Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Q & A with the Artist

Half-Truth: What is this show about?

I think the exhibition’s title “Half-Truth” can be referred to the truth partly spoken. Some part is unstated. It is not a lie, simply only half of the truth is cited. I also think of artworks that I like, both the art in general and the art that I have made. Even though some artworks may convince reality but art does not offer an absolute truth.

As I mentioned in the artist statement, I rather question myself and the viewers that if one half is truth, what is the other, beauty? In other case, if one half is truth, is the other good value? In art, I think if one half is truth, the other is opinion, interpretations, feelings and emotions. If life is real, art could also belong to that reality. And if art is one half of the reality, the selection and rendition of conveying that reality is the absolute art.

My works in this series retain the light-hearted sensibility as in my previous works made during the past four years. I prefer to joke about things than conveying it in sober and repressive manners.

What and who are your main influences – who shaped your creative output most?

Difficult to say. I think influences that have shaped me and my works come from different sources. They may sound contradictory. I grew up with my love for cartoon drawings before being trained in academic art at the College of Fine Arts and then Silpakorn University, respectively. The training at Silpakorn has made it almost impossible for me to withdraw from crafty and beauty aesthetics when it comes to art makings, although throughout these sixteen years, I have turned in great favors towards conceptual and contemporary art than academic art that I had been extensively taught.

Talking about influential artists, I admire the unique drawing styles of Hem Vechakorn and Prince Naris. They revoke the nostalgic past. Their works become inspirations and knowledge resources that I often drew to create my works in criticism of the past and the Thai society.

More contemporary influences come from Montien Boonma. This artist had hardly seized to challenge the notions of art and its establishment, even he himself. I mean he never stopped exploring for new paths. Acharn Montien is also an examplar of an artist whose art is relavant to the reality of life. Another artist is Vasan Sitthikhet. Though his expressive social and political comment works far much differ from mine, his genuine courage and commitment have inspired my steps in this artistic road.

Apart from those, my personal interest that runs along with my art making and teaching on art history and theory, has led me to the writings of several Thai thinkers and academics; like those of Nithi Eiewsriwong, Kasien Techapeera, Thirayuth Boonmee, Pracha Suveeranont, Thongchai Vinijjakul, Thanet Wongyannawa and Charnvit Kasetsiri. Their works become valuable resources for the development of my thoughts, ideas, writings as well as teachings.

There are many themes that are recurring in your works over the years – how does this show differ in comparison to your works in “Rains Drop Pig Shit Running” for instance?

The works in “Half Truth” are not completely new. There are recurring themes and haunting images (laughs). They tastes different though. There is an attempt to break into a new sphere, at least for me.

Some images, used in “Rains Drop Pig Shit Running” created during 1997-98, such as the lady and men in Wai gesture find their way back in this exhibition. This time they are rendered in the form of flat-shadow graphic figures made of solid laser cut steel. The same lady and men in Wai gesture together with the elephant and the tiger from “Rains Drop Pig Shits Running” are also reinterpreted in different medias as they are set in motion by flashing neon lights. The meaning and the visual results are definitely dissimilar from when they first appeared in late 1990s.

Some images appeared in my solo show, Stereotyped Thailand, in 2005, are remake here. Once taken the form of wood-engraved surfaces where viewers were invited to do their own prints by means of image rubbing, in Half-Truth exhibition, these images, though still in two dimensional view, are much more enlarged and projected. My main interest continues to be revolve around the subject of ‘being Thai’, mocking and satiring it in a way.

What is your view on the contemporary art that is currently produced in Thailand?

Interesting, though it is boring sometimes as they are mostly prone to biased nationalism. They are brain-washed and blindly embrace the official propagandised ideology of national identity. However, Thai contemporary artists are now working harder. Many Thai artists have received international recognitions. It’s a pity they haven’t been noticed at home. Unlike those high-school students who win Olympic awards in mathematics, they become national heroes.

