Thursday, 23 May 2013



Wednesday 2.10.2013
I set up most of the exhibition, putting the finishing touch on Thursday.

The man is still on the bridge (H, the owner of the gallery tells me that he has seen him for years, sitting there, at the same place on the foot bridge).

Currently he is making another assemblage, which I see hanging from a string around his neck.

On the first day, I give him money to buy food and start considering how best to engage him in a way that would not be disruptive, but would go beyond mere alm-giving.

How far we can go, I cannot anticipate.

I am considering the 'mirroring' technique, suggested by a friend. It sounds sensitive and not too intrusive.

Friday, I made a little construction with fragments that I had picked up in the streets of England, as a potential gift, to see how he may reacts, and if it could help 'break the ice'.

I also plan to give him some money to buy food (to insert my gift of the collage as part of an unthreatening act of alm giving)

Thus, what was initially intended as a bundle of raw material:

became an assemblage which uses different ways of binding found objects; using tensions created by elastics to keep them together. Note the guitar string at the bottom:

What was not used in the collage was bundled into a plastic bag:

A comment left yesterday in the gallery by a Thai artist reads:

'I 'm not sure if the object is a necessity for that man or that man is a necessity for that object'.

Today, a visitor from Scothand noted

'if you look closely at the detail of any man's life it is beautiful'.

Visitors seems to be moved by the story and by the 'works'.

Looking down from the bridge, on Tuesday, it seemed that the man had not made many pieces since last year; unless they were blown away in the canal by storms.

I can see one that looks recent:

and retrieve it.

Further back, among bottles, another one may be nesting, nearly impossible to detect:

On my way to the gallery, yesterday, I retrieved another assemblage. 

It now lay on a plinth: still-life of improbable objects…

I wonder if photographing it will make it more legible, as happened with the others. I refrain…

For this exhibition, however, it will not be 'framed'… just placed on a plinth, like a fish out of water…


The exhibition highlights that the photograph is not so much a representation 'of' an object, but rather a phenomenological trace of a way of looking at the object. Its function is heuristic.

Looking at a photograph presupposes enough humility and generosity to acknowledge the hospitality of an act that enables us to see the world through another person's eyes, sensibility and mind.

By enhancing the visibility, readibility and legibility of the object, photography valorizes it in the eyes of the beholder.

First Encounter

I meet the man on my own this evening.

I give him a bank note, for food, and a collage that I made at the gallery, to break the ice.
He examines it with interest — as if to find out what it was made of (exotic material imfound in the streets of England); how it held together ( a different syntax), and perhaps also to see how he may be able to incorporate the fragments in the piece he is working on...

My collage incorporated a guitar string, which he studied with interest. I imitated the strumming of the guitar to indicate what it was, and he understood. I even think that he did a virtual strumming mouvement himself?..

He went on to speak to me, in a way that sounded coherent, but being alone with him I did not understand a single word.

At least, communication was engaged, and I feel that I may have 'broken the ice', and am more confident to go and meet him again with Job to interpret.

I leave him as he disentangles the guitar string, that seems to interest him above all other ties:

This second assemblage made with recycled drink and food packaging deliberately evokes the sea, with its boat and fancifull lighthouse.
Having noticed a tatoo of an anchor on the man's shoulder, I thought that this may evoke for him past experiences (at sea?) and provide an opportunity for an exchange, as well as, more practically, some material for making his own work (especially the red ribbon). And act as a talking point; although I know in advance that I shall not understand a word of it. Phatic communication at least...

Monday 7th Oct. 

For the second meeting, as night falls, I go with Job, a Thai speaking art student. After presenting a gift of money (for food), the lighthouse and the paper ikebana boat, we exchange names and places of origin. France does not seem to ring a bell in his mind.

The man is called SONG-KRAN and comes from Ubonthani (North East Thailand).

He tells us that he has never been on a boat, but seems fascinated by the folded paper boat and tells us it is a rowing boat; then proceeds to fold and unfold it:to see how it is made?

He tells us that he does not know how to make them.

A clear paper pocket filled with new rubber bands seems to intrigue him; unless it is the words on the tiny label. He takes a long loop of cotton that I brought with the collage and quickly places it around his neck; useful for starting a new assemblage or talisman… according to his method.

