Elizabeth Briel, Travel Artist

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Gambling with Hemispheres

pork chop
“I Heart Pork Chop” Tee from Tsui Wah restaurant in HK

Today I’m finishing the first draft of my book: travels in search of Southeast Asian papers and the people who make them. Between pages I remember the home I left in Hong Kong, and the life I had made there. Moving to Sydney was the latest in a handful of gambles I’ve made with my life. Now it’s the last day of the year, a year later. If there’s a theme to my 2009, it’s the search for a home base. Or at least a studio base. Since my first week here I knew this continent couldn’t be home, however fascinating the landscapes, however enviable the lifestyle is for snow-bound northerners.

I write these last few chapters in a sunny living room in Sydney’s western suburbs. It’s filled with colorful Taschen photo books and a desiccated Christmas tree. I’ve a pair of cats and an iguana for company. It’s a comfortable, lived-in place. Walls lined with family photos. There’s a Chinese shopping center just up the road, with fair simulacra of regional Asian cuisines, from Cantonese to Sichuan to sushi. Appropriately enough, this home isn’t mine.

I’m house-sitting for Scandinavian neighbors met in Hong Kong, who also happen to live nearby in Sydney. “I can write from anywhere,” I said when they asked me. Then finished my last painting of the year and brought along my writing as they left for their summer holiday. For days I’ve been here but living elsewhere: retracing my journey through the hills, rivers and scattered towns of northern Vietnam. I scroll through notes and memories from the first half of this year. Trace my route on frayed maps written in English, French and Vietnamese. Blink in Sydney’s summer sun when I head out for one meal a day.

And gear up for my book tour in 2010. I’m excited to visit my favorite North American cities, some of which I called home for awhile: Boston, Minneapolis, New York. It’ll be my first trip back in five years.

Why so long since the last trip to america? Whenever I had a few grand to spare, I always re-invested it in my career: traveling for a new project or series, paying for a studio, buying camera equipment. My travels have always been in search of images for my work, of experiences to broaden my technique and perspective.

Though I never knew how things would turn out when I gambled on my future and jumped into a new experience, they’ve all paid off. And I suspect that someday I’ll find this time in Oz was worthwhile too.

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