Are there any artists, internationally, which have your attention today?

Oddly enough, I admire many people’ works, but hardly recall them. The name pops up in mind at the moment, is Mella Jarssmar, a Dutch woman artist living in Indonesia. Or to name star artists, I think of Bill Viola, Gary Hill and Bruce Nauman. Even, Marcel Duchamp and Andy Warhol, they all become classic though.

Do you consider yourself a political artist or simply socially observant…?

I view that the term “political artist” extends to a certain degree far beyond myself and my artistic practice, possibly because we see Vasan Sitthikhet as a benchmark. I don’t think I could reach his point. Social comment with a political concern seems more sensible to what I am doing.

How do you view yourself and how do you wish they view your works?

I am a government official. My profession is teaching. People say I wear many hats for being teacher and scholar as I work under art theory department. I also write, some even call me critic. Recently, I have involved in organizing exhibitions, now they call me curator. But deeply, I only dream of concentrating on my own work, just being an artist. I wish my works offer perceptions of different complex layers. Viewers could see them as entertaining. At the same time, with deeper investigation they will be provoked with profound thoughts and meanings. It’s an inspiration, I’ve gained from reading the book, The Little Prince. You have different views after reading it at young age to when you’re a grown up. Or the book, The Missing Piece Meets the Big O by Shel Silverstein which has double layers of views. The illustrated single-line-drawing story is both for easy and philosophical reading.

Where do you see your work progressing and do you have any specific projects for the future?

Over the past few years, I have been contemplating towards working on other media like video, of which I had once utilised in my work in 2003. Animation and photography will be also be fully integrated in my future works. Some current practices will be further developed such as the use of texts and graphic designs. The content of my works still revolves around social and political history. Besides, I am also striving to complete my book of 10 years of collective works dating back from the exhibition, Rain Drops Pig’s Shit Running in 1998 to Burden of Joy in 1999. My work records have been scarcely documented.

Your thoughts on your generation of artists, as well as the current generation of artists that are just graduating?

Comparing to my college years, I think art students now have more freedom. We should have had better chances to experiment on some artistic areas out of the box. However, there were time that we had been given firm ground for artistic growth. There are several artists of the same generation who have now become prominent and surprisingly successful. Artists of my generation is considered “those in between”, not yet senior as some people might see it. Those senior artists have totally different views and expressions comparing to ours.

Young artists like those newly graduates are full of great ideas but they are lack of profound thoughts and presentations. Some of their works take on fashionable contemporary form and it stops there. You can’t just go beyond the form.

How difficult is it for the artists to live today just from art creation?

It has been much better today considering the increasing sources of grants and the growth of the art market. Several artists live well just by relying on the sales of their works. Some even earn more than enough. However, these haven’t happened to the majority of the artists. Either every type or genre of art would booth the sales. As a matter of fact, the types of art that sale are limited. The works that contain “beauty” quality are still pretty much in demands.

Does your role as an educator influence your own work ?

The fact that I teach art theory and art history has definitely played important role in my interest in conceptual work. At the same time, my training background under, what may be coined “Silpakorn School”, has fruitfully helped me blending concepts and beauty with craft in my works. More interestingly is that my works have a lot to do with history, classroom, desks, students, writings on blackboard of which all these things have accidentally coincided with my actual profession.

Besides, the more I teach my students to think and work hard as well as discourage them to challenge varying rules and social norms, the more I have grew brainwashed that I can’t sit still being inactive.

Does Thai contemporary art exists as a particular voice/identity - i.e. is there such a thing as "Thainess" in art produced in Thailand today or by Thai artists, in the broadest sense - character, culture, approach, in concept, aesthetically? Or is this irrelevant?

