“Three, Two, One…chaos” is what we all expected in the millennial new year and is exactly what happened three years ago in a small town of Yangshuo during the Chinese New Year of 4697.
Presented at the intimate and alternative exhibition gallery of Wilder and Davis, Magali Vaidye’s work of a dozen colored 8×10 photos documenting the unexpected events of New Year’s 4697, lined the walls, inconspicuously amid furniture.
Although they exude a type of National Geographic quality, the candid and grainy look of the photographs, and the ultra relaxed atmosphere, made one feel that one was viewing someone’s personal travel photos- traveling photos that go from 100 to 175 dollars a print. Vaidye admitted that the almost out of focus pictures, which were taken in 1999, were one of her first professional attempts at photography and that her background was firmly grounded in theatre.
However, while her photographic limitations are evident, the underexposed and grainy look certainly adds an aesthetically chaotic feeling, something with which the artist herself was mainly concerned.
When asked to describe that night, Vaidye excitedly confessed that she found the whole experience “very strange and almost surreal”. She described the event and the countdown as “une decharge ou fete apocalyptic”- an explosive apocalyptic party, as homemade firecrackers were uncontrollably exploding and badly burning the crowds.
In this frantic, smoke-filled atmosphere, Vaidye finished her roll of film in twenty-five minutes, revealing that while some families joyfully and obliviously sang and celebrated, others had panicked in a drunken frenzy from the deafening explosions of firecrackers gone awry. This tension between light hearted joviality and frenzied chaos climaxed as a young boy suffered third degree burns from an exploding firecracker – an accident which left the artist herself burned on the back of her head and neck.
While several of the photographs are compositionally quite captivating in their own right, they become far more real and entertaining when one hears the testimonies of the artists experience that night. One photograph titled Saoulon is of a man reclining into the obscurity of a dark corner with a low light illuminating the front of his face.
The artist laughed as I told her that this beautiful shot evoked a deep silence and tranquility. She confessed that most of these photos lose much of their poetic impact when she reveals their context, which was one of drunken mayhem. The man reclining, had actually passed out.
This was also true for her favorite photograph, which showed a seemingly troubled young man covering the sides of his face, reflecting what she felt was the constricting and oppressive nature of his world. It seems he too had drank excessively and was finding the frenzied atmosphere too much for his ears to bear.
If one ventures up the staircase from the first floor to a back room one will be able to view another half a dozen black and whites which were taken in fishing village in Aberdeen, Hong Kong to “complete the exhibition”. They do complete and perfectly balance the exhibition and its theme of contrasting dualities and meanings found within the photographs and understood through the artists insights. In contrast to the chaotic, frenzied, surreal images on the bottom floor of the gallery, these crisp black and whites of a fishing village nearby, remained a sober, stark, depiction of everyday life.
Vaidye’s Exhibition New Year’s 4697 runs until the end of March at the Wilder and Davis Gallery which is situated at 257 Rachel St. East and is open from Mondays to Saturdays 9:30-6:00 pm and until 9pm on Thursdays. Tel: (514) 289-0849.Admission is free.