Mirror mosaics, edible heads and Buddhism: Art Radar profiles 8 young and emerging Thai contemporary artists.
Thailand’s contemporary art scene is rife with artists using cutting-edge art practices. Art Radar profiles 8 young and emerging Thai contemporary artists whose works comment on and explore the particularities and contradictions of Thailand’s socio-political present.
Whitespace Gallery in Bangkok is holding an Archive Show from 29 October to 16 November 2014, featuring a number of young and emerging artists from Thailand that the gallery represents or has exhibited in the past.
Whitespace, founded in 2006 by American architect David Mayer and Thai artist Maitree Siriboon, is an independent art gallery. It has, since its inception, dedicated itself to the promotion and exhibition of young talents, helping them to gain wider recognition and exhibit on the international stage. Ranging from painting and sculpture to photography, video, installation, new media and conceptual art, the works of today’s Thai artists examine personal and social issues and provide a glimpse into Thailand’s present socio-political landscape.
Siriboon, Curatorial Director of the gallery, told Art Radar about Thailand’s contemporary art scene:
From my personal experience as a curator for Whitespace Gallery since 2006, I notice that Nationalism lies with Thai contemporary artists [sic]. You could see many ideas from Buddhist beliefs: life, death, happiness and the abandon[ment] of self-existence in contemporary art, while the mainstream subjects such as politic and social satire are not seen often. This gives a uniqueness to Thai contemporary art. Thailand also has [the] right conditions as a base for new artists. Cultural diversity plays an important role, which could be a great source for inspiration. This asset will benefit the art in Thailand. I also believe that in [the] long-term, there will be more interesting artworks for collectors [and] more collectors will appear as well.
Art Radar features eight young and emerging artists from Whitespace’s roster.
Maitree Siriboon (b. 1983, Ubon Ratchatani) is a multimedia artist, whose work ranges from his early mirror mosaic collages to, more recently, photography and installation. Born and raised in Isarn, located in the north-eastern region of Thailand, Siriboon was inspired by memories of his childhood that led to his early collages. These works transform half-forgotten reminiscences into colourful abstractions of rural life and pastoral landscapes.
His first photographic series, Isarn Boy Dream (2007-2008), catapults foreigners into his childhood home Nong-Bo. Placing strangers in rural and traditional backdrops, the series captures fragments of reality from Siriboon’s childhood intermixed with the cosmopolitan city flavour of his current home, Bangkok. This theme is taken further in Albino & Green and Dream of Beyond series, where the artist places his models in mystical poses and idyllic settings.
In 2013, Thavibu Gallery held his solo exhibition “Buffalo’s Heart” (PDF download), in which Siriboon paid tribute to and used the image of the water buffalo as a cultural and historical symbol. The buffalo contributed to the making of Thailand into a rice farming nation and its subsequent transition into what it is today. The significance of the animal is now changing, creating a dichotomy between traditional and modern values – a testimony to the rapidly changing society in contemporary Thailand.
Siriboon’s solo show “Lotus Disco” will be at the Whitespace Gallery Bangkok from 20 November 2014 to 18 January 2015.
Suwit Maprajaub (b. 1981, Isarn) examines the transformations that mankind inflicts upon the environment and explores issues of pollution, global warming and climate change. The uniqueness of his work lies in the use of discarded oil and gas tanks, which he shapes into colourful sculptures of marine creatures.
The contradiction embedded in his work – beautifully vibrant aquatic life versus dirty polluting tanks – spurs reflection on the status of economic policies in modern states. In his solo exhibition “Survivors” (2011), Maprajaub gave shape to fantastic creatures in an effort to imagine how aquatic life would evolve and adapt to the relentless changes provoked by mankind’s development.
His work was recently featured alongside fellow artist Peerawayt Krasaesom’s in “Anxiety in Thailand” at Whitespace Gallery. Anthropomorphic heads, reminiscent of gnarling skulls, were portrayed grinning, with large wide eyes or a crown – characteristics that accentuate the violent nature of those who abuse power and control. The ubiquitous skeletal appearance of Marprajuab’s sculptures points to the inevitable ruin and demise of mankind due to greed.
Kittiwat Unarrom (b. 1977), also known as Aek, creates work with the skills he learnt from his family’s baking tradition in Ratchaburi, using dough. Aek’s uncannily realistic sculptures offer a gory spectacle in which humans have turned into cannibals: hands, feet, whole and decomposed faces, and other human parts covered in blood are packaged as meat or hung on hooks, displayed like food for sale. Made with dough and other natural, edible elements such as raisin and nuts, Aek’s morbid work can, in fact, be eaten and tastes like normal bread.
In an interview with CNN, Aek explained:
The first series was edible, but they were not delicious. And I don’t want art to just be an object of art; I want the audience to feel involved. I tried hard to make the artworks more and more flavourful.
In 2008, Unarrom had a solo exhibition entitled “Body and the Dead”, displaying his gruesome sculptures in a food store setting. Art critic Tang Fu Kuen explained in a text how Aek’s “sculptures of the human body reveal the normative process of corporeal decay.” Over time, the rotting bread will contrast with the resins and plastic moulds that seal the body parts together. Aek went through monkhood for a period of time, and he situates his artistic practice within the Buddhist philosophy of illusion and transience.
