Anna Belleforte

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cable car views of island living

Posted by Anna Belleforte on February 5, 2019 at 5:45 AM Comments comments (0)

One minute I think I’m converted to art that represents natural architecture (or at least a new series), and then I view my photographs taken from the cable car and I’m back to aerial views! The rooftops, the floating boats, the angles and shapes, the light and shade, the colours… While I have a sense of discomfort about the opportunity this newly completed cable car ride has provided for ‘picturesque poverty’, as an artist I can’t help but focus on the appealing formal elements of a picture, and how these tell the story of how lives are lived here.

resort to resort, local becomes generic

Posted by Anna Belleforte on February 4, 2019 at 8:45 AM Comments comments (0)

PhuQuoc is ringed by white sandy beaches and endowed with lush green hills – features that make it an obvious vacation destination. Only 10 years ago it was still predominantly a fishing island, but property developers have moved in and built resorts next to resorts. Not necessarily a bad thing (it does provide employment and economic growth), though there’s the danger of overdevelopment. For a basically Communist country, there’s a lot of unbridled capitalism, from street vendors to property oligarchs. The biggest project underway on Phu Quoc right now is at the southern tip – the Kem Beach and Sun World resort developments. Stretching about 10 kilometers between the two is an already functioning cable car. From this vantage point you see the inhabited huts and fishing boats, the floating houses on the sea and the smaller islands on which the massive columns for the cable system stand. Ok, so the views are worth it and it’s a novel form of island-hopping. What’s odd is that once this whole thing is finished, you enter a sort of alternative world where you needn’t make any contact at all with the real Vietnam. You float above it and at both ends are cocooned in resort life. The resorts are being designed as self-sufficient towns: real streets with lovely paving and lanterns and plenty of retail therapy. But most striking is that the ‘new town’ is distinctly urban and doesn’t resemble or reflect anything remotely Vietnamese (unless it’s perhaps Vietnamese ambition?). The recently completed cable car entrance complex is built entirely in the European style: antique crumbling stone work, Roman columns and Greek music from the speakers. Why?

jungle walk

Posted by Anna Belleforte on February 3, 2019 at 7:50 AM Comments comments (0)

Though it wasn’t an unmarked trail through the wilderness, it was a proper walk in the jungle up to a nice waterfall and pool. Since it’s my habit to keep my eye out for interesting architecture and urban patterns and geometries, I found myself unexpectedly drawn to the irregular lines and wild shapes of the forest. Do the number of photographs I took attest to a turning point? Am I to move away from the straight rigid lines of defined structures to the more fluid and unexpected ones of nature? Naturally occurring architecture is something I’ve been interested in for some time. Things like canopy boulders, the shelter of leaves, cave-like spaces, a forest of columns. These attest to the beginnings of architecture. They are simple, textured things that have an inherent potential for providing shelter.

urban planning on a tropical island

Posted by Anna Belleforte on February 2, 2019 at 11:45 AM Comments comments (0)

From an urban design (and undoubtedly Western) perspective, my hands are itching to get started and plan some spaces for pedestrian ease. There’s little concept of public space here. Perhaps the spaces for public gathering are the temples, but outside of these, areas like sidewalks normally given to public use are almost always taken over by adjacent property owners for displaying of wares, café seating, parking, etc. and walkers are forced to diverge onto the busy road. (Why not require all property developers to reserve a narrow strip of land for a promenade into Duong Dong town?)

The waterways have more appeal: bursting with colours, worn woods, curvaceous shapes, open spaces and reflected skies. It’s especially the turquoises that pop. There’s a clear sense of pride in keeping these boats looking good and giving them character. And even giving them eyes – whether to ward off bad spirits or give the boat itself a spirit, I don’t know. What’s clear is that the boats clustered together form a city of their own.

