A strange structure stood atop a small dirt road that crosses a verdant sea of newly planted rice stalks. Aged in look but not ancient, the structure was simple: four rectangular columns, two stories in height, an antiquated pagoda-like roof. The columns’ walls, worn from the harsh rainy weather of the tropic, now sport a rustic pastel yellow finish that chipped to reveal the vibrant burnt sienna bricks underneath. Along the aged clay roof with adornments of flying carps hung an old wooden sign marked with the name of the village gleaming in the distance. There I stood; heart warmed as I know, after a long journey, I am now home.
The automatic doors slid open to reveal a brightly lit interior, where along the gleaming fluorescent ceiling hung a series of blue signs, delineated with arrows and texts. Beneath them, passersby torrentially flowed along the tubular corridors, while their large luggage arduously followed. I crossed.
Behind the counter, a young woman in navy uniform with comely complexion and bunned up hair neatly tucked under her petite hat greeted me. What is that? she inquired with a hint of a smile.
Well… on a trip home in 2012, I was captivated by the village gates, the architectural elements that dot the Vietnamese countryside. These structures stand at the border of each village to mark the jurisdiction of the local governing body. They indicate the boundaries that separate the domesticated space against the wild and unknown spirit realm. As freestanding structures with no walls or doors, these gates serve no physical purpose other than as signifiers for the moments of transition between home and the rest of the world.
I designed a specialized wooden joint that enables the straight columns to be deconstructed and reassembled by self-interlocking connection points. When fully assembled, this Gate Between Heaven and Earth forms a framing structure, capable of fitting me inside–a permeable shelter. When deconstructed, the object is the size of a Transportation Security Administration approved carry-on suitcase, with a carriageable weight of fewer than twenty pounds. This aspect of construction and deconstruction permits the structure to travel anywhere and by any means.
The colors red, yellow and green are ubiquitous in Vietnamese pre-war architectural designs, introduced by the French architects during the colonial period. In my formative years, whenever I imagine a picture of home, I would draw a yellow wall structure with a red clay roof and green window shutters. These colors offer a sense of comfort and belonging. Because of its size and weight, I carry this object around with me wherever I go to act a temporary shelter, and when necessary, it transforms into a holographic portal that brings my heart home.
That’s nice: the comely woman replied with her comely complexion: but if it’s a portal, why do you still need to use airplanes?