Contributed by Mascha Gugganig
After a day long journey from Vancouver via China and Nepal, my accompanying traveling exhibit had mastered what many others experienced that attended the 14th conference of the ISE in Bhutan. A small airplane released a number of conference attendants finally reaching their destination. Their awe and wonder spoke through a hesitant taking of pictures, turning and turning around to take in the landscape. Due to the adventurous up and down, right and left of our 12-hour bus ride to Bumthang, I had downsized the exhibit by leaving the large prints in Kathmandu – a wise decision, as they would not have shown the same resistance as my stomach.
If you made it to the poster session, you probably saw one frame that featured anything but a poster. About 40 postcards displayed people’s reflections on land use, food production, and agricultural biotechnology. The 12 original postcards presented voices of interviewees from fieldwork on Kauaʻi where I explored links between education and activism on land-related issues, particularly the locally operating biotech industry. The other roughly 30 postcards were from places around the world where the exhibit has been shown, and visitors shared their thoughts on postcards themselves. These I would then send to the next location. So, in Bhumthang 13 postcards already waited for me that I had previously sent from Vancouver. They were joined by about 20 people, who wrote postcards at the conference. Unfortunately, when I came back to take down the exhibit, these postcards got lost, possibly tossed away, mistaken as trash.
After my initial sorrow and anger, I reminded myself that the chance of postcards getting lost on these global postal trajectories has always been part of the project. Such ‘loss’ speaks to a deeper issue in our respective works; as scholars, filmmakers, activists, etc. we aim to elicit voices we find worthwhile. When such voices get ‘lost’ – be it an interview that mistakenly got deleted, a consent form not signed, etc. – we tend to forget the frailness, fragility of our research. Indeed, we are constantly aware of the many stories that for whatever reasons will not make it into our books, articles or films.
I decided to include the missing postcards into the next exhibit display by hanging a string with no postcards to account for that unpredictability, uncertainty in our works. This unpredictability may even be that those of you who gratefully took the time to write their thoughts on postcards back in Bumthang would do so again; on other postcards from wherever you reside, perhaps with different reflections. Cambridge, MA, is where the exhibit will be shown next, and you can find more info on the website of the exhibit. Until then, I hope to make it to Uganda, and to report on the final journey of the exhibit back to Kauaʻi!