Redefining 'experieinces'

Yesterday I took the day to myself and went to explore the Bangkok Arts and Culture Center (BACC), a contemporary art museum home to a few art exhibits and several cute cafes. After about 10minutes of walking through the BACC I quickly realized that nearly everyone else that was there was not there for the art, or the cafes, or even the quiet atmosphere.

They were there for photo shoots with friends or boyfriends or girlfriends.

A man took photos of a fairly young Thai woman in the stairwell, posing by a window, wearing a cap that read “babe”. A couple walked in to an exhibit, to take pictures with the bike sculpture and pose artfully in front of different canvas’s.

I admit, BACC’s architecture lends itself to be extremely Instagram-worthy. Clean and minimalistic, white and beautifully designed- I posted a photo on Instagram myself. But as I observed everyone in the museum, I began to think about why they were here. Did they even look at the art? Did they know this exhibit was created to draw attention to the dedicated patrons of Bangkok’s old Flower Market that was recently shut down? Did they know that this entire room’s exhibit requires an audio set?

Probably not.

Because no one had headphones in, no one held an audio cassette, and no one stayed in front of the photos long enough to read the small sentence blurb next to it. And I am often equally as guilty of this ignorance and ambivalence during excursions to new places (especially museums).

Today, the intentions behind people’s actions have been altered. Sometimes, people go just for the photograph. We visit museums and take nice looking photos of the architecture and exhibits, but don’t acknowledge the artist behind it or the title of the work. So as I observed the countless groups of friends and couples taking photos, I suddenly became quite sad. Because I realized that they will post these photos, share it with their friends, and rack up a ton of likes for how artsy and cool they appear. They’ll caption it with either a philosophical quote or a few sentences about their experience, and probably feel pretty good about it. And I am guilty of such behavior too, probably more often than I’d like.

Social media’s involvement in today’s society has redefined the word "experience". We are satisfied with our visit to new places and relationships with new friends after a few snapshot and very little understanding. And we often fail to acknowledge and appreciate the depths of what stands directly in front of us.

But what if we challenged ourselves to stay true to the traditional definition of what it means to experience something?

To be present. To participate. To observe attentively.

And to derive knowledge from an event or activity.

To see with our eyes and not limit our point of view to that of an iPhone screen.

I believe that there are always lessons to be learned and something to be gained, from all experiences in life. I’ve said it before and will likely continue to say it, as a personal reminder to remain grateful, positive, and humble. But we cannot begin or continue to learn from experiences if we do not allow ourselves to truly partake in the moment. To me, this means reading the two sentence side blurb next to exhibits in museums and remembering cafes by the music played and the number of outlets available. When I fail to gain something from an experience or fail to learn from an event or relationship in my life, I know it is because I failed to truly experience it.

If this makes no sense to you, I recommend watching The Secret Life of Walter Mitty; particularly the scene in which photographer Sean O’Connel travels great lengths to capture the nature and animals in a high mountainous regions, but does not take the shot he long awaited for. He exclaims, “If I like a moment, for me, personally, I don’t like to have the distraction of the camera. I just want to stay in it.”

Because I believe in this. I love photography, I love the documentation of moments, people, and places. But I am a lover of undisrupted naturally beautiful experiences far more. Appreciating the world around you as it exists in that moment - to appreciate who you are, who he is, what that sounds like, what this looks like- are all moments that can construct a life filled with distinct authentic experiences.

And that is what I strive for; a life filled with the impossible feeling of halted time- as though I could defy the ephemeral nature of life and live to learn from those moments forever.   

Jennifer Louie