|Former professor shares his journey back to Southeast Asia|
|Written by Ariana M. Taylor, Daily Vidette Reporter|
|Sunday, 29 April 2012 13:21|
Imagine the most distressful place you have ever been in your life. Would you be willing to re-encounter that experience?
The McLean County Arts Center hosts 20 Days in Indochine, an exhibition that illustrates the journey of former ISU professor and Vietnam veteran Dennis French as he revisits Vietnam, Cambodia, and Thailand.
After 27 years of teaching at Illinois State University, French retired; however, that was only the beginning of a cathartic experience that he would never forget.
In 2009, almost forty years after his service in the Vietnam War, French returned to Southeast Asia in order to view the region with a newer perspective.
As guests enter the McLean County Arts Center, scenic, colorful photographs from French’s expedition appear in the lobby along the right wall and continue into the Armstrong gallery.
The primary piece shows two photographs: French in Bao Loc, Vietnam in 1970 and him at Mekong River in 2009.
Visitors are greeted and offered a pamphlet that describes French’s reasoning behind his re-visitation. Within the brochure, French said, “I was not interested in reliving my Army experience by visiting the areas where my unit operated. Instead I was more interested in seeing the Vietnam that had been rendered invisible during my service time there by the chaos of more than 50 years of continuous warfare.”
The exhibit opened Friday, April 28, and contains many photos ranging from large cities such as Hanoi, Vietnam and Phnom Penh, Cambodia.
Each snapshot is accompanied with a fun fact listed inside of the provided pamphlet, which helps to explain what the photo entails.
Curator Claire Hedden explained that although the exhibition only took one day to install, it may take many years for the artist to accumulate precise photographs.
“The exhibit starts several years before [it opens at the Arts Center] with the artist making the work, or it could be a year before. Usually we schedule our exhibitions a year ahead of time. So I think [French] had a conversation with our previous curator Allison Hatcher, maybe a year and a half ago about this exhibition after he took this trip in 2009,” Hedden said.
French’s work is unmistakably professional. Nonetheless, Hedden added that the Mclean County Arts Center not only exhibits expert work, but also the illustrations of up-and-coming artists.
“At the Arts Center we show professional and emerging and amateur artists, so we show them in different ways throughout the year. But I guess in order to show your work in a solo show you’d be considered a professional artist,” Hedden explained.
Rob Fifield, project coordinator at the McLean County Arts Center, mentioned his admiration for French’s display of art.
“I really enjoyed how [French] speaks about when he went back to Vietnam he wanted to have a totally different experience. When he was in the army it was for that job, he only experienced the area in that way. I think it was very interesting to see through his photography what he saw years later and how different it seemed to him,” Fifield said.
Fifield added that the gallery is free and that guests are always welcome to visit the Arts Center to observe the creative, ingenious artwork.
The McLean County Arts Center continues to promote the study of art and encourages students to view French’s journey, which will be on display until June 16. Hedden explained that French will be in attendance sometime throughout the duration of the gallery’s showing.
“Exhibits stay up from anywhere to five to seven weeks so this is up to mid-June. There is a reception on Friday [May 4th] and then he is giving a talk the day after Memorial Day on the 29th. The talk will be great and he is really excited about doing this,” Hedden said.
She added that everyone is welcome to the artist reception and the art talk for it will be an enlightening experience where French will expound on his trip, in the flesh. On Friday, May 4, the Arts Center will open a new exhibit in the Brandt gallery that will display the ceramic sculptures of Matt Moyer.