Burmese Reflections

Time Is in the Air

In one of the relocated townships in the outskirts of northern Rangoon we met an artist – let’s call him Painter – who impressed us with his vivid imagination and extraordinary productivity. We could also relate to his work process of shamelessly using many different media, preferring materials close at hand, and mixing process-based thinking with spontaneous expressions. When he asked if we would like to collaborate with him to make a film with his work we gladly accepted, but only if we could remix it according to our interpretation. We could.

He introduced us to his friend, Poet, and the four of us had many discussions about time and art. As a Buddhist Painter insists that we cannot posses anything in this life. Yet he paints, thereby freezing moments of time and turning thoughts and memories into possessions. In our practice we struggle with the notion of the unfinished, of finding a balance of permanence and openness that allow people to finish the work in their own ways. In these discussions of temporality we found a common point of departure for our collaboration.

Every day Painter strolls for one hour in his village-like neighbourhood. When he gets back to his house he paints from his memory of the  walks. Our initial idea for a short film was to make improvised clips of the Painter’s drawings outdoors and then use a VJ-software to live-edit the clips in sync with a 6 minutes sound collage we, Åsa and Erik, would create.

The four of us left Painter’s house with a small digital camera and a plastic bag full of drawings,  walking past simple houses and then, suddenly, grand villas housing the ruling generals and their families. Curious passers-by slowed down and lent a hand to stop the thin papers from escaping in the late morning breeze, as we filmed drawings laid out on a wooden table next to the dirt road. Standing on a small bridge across a sewage channel we passed the drawings between us with the camera panning from left to right. We stopped at a teashop for snacks and Chinese tea. Ceasing every opportunity to shoot the drawings, we spread them out on the red plastic chairs and filmed them as if the ink creatures and pencilled people had come alive to join us for tea.

When people approached us and kindly asked what we were doing Poet answered in Burmese that We are doing an international artwork. They are Swedish and they appreciate the work of our country’s artists.

This is the first time I’m doing art outside, said Painter when we returned from our half-day filming session. I’m not brave, he said, I’m afraid of strolling and many people don’t understand me and my work. I’m happy we did this.

In Burmese public space t here is no sanctuary, no place where the military cannot go. Not even the Buddhist pagodas or monasteries are truly safe havens. You are especially exposed when moving through public areas. The process of simply handling the drawings in public in this context became a performance in itself, perhaps more important than the actual drawings and the finished film.

The soundtrack of Time Is in the Air is a collage of sounds we recorded through our travels around Burma. The rhythmic beating of a loom in the ancient city of Amarapura outside Mandalay; the hushed, late-night whispering of two sleepy artists afraid to leave the illusory safety of the mosquito net to deal with the metallic clanking of the trapped-yet-not-quite-dead rat nearby; the melodic tick-tock of a Rangoon taxi 's customized indicators; the drunken impersontaion of a Burmese fighting rooster. Several of the sounds relate to time, especially early morning hours. Others qualified simply because they sounded great.

Editing Time Is in the Air is quite a story in itself where dealing with the constant and unpredictable power-cuts is a main feature. Memories of navigating Rangoon’s cracked concrete pavements while lugging a heavy desktop computer to generator-powered Internet cafés linger. Being refused to use the same facilities when the owner realised we were foreigners is another recollection. In the end we finally had a neat pile of 50 Time Is in the Air-DVDs and we – Poet, Painter, Åsa, Erik – proudly stamped the labels with blue ink.

One week later Time Is in the Air premiered on a generator-powered TV at a semi-public show in a private home, together with Poet’s poems, Painter’s paintings and some of the works described in this text.