Elizabeth Briel, Travel Artist


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Spotlit

Elizabeth Briel

The world is my art supply store, and a treasure trove of ideas – At TEDxKrungthep, sharing images of my art and the people who help me make it, like Mae Jow Seng in Laos pictured behind me

Photo copyright TED/Davis Apas 2010

As the plane touched down and we waited in the hush between slow taxiing and the ‘ping’ of the fasten seatbelt sign to release us from our seats and into Bangkok, I thought not of what I’d left behind in Sydney – a man, a pile of art books and winter clothes destined for Europe, the uncertainty of my return there – but of what was coming next.

A spotlight.

And I was terrified.

Sure, it wouldn’t be the first time I’d spoken in public. I’ve taught in Korea and Hong Kong. Spoken about my art at schools in the US and workshops in Cambodia. But I’d never given a talk like this one before.

This was more personal. Raw. It was showing Artists Proofs and paintings fresh from the studio, with no framework of glib artspeak to support the conceptual requirements of an artworld skeptical of artists like me whose work is often considered ‘illustrative’ and who – gasp – have even accepted illustration commissions.

Instead of theories I shared stories, told in pictures and processes. Stories of meeting the people who made the papers I use for my artwork, of how they make their art and how I make mine. My travels in search of these papers are a crucial dimension of the artworks, because I am what I do: everything I do funnels back into my work. Just as there is no artificial separation between my work and personal life,  I place no barrier between my artwork and the travels I take in search of ideas and materials; they are an inherent part of the work.

Being in the spotlight = taking chances.

Once onstage I realized my microphone was audible only if I was nearly frozen to the spot, and at the very end there was a problem with my video file. [I doubtless looked like I felt: a deer in headlights.] When something goes awry and you’re speaking live in front of a crowd of smart strangers – and an online audience of thousands more – all you can do is improvise.

Throughout the event, TEDxKrungthep crew like director Aloha Lavina, My Linh Vu, Alpha Paquibo, Kathleen, and Dan Magie were fantastic:

TEDx Krungthep Team and Speakers

Suphachai Chearavanont of PlookPanya.com spoke about his program delivering internet to remote rural schools of Thailand, as a supplement to quickly outdated textbooks;

Jennifer Hartley got everyone thinking twice about perception and oppression;

Shin Fujyama told the story of his heroic fundraising efforts as founder of Students Helping Honduras;

Rosanne Trottier made a compelling case for beauty and her weaving project in Northeast Thailand, SawangBoran;

Bruno Brugnano told the story of how his travels and studies led him from Milan to Los Angeles to Bangkok, and how he became a composer to the Princess and for movie soundtracks, including my favorite Beautiful Boxer;

Bennett Haynes works with farmers in Isaan and is starting his own farm in upstate New York;

Jeff Utecht got enthusiastic about social media in and out of the classroom;

Alvin Hung, founder of GoAnimate, impressed everyone with his easy-to-use, fun demos;

Khun Prapat from Bang Bua Network gave the history of his grassroots project to revitalize a Bangkok slum;

Florian Witulski analyzed the life-changing aspects of travel and immersion in other cultures;

and

Bojo Lijauco, director of the AUP University Choir, got even the most reserved singing their hearts out for the finale.

Soon I’ll post links to their videos and mine so you can have a sneak peek at their talks, and the art and stories I’ve been working on for the past year.

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