Binh Danh goes back to Pulau Bidong
October 2, 2006
Over this past summer, my mother and I visited a little abandoned island off the coast of Malaysia called Pula Bidong, the site of a Vietnamese refugee camp where we lived. We explored the island by taking photographs and gathering ephemeral documents scattered throughout the deserted buildings. These documents included letters, testimonies, and government records. Some had worms eating them leaving spiral holes, while others were partially buried in the dirt with plants growing through them. Since these documents had not been disturbed for a least a decade or more, they have been physically transformed through decay and exposure to the elements.
Naturally, if one leaves a water hose on the lawn, in a couple of days, one would find a pale color grass where it was placed. Using the process of photosynthesis, I have printed some of these writings and text onto leaves, suggesting that these documents imprinted themselves into the landscape. When printing on leaves, I place a negative on top of a live leaf and place that in the sun for a period of 3 to 4 weeks. Through the depletion of chlorophyll an image is formed. I believe that this also naturally occurred on this island with the arbitrary placement of the documents on the ground.
These documents and the landscape of the island share a common consciousness. The metaphor I am suggesting is that histories (or stories) dissolve into their environments. Sometimes these histories are documented and preserved through books and infrastructures such as museums. Other times they are still there, but are not revealed immediately upon their discovery. Like the buried memories of Pula Bidong Island, history sinks slowly and deeply into the ground.
~Binh Danh, May 23, 2004