1 March 2016|Art Space in a Temple Country(i:cat gallery)

Coming out of the big city of Bangkok, I am finally in Laos!

Let’s go!

Here is the capital of Laos, Vientiane. To be honest I don’t have any information about this place. Up till now I was introduced to people and places before I visited a city, but with regards to Laos, nobody had any information at all. Well, if there really is nothing at all, I will relax for a while. Anyway, I decide to take a walk around. In a country like Laos, you don’t have to walk far before you stumble across a temple. There are so many temples here and there. And the color of each temple is so vivid.

Inside a temple.

Buddha statues in a line.

Like installation.

Green and gold appear to be popular colors.

It’s a green and gold statue.

A titanic size Buddha.

Look carefully, it’s a Buddha.

Many priests are here.

Several Buddha statues.

Just as I am feeling that can be good to enjoy things without contemporary arts, and just go around the temples, I happen to find a space bearing a resemblance to a gallery just outside the center of the town. It may be a souvenir shop selling paintings as we see sometimes but anyway let’s try and have a look.

Looking from outside the glass.

Seems to be like a gallery.

I am surprized as I enter the gallery that the walls are hung with aggressive photographic works, which seem to be specially curated. It is interesting to find such a place in Laos, and as I call out “Hello” a member of staff emerges from the back room. I introduce myself and explain that I am researching alternative art spaces in Southeast Asia. Then I find out that this member of staff is the founder of i:cat gallery.

The founder, Ms. Catherine O’Brien.

Ms. Catherine is an artist originally from Melbourne. She visited Laos in 2002 and 2004 firstly. She has lived here ever since 2004. In 2009 she came across this space which used to be a bakery, and fell in love with the room. It was from that moment that i:cat gallery was born. It organizes special exhibitions for 2 weeks to a month, mainly of Laos artists and international artists living in Laos. Not only does it show photographic works, but also introduces paintings, 3D works, installations, moving image and so on. Beside the gallery, there is a shop and residence space, where live performance, music events, screenings, workshops are held. Yes, here is an alternative art space in Laos. I just stumbled upon it. That’s really amazing.

This is the gallery. Laos female photographer and performer, Olé Scovill’s exhibition.

The back part of the shop.

Here is the second floor. There are rooms for the residence.

Selling works on the second floor.

She shares with me that, in Laos censorship is still strict. Showing contemporary art is very difficult, and there are few alternative art spaces except here in Vientiane. However, of course, there are young talented artists, and she tries to offer them a platform through this gallery. Although all the works are for sale, it is a challenge to sell them and so I ask how she manages. Ms. Catherine also teaches at an international school and she runs the place using her own money. Moving from Australia to a place where contemporary art is still largely undeveloped, she started the alternative space by herself. There are people of such vision in this world. Interesting!

An art space in the temple country.
i:cat gallery

Through Catherine’s introduction, I visit a bookstore where an organizing screening events of independent movies at many areas in Laos will hold a talk show. This is part of the “VIENTIANALE” which organizes not only the screenings of independent films but also video workshops and so on for Laos students. The censorship is strict even on videos and it is interesting to hear the situation at the talk event. But I notice that the audience is made up of mainly rich, white, expats, which make me question a few things.

Slides explaining about “VIENTIANALE”.

After the event, I talk to Anysay Keola who is a film director from Laos (even screening movies at “VIENTIANALE” too) and also co-founder of Lao New Wave Cinema, a collective of film makers. He says that right now, it is still largely difficult to find contemporary arts in Laos and there are only a handful of artists making experimental video works. But I trust a new movement will be born here soon. I guess if I come here next time, it will have dramatically changed…

Anysay Keola on the right.

Goodbye Laos. I will fly to Yangon, the capital of Myammar next.

But I will be back~

  • i:cat gallery

    16:230-231 Settathirath St, Si Muang, Vientiane
    Established Year: 2009
    Facility and Activity: Gallery, Shop, Residence, Film Screening, Talk, Music Event, Workshop