmotiv of Phaophanit's work) are recognisable only as words: they are divested of their signifying and connotative capacity, just words carved in light, suspended in space (even a dictionary translation would yield no more than another word without context). From light avoids location in any grounding historical narrative and thereby a certain accumulation of meaning. It allows the visual to take precedence over the discursive, showing over saying.

Extract from the introduction to 'From light', an essay on the work of Vong Phaophanit [From light' ] in the catalogue to accompany the exhibition 'Phaophanit & Piper', curated by Eddie Chambers, 1995. Phaophanit & Piper was shown at Angel Row Gallery, Nottingham, Site Gallery, Sheffield, Cambridge Darkroom, and First Site, Colchester, in 1995.