Phu Quoc island

Posted by Anna Belleforte on February 1, 2019 at 2:10 PM Comments comments (0)

Phu Quoc has a few main roads that ribbon through the landscape and nearly all buildings face and commercially interact with these roads. So like HCMC and Can Tho – even though I was expecting looser ‘island planning’ forms – there are long and narrow plots that stretch out from the, about 3, primary roads. This is also true for the super wide thoroughfares. These roads typically feature well-manicured topiary in the median strip – tropical bushes, grass and palm trees. It’s an impression of orderliness that contrasts with the scooter-chaos of the flanking roads. Life happens on the shoulders: ad-hoc markets take place (though this is probably only appearances, and they take place at scheduled times) and every building has an open shop front, no matter where they stand. In any case, the nature and shape of the life on the roadside is different every time. I visualize this as water lapping at the shore: every cooking pot, fish stall, fruit basket, clothes rack and plastics table stands on a new spot for every market, shifting around as supplies change and commerce proceeds.

floating market of Can Tho

Posted by Anna Belleforte on January 31, 2019 at 3:35 AM Comments comments (0)

The main tourist draw of Can Tho is the floating market. It certainly is an interesting phenomenon: normal urban interactions are displaced to boats on water. Encounters, conversations, coffee, trade – it all takes place over the side of a boat. Fruit and vegetables are traded on the water, though (counter-intuitively) fish is traded at the market on land. Each boat hoists a pole on which hangs the produce for sale. It can only be bought in bulk, so isn’t intended for tourists. From a picture-framing perspective, the continuous see-sawing of shapes and tangents intrigues me. Though video isn’t my medium, I see interesting potential for rhythms, and for striking contrasts in the early morning sun. The river itself is also a rich source of changing wave-like shapes and sun-reflecting flashes – all things seen and documented before, but still interesting to study as kernels to use for something else.

Mekong Delta & Can Tho

Posted by Anna Belleforte on January 30, 2019 at 9:35 AM Comments comments (0)

From the highway, the Mekong Delta is an endless array of ramshackle and blocky buildings: shops, garages, warehouses, and cafés with hammocks, but also some grand houses squeezed onto long narrow plots, built by people who have done well for themselves and are not afraid to show it. Unlike in HCMC, Can Tho city planners have understood the value of a public waterfront. Landscaped, paved with stone and graced with a golden statue of Ho Chi Minh (of good communist size), it’s a nice stroll and a lovers’ sanctum with benches fit only for two. The benches are petite and concrete cast, and sponsored by big companies. On Sunday evenings, people spread out over any left-over sidewalk space, occupying low tables and chairs of plastic and drinking sugary beverages. But it’s quiet by 11pm, because they rise early here to benefit from cooler morning temperatures.

Saigon's skinny high-rises

Posted by Anna Belleforte on January 28, 2019 at 9:35 AM Comments comments (0)

I suppose I expected to see more remnants of colonial French architecture. It’s there with the Art Deco villas and old government buildings like the post office. Yet one of the most striking architectural features so far is the enormous number of small lots and how differently each urban parcel is built up: very tall buildings dispersed among low structures. Often splinter thin buildings of 6+ storeys are no wider than a single room, the living space being achieved through their depth. The facades are sometimes elaborately ornamented with European or Asian style columns and pediments, or tiles and gilding, though the sides of the tall buildings are often left in blank rendering – presumably in anticipation of future neighbouring buildings, though the pattern so far would seem to indicate these never actually get built.

Visually, there are great opportunities to observe human life compacted and piled up into squares and rectangles. Every balcony is different – and every domestic building has one or more facing onto the street – with plants, cooking stations, hanging clothes, storage units, clumped wires, pets...


Travelling to Vietnam: Saigon

Posted by Anna Belleforte on January 26, 2019 at 12:35 AM Comments comments (0)

From first impressions, Ho Chi Minh City is not so easy to love. It’s chaotic with constant smells wafting about – car fumes, rotting garbage, cooking oils, sugars, incense, smoke, and unidentifiable odours – and the constant din of traffic noise; it can be overwhelming. There are few public spaces meant for people: places to congregate, stroll or relax, without traffic buzzing around you. The sidewalks are taken up by make-shift kitchens with squatting cooks, scooters with drivers sleeping on them, street hawkers and construction obstacles. As a pedestrian, you are usually forced to walk on the road, which is teeming with motorists who seem to have little regard for walkers. You quickly learn that the trick is to be as predictable as possible when crossing the road, and to claim your space, forcing them to manoeuvre around you. That takes some courage though. Odd that sidewalks are furnished with ridged tiling for the blind, though no blind person could successfully tackle these hazardous walkways. Cities are made for people, though I sometimes wonder why they’re made so people-unfriendly…

digital Christmas card

Posted by Anna Belleforte on December 20, 2018 at 6:25 AM Comments comments (0)