Prasert Yodkeaw (b. 1987, Songkhla Province) is an inventor of paradoxical designs of devices, creatures and 3D deconstructions of traditional architecture mixed with biological specimens. His western science- and engineering-inspired drawings and sketches are reminiscent of Da Vinci’s studies for his scientific inventions, but with a Thai twist: the inclusion of traditional, fantastic and decorative elements.
From paper, these imaginary machinations take shape in sculptural installations that look unfinished or in decay, hanging between the past and the present in an ambiguous, uncertain state of being. Certainly this appearance is symptomatic of the times and holds a particular significance in the context of the rapid modernisation and merging of contrasting realities – East and West, traditional and modern – in contemporary Thailand.
Yodeaw’s mythical inventions hide the artist’s true intention behind a thin veil of fantasy: he asks audiences to look at issues of culture and technology, the past, present and future and how they intertwine to create each other.
Furthermore, he offers a platform for reflecting upon the role of fantasy and dreams, imagination and spirituality. He engaged with these questions in his 2011 solo exhibition “Sciencefaith”: in an age defined by technological dependence and a strong emphasis on scientific reason, mankind needs to find a place to dream, fantasise and imagine.
Manit Kantasak (b. 1981, Chiang Rai) creates sculptures and installations made of wood. Inspired by Buddhist philosophy, Kantasak intervenes with his chosen medium surgically, with the minutiae and the detail needed to treat an organism: in this case, the tree. His minimalistic work engages with the concepts surrounding man’s relationship to nature and what he calls the “real truth” of nature.
In his exhibition with fellow artist Yodeaw, “Soul Sciences” (2011), he presented dissections of trees in glass ‘specimen jars’. Through his installation, he prompted audiences to consider our inextricable relationship with nature. This reflection should, according to him, lead us beyond the superficial and to a deeper understanding and wisdom.
In “Periderm to Core” (2007), his first solo exhibition, Kantasak wanted to draw attention to the effect of man’s actions on the environment through a work entitled From the Outer to the Inner:
My intentions were to present the importance of trees that are cut down in vain (sic).
Pornwipa Suriyakarn (b. 1986, Bangkok) combines contemporary and traditional materials in her sculptures and installations. Using new techniques, Suriyakarn integrates ancient and modern elements in an attempt to reflect on the changes brought about by cultural globalisation.
Her focus is on objects of worship and of a spiritual nature, which directly connect to the values and customs of traditional Thai culture that are being lost, forgotten or confused with alien concepts. Suriyakarn explores the process of hybridisation that is taking place in Thai culture, where sacred objects of worship are being assimilated in the shapes and forms of everyday common objects, like toys.
In her solo exhibition “Holy Kitsch” (2014), Suriyakarn presented a variety of installations made from objects of worship that she created as an amalgamation of Thai traditional culture and modern elements. Her work juxtaposes traditional imagery with modern day pop culture and contemporary objects, such as washing liquid bottles and plastic glasses and the Louis Vuitton logo.
Suriyakarn’s work, arranged in altar-like settings, blends the supernatural with the superficial, creating a ‘synthetic matter’ or sphere of worship. She comments on the transformation of culture and society and the creation of new values through the birth of new ‘gods’.
Tatiya Udomsawat (b. 1980) manipulates photographs to create digital paintings that render a dystopian reality where nature merges with, and eventually swallows, the urban environment. Snapshots of abandoned places in ruin in the midst of the jungle, these eerie, lush landscapes provide a glimpse into a probable future, where man-made environment is returned to or re-appropriated by nature.
Udomsawat grew up in a family run garden shop, where he learnt to appreciate the fecundity and pervasiveness of nature. He developed a strong belief in the power of nature and in the idea that “the force of nature will outlive our species” and overwhelm even the largest manmade constructions.
In his exhibition “Immortality of Nature” (2011) he used photographs of famous department stores in downtown Bangkok, places normally filled with crowds of shoppers, tourists, students, vendors and hawkers, police and municipal officers, tricksters and pickpockets. Through digital manipulation, Udomsawat turned these metropolitan urbanscapes into jungle-covered ruins, evidence of a process of disappearance of the human civilisation.
Chusak Srikwan (b. 1983, Songkhla) pursued an art education in painting, sculpture and graphic arts, and also has a professional background in traditional shadow puppetry – both as puppeteer and a puppet carver. His work is influenced by shadow puppetry, precisely Nang Talung, the traditional style from his native region in Southern Thailand. Typically, Nang Talung attempts to relay to the audience the importance of Thai values in a changing world, while mystical themes and historical events remain fundamental.
Srikwan creates leather carvings that combine Thai folk culture with fine art and represent inventions of new characters. His work comments on recent socio-political events, and offers a sometimes ironic criticism. His leather puppets are arranged into mobile, atmospheric installations of varying shapes and sizes hanging from the ceiling as suspended theatres.
In his solo exhibition “Shadow Play – Dharma” (2010), he combined the traditional Jataka tales, consisting of Buddhist doctrines, with the symbolic expressions of shadow figures and Dharma puzzles. The artist’s intention was to transmit wisdom and encourage a Buddhist lifestyle, which could facilitate the achievement of peace for people and society. Srikwan juxtaposes a traditional medium with new contemporary re-interpretations, but essentially he continues on the path of the traditional shadow puppet master: that of entertainer and critic.
C. A. Xuan Mai Ardia
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