Kristine and Geoff: artists on the move

Published: 01/07/2013 05:00



The formerly quiet, winding streets and narrow alleyways of Hanoi’s Old Quarter are now overrun with honking motor bikes and cars.

Crossing the street can be a terrifying rite-of-passage for tourists, and locals complain of the increased stress, exhaust fumes and noise.

“The solution for the Old Quarter is to get rid of all the cars and motor bikes – allow bicycles, electric shuttles and pedestrians”, says Geoff Levitus, an Australian artist working in Hanoi.

The couple cycling around Truc Bach lake in Hanoi

Geoff and his French/Australian partner, Kristine McCarroll, met at an art school in Sydney in 2001. The couple have a special bond with Vietnam: they have visited the country many times, creating individual artworks and collaborating on major installations.

“The first time we were here together in Hanoi was in 2005”, said Geoff. “There were no cars and very few motorbikes back then. The road traffic was slower and the air was cleaner with bicycles making up 60% of the urban transport.”

Kristine & Geoff ride their bicycles everywhere in Hanoi, day or night – to markets, cafes, art galleries, friend’s homes or wherever. If they are based here for two months or more, they buy a couple of local bikes; for shorter visits, renting is a better option: either way, the couple consider this to be money well spent.

“When I was a kid in France, I always had a bike,” said Kristine. “My first bike was designed to be adjusted as you grew taller. It had no gears but I rode it everywhere – I was rebellious and my bike gave me the freedom to explore and be independent.”

While many Vietnamese schoolchildren still ride bicycles to school, particularly in rural areas, the bicycle is not generally seen as an appealing option for getting to university or work.

Yet, as Geoff put it, “bikes are cheap, good for exercise, and provide a very easy way to get around a flat city. They don’t use any petrol and don’t contribute to pollution.

“We do suffer from the pollution here in Hanoi and traffic congestion is bad – but it isn’t so dangerous because the traffic is slow. We’ve never had an accident.”

Kristine said one of their bikes was stolen in just 5 seconds when they were looking at shoes at the night market in the Old Quarter in 2009. However, because it was a low-cost local bike, this wasn’t a major financial blow.

Kristine and Geoff says cycling inspire them to create new artworks

Back in February 2011, Kristine and Geoff were artists-in-residence at the New Space Art Foundation in Hue city city. They are now working with five young artists on a collaborative installation project titled Juxtapositions at DocLab in Hanoi.

“It’s always stimulating working with young artists, especially with young Vietnamese artists, and seeing their culture through their eyes”, said Kristine.

explores comparisons and contrasts between various aspects of culture: the eating habits of Northern and Southern Vietnamold archival photographs and video footage of the same site; attitudes of parents and their daughters to marriage – to name just three. It will be held at Goethe after the traditional Lunar New Year 2013 (check Hanoi Grapevine for future info on exhibition dates).

Kristine and Geoff’s projects are largely self-funded. Their next sojourn in Vietnam will most likely be in 2014 – unless they receive additional funding to install and open Juxtapositions in-person. They hope that the Australian cultural budget will stretch a bit more, especially since 2013 is the 40th anniversary of the resumption of diplomatic relations between Australia and Vietnam.

In the meantime, after returning their two rented bicycles to a Hanoi bike shop, the artist couple will be based in Sydney for most of 2013. As for bike riding, Kristine and Geoff feel that "It is much more dangerous to ride bikes in Sydney than in Hanoi!"


Provide by Vietnam Travel

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