It wasn’t until I was standing in front of a temple covered with broken ceramics in Central Vietnam that I finally connected a story my friend once told me with my need to leave bits of tile in public spaces. His tale was one I’d heard before, either on the news or in another town, but what stood out to me most was his reminder of that day: the absence of two blue tiles in the cafe floor that had been too stained with blood to save.
While researching my trip to Vietnam and Cambodia I was hard pressed to find anything that didn’t reference the war or genocide. It felt familiar, being no stranger to forced narratives from the local media in regards to my own experience with tragedy. And it wasn’t long before another public shooting happened, coinciding with my research into two countries defined by tragedy, presenting another community dealing with the aftermath.
I feel we have become so practiced at slicing up tragedy by motive and circumstance and so by those standards I won’t compare, for example, the death of a protester at the hands of their government with a man walking into a cafe with a gun; they are too different. However, it was the response by the community surrounding those tragedies that led to me placing tile as a memorial to those moments. It is not my intention for those places to be forever defined by what took place there, instead it’s my hope that by using temporary materials and placing them in well traveled areas that time will help them fade away.
When we returned home to Seattle from our SE Asia trip my husband and I were documenting my placement of tile in a location where the Seattle Police Department had shot a 370-lb mentally ill man. The man was armed with a piece of rebar and only one of the officers who responded to the scene had Crisis Intervention Training. A woman, who told us she lives on the block, noticed us and upon hearing why I was moved to place a memorial here she said “it was so sad, and really hard on us all.” As she walked away, holding the hands of her two daughters, I couldn’t help but hear a Cambodian saying over and over in my head which began as pidgin English but these days is said with knowing irony: same same, but different.