Set in Northwest Laos, the meeting point of the Mekong river, China and Burma, Route 3 (2011) sees celebrated U.S. artists Patty Chang & David Kelley sharpen their idiosyncratic collaborative project: the geo-political Asian road film. Neat in focus and beautifully composed, the work studies the spatial, environmental, economic and social impact of Route 3, a recently constructed trade route between China, Laos and Thailand. With Chang and Kelley tuned into local routines and rhythms, the sleepy and formerly self-contained mountain villages of Laos appear in some ways unaffected by this major development. However, there are many lurking signs that the region is being dramatically accelerated into modernity. The question is whether it is the will of the locals, or an inevitable transformation led by neighbouring economic growth .
The 3-channel video installation is the fourth in the pair’s series of Asian ‘travelogues’, and like other works in the series, it plays somewhere between documentary, drama and dreamscape. The first is Shangri-La (2005), a collection of still photography taken in Yunnan, China, a town that has reinvented itself as the fictional paradise of the work’s title. The subsequent Flotsam Jetsam (2007), a single channel video installation, is set on the contentious Three Gorges site of the Yangtze River in China. Following on from this with another video installation Embankment (2007) extends the Three Gorges Dam as subject through a series of interviews filmed on site in towns relocated to accommodate the rising water.
Route 3 layers together a range of contrasting elements into a cohesive, mesmerising and thoughtful project. Chang and Kelley deftly and fluidly mix explicit political sentiment with moments of psychedelic absurdity and humanist poetics. Kelley says of the project, ‘Route 3 is a road film of sorts – conceiving of the new road in spatial terms – as a stage of current events and as a metonym of distant places and times’.
Patty Chang (b. 1972) is well-known for her performative works which deal with themes of gender, sexuality, language and empathy. www.pattychang.com. David Kelley (b. 1972) is an artist working interchangeably between photography, video sculpture and installation.www.davidkelley.org.