George Burchett: Elephant Project – ECO-art @ Muong Studio, Hoa Binh 2015-16
This will be my third art project at Muong Cultural Museum in Hoa Binh.
The first project was the Under The Roof international art workshop in November 2012. My art then was inspired by the cultural/natural environment of the Muong Museum. I produced works – ink and gesso on Dó paper pasted on canvas – with images of horses and dragonflies. I had observed the dragonflies (chuồn chuồn) around the pool of the Muong Museum where I had set up my first open air “studio”.
The second project was the Đình project for which I did a 15 day residency in May 2014. During the residency I produced two sculptures of man/woman using material found on the spot. The sculptures were placed in the pool of the Muong Sculptural Museum. As I wrote at the time the sculptures pose the following question: is it possible to re-introduce man/woman back into nature without disturbing the peace?
For the ECO-artvn project, I want to focus on the plight of Vietnam’s elephants. I recently discovered a film made by the Liberation Studios of the National Liberation Front of South Vietnam in 1963-64. The film follows my father – Australian journalist Wilfred Burchett – during his visit to the NLF controlled zones of South Vietnam. Nature and ethnic minorities, Rhade, Mnong and others play an important role in the film – they are an essential part of Vietnam’s struggle for independence and unity. There are some extraordinary images of elephants in the Central Highlands.
Watching the film I remembered the stories my father used to tell about the jungle and elephants and other animals in his letters from the jungles of South Vietnam.
Today, the elephants and their natural habitat have almost disappeared. The elephants of Vietnam are threatened with extinction.
Vietnam’s elephants are more than just wild animals, they are part of Vietnamese history, culture, tradition, religion. How many Vietnamese heroes – like Hai Bà Trưng, Bà Triệu and countless others – rode elephants into battle against invaders? Elephants played an important role in Vietnam’s more recent struggle for independence and reunification. As the narration in the film says: elephants are “the heavy motorised cavalry of the local guerillas”.
People need to be reminded of this and alerted to the immediate threat to this magnificent animals and their natural environment.
For this project I propose to create images of elephants in clay, on paper and in other natural materials and through the elephants, draw people’s attention to other urgent ecological concerns.
An important part of the project would be collaboration with experts in other fields such as cultural researchers, environmentalists, scientists and, of course, fellow artists. The main purpose would be to ring as many alarm bells as possible and bring urgent environmental issues to public attention with artworks, exhibitions, publications, media campaigns, conferences and other events.
George Burchett, Hà Nội, May 2015