Many Thais and Thai artists are preoccupied with rigid guarding of Thainess. At the same time, they make great efforts in seeking and reinventing contemporary Thai identities. I suppose I have been through that. I’ve no longer been anxious about imparting any national identities in my works. I just react to surrounded circumstances and enjoy communicating with Thai audiences. So since my works are interrogations to Thai society, they have inevitably come into contact with images of Thainess.

I think international and local characteristics are mingled in Thai artists’ works.The artists who were precursors of early abstract art in Thailand during 1950s to 1970s, strictly followed international codes of abstractionism in terms of their denial of indigenous features and reference to local traditions. However, from 1980s Thai abstract artists had begun to insert some Thai graphic motifs such lai thai [a stylized Thai floral pattern] as well as specific colours used in traditional art based on Thai Buddhist philosophy. Some contemporary art both video and installation works have incorporated Buddhist thoughts. Even though, Buddhism originally came from India, it has become an integral part of being Thai.

The other interesting art that well representing Thainess belong to those that the artists love to make and the audiences love to see. This is for example, portrait works of living person, a taboo forbidden in the past has now become greatly fashionable and gradually transformed to be sacred images in daily Thai-Brahmans rituals. Even social and political satirical works have been well undertaken and widely accepted in several prestigious art competitions in Thailand that the art of this genre apparently becomes mainstream Thai art.

There is a common preference of art aesthetics shared by artists and Thai people in general that is the denial of being minimal. They dislike space. They favor patterns, mass, decorativeness, vivid colours and crowded designs, They are fond of story telling and didacticism. Those stories should be easily digested that do not demand complex and serious contemplations. Most Thais are now very stressful with the current local political conflict that has prolonged for some time, since this is not something they are not used to.

And how does this sit in relation to works being produced in other countries currently?

I suppose works from Southeast Asian countries have some similarities. We are predominantly obsessed with national identity and resistance against foreign influences. It could be considered post-colonial consciousness.

Generally speaking, how do you view the opinion that globally, contemporary art has lost its excitement, appeal and ability to captivate audiences today?

I have different view. People in the art circle might be tired of the works produced during the latter half of the 20th century. They seemed to offer nothing new. This is because the changes and movements in the art world during such period occurred in maximum speed and immense quantity. Almost everything has been done and produced.

On the contrary, there seems to be more anticipation on the other side of the art world. New mega museums are line up to be opened. Art museums and galleries around the globe have said to be very successful drawing people towards coming to see art exhibitions. Organising art biennale becomes international trend. A number of art fair is steadily increasing that we are almost unable to keep up with all of these events. In a broader sense, it is getting more exciting.

Tell us something about your upcoming book.

I plan to publish a revised edition of my book, “From the old Siam to New Thai”. I am also working on a book concerning social and political art, which is an extension from a series of articles published in several art magazines last year. Above all, as I mentioned earlier, I am striving to complete a retrospective book of my works produced in the past decade.

What are your dreams and hopes for tomorrow - personally and for the creative/art community in Thailand?

Wish we have sensitive, bold and creative political leaders with good visions, those daring to invest on new innovations and being less conservatives. I hope artists and people in culture and design communities further seek for insightful work concepts and process. They [artists] seems to have limited awareness on other happenings outside their art world, sometimes even limited knowledge on the art itself, I wish artists are more committed. What Thai people lacks is commitment and hard working. They are too spoils of the funs and joys and never strive to push to the limits of the edge.

JCS / Sutee Kunavichayanont
Jan 2010

Thai Woman and a Middle Finger, 2010, paint & gold leaf, 12 x 54 x 54 cm

Double Eternal Banality (2009), 2009, laser-cut metal, 55 x 177.5 cm

Wai (Thai Man), 2009, neon light & wood, 100 x 134 cm

Flashing / Meditating, 2009, LED light & metal, diameter 50 cm

The Elegant Middle Finger (Gold and Black), 2010, paint & gold leaf, 12 x 54 x 54 cm

The Elegant Middle Finger (Oval), 2010, paint & gold leaf, 8 x 54 x 54 cm