This time he does not seem threatened by us, either, but his mind moves from one thing to the next with great celerity, with moments of vagueness or aloofness in between.
At one point he repeats the word 'light' three times, holding his hands cupped towards me as he does when receiving an alm.
His words turn into a murmur that Job cannot decipher.

We leave soon not to be too disruptive and plan to return on Wednesday.

Third encounter

During our thurd encounter we find Song-Kram's space only occupied by a few of his possessions:

We see him standing up, at one end of the bridge, looking in the distance. When listening to him, we realize that what Job could not understand is not the result of Song-Kran's mind wavering, but the fact that he speaks a dialect from the north-east (Lao), that Job does not understand.
We give him some food and some money, listen to what he says, and do not dwell too much as it is dark.
Job senses that Song-Kran sounds troubled by something.
He also speaks about flooding, but we cannot say whether it a an allusion to memories or reference to the present day flooding in parts of the country.…

Fourth Encounter (Saturday 12.10 . day time: 13.30)

Seing him on the bridge at an unexpected time, I turn back and buy him and I some food that I give him on my way to the gallery, with a greeting.

Fifth Encounter

This evening (Friday 18.10) I bought Songkran a hot meal for supper, but he was not on the bridge.
Looking around, we noticed that he was asleep across the foot bridge: on a platform holding one of the giant pillars that support the overhead railway. His few possessions are scattered on the platform along a large blue handled broom(or is it a letter box?):

After a while he wakes up, move and climbs down into the canal bed, where he stays out of sight for about 20 minutes; before re-appearing under a fierce rain. He wipes himself as dry as he can, then sits resting his back against the pillar. 

On this platform he seems more secure; as in a fortress, surrounded by traffic gridlock; the canal and the wall protecting him from any aggression.

I call his name from the bridge. He moves his head at the sound of his name, but either he do not hear or see or recognize us, waving his supper…:

We leave in the pouring rain as he remaines sitting against the pillar to shelter from the storm.

Sixth Encounter
(Sunday 20.10)

It consists of two deliveries of food.

lunch: Thai sausages, rice and salad:

when I also bring him a new bar of soap.

and evening meal.

Being dark I discretely slip away, leaving him to his 'meditation'; sad evocation of a forgotten buddha…:

Seventh Encounter
(Monday 21.10)
As night falls I go with Job to take some food, money and some gifts consisting of potentially useful 'art' material and a piece I made with ordinary objects, which looks like an amulet:

Songkran examines the 'amulet', then pass it around his neck and takes it off only after wearing it for a few seconds; apparently eager to see how he may incorporate it with the 'assemblage' he is working on (and is hanging around his neck). He seems happy whilst engaging with the 'gift':

Weaves the 'amulet' into his own assemblage:

 momentarily integrating the two into a single piece producing an effect that pleases him, and that, for the time being he lets hang around his neck:

The dialogue 'par objets interposés' (mediated by objects and artefacts) seems to have worked.

But I sense that this is only a temporary combination. It deviates too much from his way of working.

Soon after, he returns to the invisible (to us) object of his contemplation: the bottle tops…

and we depart…

Eigth Encounter
(Tuesday 22.10)

In the morning, on my way to the Myanmar consulate, I see Songkran on the raised platform across the bridge, where he now seems to spend the nights:

Today, I bring two 'gifts. The first is a kind of 'bouquet' made of linear everyday objects: man-made and organic.

Songkran examines the bouquet. He seems to like it, and shows it to me. He, then, turns it around; looking for how it holds together: two elastic wrapped around in various ways, Thai-style… to create complementary tensions and gold the bits into place, but spread rather than bundled together:

The second 'gift' is a simple puzzle consisting of four wooden stick for eating and a metal washer picked up yesterday. The idea is to use the washer to hold the four stick together to use them as a stand.

Songkran takes it apart and reassembles it:

gten looks at it with some satisfaction and, perhaps puzzlement/surprise ( I cannot tell).

Then he proceeds to weave both the bouquet and puzzle together, but not before reaching out for another stick and incorporating it with the others to add to the puzzle.

