PASSAGE OF

An installation across the city.


In February 2019, I wrote a series of poems about my memories of Saigon and Philadelphia, in both Vietnamese and English, in an effort to verbalize the changes I was seeing across to places I call home. I screen-printed each verse onto over 500 individual pieces of 2x7 in. joss paper and planned to set them up in a public installation.

I wander aimlessly in times past.

A dimension that exists in between us.

When I wander around Philadelphia, and think about the voices from past and present that inhabit and belong to the streets, I found myself coming back again and again to the impermanence of joss paper.


Joss paper is made for burning during ceremonies in many ceremonies, including Lunar New Year celebrations and ancestral death anniversaries, where families extinguish large piles of them at once. Once this is done, they are eternalized and sent to the spirit world for spirits to navigate and survive their plane of existence. 

It is the duty of the descendants to make sure the spirits of their ancestors are satisfied and safe in the spirit world. Spiritual debts are in this way circular: because our ancestors raised us and brought us the life we currently live, we must pay forward what we owe to them.

One of the most popular times to do so is during the Hungry Ghost Festival (rằm tháng 7 or xá tội vong nhân), a month dedicated to giving offerings to wandering ghosts who had no families or homes while alive.

With roots in Chinese culture, during the six dynasties reign, joss paper was historically money imitations offered to the dead as a way to appease them, and absolve the spiritual debts they leave in the earthly world.

As a child, I saw joss paper as a sacred thing connecting me to eternity. 

I am thinking of a place, one i've been before already, that makes me happy.

   

A video that showcases me counting the amount of paper I have screenprinted. Since this video was made, I've made around 100 more notes.

My poems will be pinned to trees that line the streets of West Philly. While I will come back to the sites to check on the development of these flimsy papers, I assume most of them will be gone – blown away by wind or stuck in a pile of fallen leaves. Such is the nature of my work – it can't last. 

In exploring the different conversations made between place, history and voice, these ‘poems’ move outside the written word and into a space that disregards sequence. 

Their scattering through the city evokes the broken linearity of cultural memory, and how attempts at linearity and cohesion are fraught with imperfect translations. In such a place as West Philly, where gentrification systematically removes deep-rooted communities, loss feels inevitable. The verbalization of memory helps to recognize the visualization of vanishing spaces, and with it, the vanishing voices. 

In thinking of the debts I will equally accrue and bestow in my lifetime, and in counting the number of times I've printed these notes, I find that intergenerational and spiritual memory works in a circular movement. As these notes disappear, they are not lost. As time goes on, my memories of home, and the loss of home, will fade into oblivion, perhaps, or perhaps, eternity.

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