As part of our ongoing Textures of April 30th series, Paul Bonnell explores the murky intersections of image and text via documents that located/dis-located him. Paul was adopted as an infant by an American nurse working in Viet Nam in 1972. In 1975 he left his birth land of Viet Nam to an adoptive land, the U.S.
This work continues the processes that, as a Vietnamese American adoptee, I have been exploring for the past few years, processes I discuss in this essay published on diaCRITICS last year.
In the present collection, I question how documents have separated and (dis)located me from where I was born, even as they have empowered and privileged me, particularly in the context of March and April, 1975. (I left Vietnam with my adoptive mother in March, 1975, just days ahead of the Battle of Ban Me Thuot and, subsequently, the end of the war.) In many ways, it was documents that “secured” my departure, and it is also in documents that I find and lose details and fragments of birth family and birth country. These are both knowns and unknowns, discoveries and erasures.
Versions of this work were recently incorporated into the Emerge Pop Up show in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho and the “Refracted Times” show, which was part of the Jersey City Art and Studio Tour and a co-presentation with filmmaker and community activist Jacqueline Arias and filmmaker Daren Kendall.
In this piece, I work with distorted and truncated and magnified images of documents–passport pages, visas, maps, a stamp on a legal note, and immunization records–as well as two slide photographs, taken by my adoptive mother: the Unisphere at the 1964 World’s Fair in New York and a flowering tree at the border of Stiêng territory in Vietnam. In an attempt to work with analog tools, such as my adoptive mother used, I typed the image poem on a 1940 manual Royal Companion typewriter. I am beginning to work with film photography.
This is part of an ongoing project, “Between Tower and Sea,” which incorporates slide and digital photography, film, live music, spoken word, documents, maps, and readings. It draws on my late adoptive mother’s slide and print photographs, taken during her years (1959-1975) in Vietnam and also includes photographs and reflections about my life in the mountains of British Columbia and Idaho, where I have lived since 1998.
In all of this work–photography, music, writing, and presentations–and my life’s journey, I navigate themes of fragmentation and intersection—origin myths, transracial/transnational adoption, history, disease, war, loss, dislocation, liminal space, the de-canon, creativity, mountains, valleys, glaciers, rivers, pilgrimage, connection, forgetting, remembering, and imagination.
I am grateful for the opportunity to share this work. Thank you.
Paul Bonnell was born in Buôn Ma Thuột, Vietnam. He has lived in the Philippines, Malaysia, and North Carolina, and now lives in Idaho with his family. He has interests in poetry, music, essays, fiction, hybrid art, the Vietnamese Diaspora, the Chăm, the Bru, the Rhadé/Êđê, mountain culture, climbing, biopolitics, and transracial/transnational adoption.
Paul has been working on and presenting a hybrid project, “Between Tower and Sea,” which incorporates slide and digital photography, film, live music, spoken word, documents, maps, and readings. The project draws on his late mother’s extensive collection of slide and print photographs, taken during her years in Vietnam.
“Between Tower and Sea” involves original texts—some of Bonnell’s poetry and essays—as well as quotations, excerpts, and songs. The project explores themes of intersection and fragmentation—origin myths, writing, research, history, disease, war, loss, dislocation, liminal space, the de-canon, creativity, mountains, valleys, glaciers, rivers, and imagination.