The conversation with objects seems to be working:

At one point he smiles, but looks also somewhat puzzled when I point the camera at him.

Songkran must be wondering why this stranger keeps coming to meet him when most passer-byes walk past him,  all year round, ignoring him… except for those who give him alms: money or food, water…
an orange, an apple…

This is where Buber's remark 
'But this is the melancholy of our fate, that every Thou in our world must become an It'(in 'I and Thou')b
acquires its full significance; as it converges with Pira Canning Sudham's insightful book People of Esarn: The Damned of Thailand (Asiashire) [available from Kinokuniya].

Ninth Encounter
(Friday 25.10)

We start our 9th encounter convivially by eating a portion of water mellon each, as I prepare the material and place the sketch pad between us.
The idea is to see if we could do a painting together, as a form of dialogue.

With no idea of where this is going to go, I start by making marks — squiggles and dots — rythmically (like some form of drumming), in one color, to make the process look simple and accessible.

I try to pass on the brush to Songkran, who declines with a sign of the head.

I continue painting, look at him; offer him the brush:he declines again.

I introduce a second color (red) to make the picture more dynamic.
Offer the brush to S.; who declines again;
but shows interest in what I am doing and look at what is happening on the paper.

When the picture is covered with enough marks, I stop, wash the brush, pack the paint, and offer the painting to Songkran.

He looks at it with interest, 

then carefully folds it in half,

presses and rubs the two part together with his hands,

then opens the card

and looks at the resulting of mixing the two half,

and smiles…

Next he folds the sheet of paper again and again till it becomes a scroll:

Finally, he opens it again to examine the results:

Dialogue, collaboration?

What I learn, here, is that one must be flexible in one's expectations, and be ready to accept the gift of chance way of chance…


Since my first encounter with Songkran (when Job found out where he was from) I have been wondering what I could do to help him escape his homeless condition and social and emotional isolation; whether he would appreciate the opportunity to go 'back home'; if he has a family or relatives that would welcome him; could look after him; people he could live and work with…

Today (Monday 28 Oct) I plan to take him a pair of clean jeans that I bought yesterday at Tha Chang market, pants and two shirts.
Seeing him walking on the pavement the other day, like a shaddow, highlighted that he does not stay solely on the bridge or on his platform, but ventures into the 'world of humans'.


On Monday around lunch time, I return to the bridge, but Songkran is nowhere to be seen.

I bring out my line and proceed to retrieve some cast-away assemblages from below.
The wind makes the operation difficult, but I manage to collect quite a few.

To passer-byes who ask me what I am doing, I reply simply: 'I am fishing' then smile…

In one of the assemblage I recognize the guitar string and the playing card that Job and I had brought to Songkran during the first encounter [see above]:

Tenth Encounter
(Tuesday 29.10)

I return to the bridge for a second attempt at painting.

Prior to setting up the painting 'arena', 
I give Songkran a bag with a selection of clean clothes:

A pair of jeans that I bought at Tha Chang market, 
two of my shirts, 
a vest, 
some underpants, 
and a red Calvin Klein polo shirt (Lacoste type).

He take them out of the bag, and hold them out,
one by one,
to inspect them;
seems happy
and smile:

The Calvin Klein logo on the back of the polo-neck shirt seems to attract his attention, more than any other parts.
I thought that he may appreciate (and deserved) the shirt more than me:

The (I assume) unexpected finding of a pair of underpants among the clothes brings a different smile:

After making a first squiggle on the left I hand in the brush to Sonkran who takes it and made a line which closes onto itself.

I add a few more strokes, then pass on the brush, which he takes again:

At one point, when Songkran seems ready to stop, I apply a series of small blue dots along a line, and he surprises me my accepting the brush and adding one single small dot to the series.

A few steps later when he actually decides to stop, I add some yellow dots and hand-in the finished painting to him.

He looks at it for a long time:

before folding it:

 then unfolding it to examine the results:

Then he folds it again and raise it against the light, to see through the paper:

When the sheet is folded into a roll, he puts it away with his new clothes; indicating his desire to keep it.

Soon after he returns to his bottle tops:

Shaking them as if they were dice, before casting them (to abolish chance?):

Taking a blue bottle top, he proceeds to incorporate it in the assemblages he has been working on:

I capture this in a short film sequence that I plan to show on a loop during the preview party, tomorrow:


'Today I walked to H Gallery and on the way at the bridge. I saw Mr.Songkran up there as usual. Then he walked down the bridge. So I followed him like a stalker. And he sat on the opposite side of H gallery. I gave him a bottle of water and he gladly accepts it. Asked him if he remembers me? Where is he from? How long have he been here? And how did he came from Ubon? He said he has been here for 37 years. And for how he came, he declined to answer that question with a word I am not so sure what he said. He speaks in a low voice, so I asked him again, after some moment. He gave me a same response. So I guessed that he don't want to answer that. And I can't pick up whether he is saying no or saying car or boat. Since those 3 words in Thai are 1 syllables.

While he was walking I saw him picking up things from the streets. Sitting behind the truck on the foot path hiding from the plain sight. Then next to the electric pole. I've noticed that the bottle caps are n't the same ones which I saw last. The ones that I remembered were from the glass bottle red bulls or some other brands. The metallic cap ones. While these are plastics. Are they a part of his assemblages? (from what I think I think that he carried those with him. The difference this time in how he played with those bottle caps is that he fixed his eyes concentrating on the bottle caps, whereas, from what I remembered he always played the bottle cap while gazing into the roads below. Also I am not so sure whether it happens or not, those caps tend to slip out of his hand a lot so he reached his hand out to pick those. So it's different from when he's on the bridge. Same activities and all. Btw I have attached the video file of his hand while he's playing his bottle caps'.

Eleventh Encounter
(Monday 4th November)

Today we met Kuhn Songkran again. We started by offering him a cake; which seemed to awaken his appetite; for he reached for his bowl and proceeded to finish his meal of rice, curry and fresh leaves; almost oblivious to our presence, as I brought out our gifts and prepared the sketch pad for painting.
When Songkran finished eating, I handed in each gift from hand to hand and we waited till he examined them and put them aside.
A squashed pair of lenseless glasses attracted his attention and he soon unbent it; fit to be worn:

This took quite a while, as his looking at three sheets of printed paper which drew his attention for long stretches as he scrutinized them; turning them over, and looking at them/reading?
Then I started the painting with a few blue lines and handed him the brush; which he declined; saying that he did not know how to do it. Job told him it was easy and fun and demonstrated with a few marks.
Eventually Songkran joined in:

 and there was a moment when all three of us added marks with the brush and, in the case of Job, with his finger.

Songkran seemed to enjoy the collective mark-making, but declined to take away the painting, at the end.

As he played with some of the objects we brought we noticed the new asssemblage he was working on hanging from his neck:

When we felt it was time to leave, we parted, but saw him later walking along Sathorn Rd.

Later on we seem him picking up a cigarette butt in a side street.

After consultation with Job, I decide to go and buy him a packet and a lighter; given how much he seemed to enjoy a cigarette, the other day… when he had a packet. I cannot deny him this pleasure.

When we return to the bridge to give it to him, he is nowhere to be seen. 

The only trace of his presence that remains are a few metal bottle tops: 

We walk around the area but without success. 

The cigarettes will have to be for tomorrow…
when I also plan to bring more clothes.

There will be a lapse in this account and in our encounters as I shall be away till late November. 


  1. Kim Kitchen Derr30 October 2013 at 12:31

    He seems not to see objects in terms of function or use, or even a painted paper as a "art", but rather he views them in the purest aesthetic sense only. Shapes, colors, texture. Quite fascinating. I find it quite interesting that this man is providing a lesson in not going to the "thou" with perceptions of everyday "things". Somehow it seems, he is changing my perceptions and challenging the fundamentals of how I "see" and relate to others in my world. Quite profound.

    1. I am not sure how he sees us — whether it is as two 'thous' or as two shaddowy figures that appear and disappear out of the blue — bringing gifts and new games which he does not feel fully confident to play; till we gently coax him to play with us...
      What I notes is the pleasure he seems to take in the activity; a pleasure mixed with some sense of exploring new pastures.