Sunday, March 29, 2009

Manit Sriwanichpoom. “The Emperor’s New Clothes,” in Silpa Wattanatham, Siamrath Weekly News, Yr.46, Vol.37, 13 – 19 Feb., 2543 / 2000.

Manit Sriwanichpoom. “The Emperor’s New Clothes,” in Silpa Wattanatham, Siamrath Weekly News, Yr.46, Vol.37, 13 – 19 Feb., 2543 / 2000.

‘I don’t see anything,” said Miss Chamaiporn (age 7), in her demonstration school uniform, jumping up and down and yelling for the whole room to hear at the Wityanitat Gallery at Chulalongkorn University. There were only a few adults outside the room, mostly employees helping to set up food for guests – more than 100 people. They would all come out momentarily and would begin to eat it all, after the end of the live performance of the famous artist, Yasumasa Morimura.

My birthday was more fun,” and she turned to me as she heard me ask why this was no fun.

“And where are your parents,” I asked.

“They are in that room (the exhibition hall): she answered, and ran off to play with the blue screen they used in video-taping Morimura. She was having fun playing with light and shadow, making shadows of animals with her hands, and making the animal noises.

I saw little Miss Chamaiporn and couldn’t help but admire her and her transparency. Speaking directly, not dissembling.
She saw the exhibition, the performance by Morimura, to be so boring – because the artist simply used his two bare hands to rub and caress for a long, long, long time. It was not at all worth her while, so she got up and left the room, looking for something more interesting instead of enduring it to the end like the grownups…it was almost an hour,enduring the artist, dressed as a transvestite, expressing pain and anger – because he is not a woman. They had to listen to him banging an empty plastic bottle on the table in the last scene as the artist expressed his pain at not being able to get pregnant.

The little girl reminded me of the white fairy tale, The Emperor’s New Clothes. One day, two foreign tailors appeared, bragging that they were the most excellent in their craft in the world. The emperor believed them and hired them to cut him a new suit for his birthday. When he went to see the work in progress, they seemed very busy, but he could see no cloth.

The tailor’s quickly explained how special the cloth was: so fine was the fabric, so clear, that only the wise could see it.

The courtiers heard this and became tense, afraid they would be called stupid and without wisdom. So, they came back to the emperor and told him the cloth was extraordinarily beautiful. When the emperor heard, he had to go and see for himself, but then [as he could not see it] he was afraid they would say he had no wisdom. So, he praised the cloth as splendidly beautiful. The tailors asked for more money to improve the work: such splendid cloth had to be expensive.

At last, the great day came. A great procession was arranged. The tailors pretended to dress the emperor. Then the emperor set out to show off his fine clothes to the people.

The crowds admired the fine clothes, all fearing to appear stupid or without merit if unable to see.

From the midst of the crowd however, a little child’s voice was heard, “ Mother, the emperor is naked! The emperor is naked!” And the whole game was up…

I wouldn’t be wrong to say that the Thai artworld is like this white fable. Everyone is afraid of being called stupid or lacking in taste. So, they dare not speak up to offer their real opinion. When the performance was over, most of the audience enjoyed the food, not allowing themselves a chance to speak about how they had received the art show of this world class artist.

Morimura uses photographs to communicate. He uses himself as a symbol in making fun of and satirizing and insulting the values and meaning of the artworks of the world and of Western art history which has had such influence in Japan and around the world up till today. For example, his work, Self Portrait as Art History with giant pictures: his Futago (twin) makes fun of Eduard Manet’s Olympia, using a picture of a prostitute; presenting himself in Van Gogh’s Self Portrait and as the Mona Lisa. These are admired by Thai artists.

And in his works, Actresses, Morimura takes photos of himself, some in color, some in black and white, making himself up in dresses like Marilyn Monroe, Ingrid Bergman, Brigit Bardot, Elisabeth Taylor, and many famous women actors. He is satirizing, trying to cross borders of time, nationality and sex in order to be ‘someone else,’ like Japanese and other Asian people who want to be Americans.

And because Morimura is Asian with yellow skin (to bring in the issue of race), and is gay (bringing in the issue of sexual orientation – male/female , female/male) – all this really makes the interpretation more confusing. There are many levels, many dimensions. His work is very popular with critics, curators, and art historians, and with galleries in Europe and America. In Japan, he is a heroine (leading lady) and part of the history of art of the world (of the West more than the world). The name Morimura is in the forefront. Call it insulting so well that the whites have put him in their art history books, so he and his art are saved.

Whatever gets on the world level like this calls people’s attention and they come to see it. I’m Thai and I was interested, too. I used to see some of his works coming in catalogs from famous shows. When I saw 3 or 4 pieces, that was OK, but when I saw a lot of his work and really big in the Anonymity, Nameless show in the gallery, I felt different. It was not as exciting as in the catalog. Why is that?

Perhaps because his ideas are repetitive – insulting stories trying to make a living, trying to earn money from the meanings of the Western artworld; using famous pictures of the world with pictures of Hollywood movie stars. Nothing new after that. Since Portrait (Van Gogh) 1985, you can see more and more clearly how old it gets. The joke isn’t developed; it doesn’t go anywhere; it has reached bottom. He goes on using his own face with no new meaning. So he appears to be behind himself. In this case, Morimura didn’t use himself to search or investigate himself as deeply as a human being as Frieda Kalo did, or Chatchai Puipia.

The use of sarcasm, ridicule or imitation of pop culture stars such as Marilyn Monroe or whoever else happens to be famous among the whites – the transvestites of Alcazar or Tiffany – had been using these for more than 20 years. That should be enough by now. When I was a grade school student in short pants I used to pay to get in out of curiosity. It was fun, fascinating to see, exotic, very easy, to see the ‘medium’ doing Marily Monroe, singing ‘lip-sync.’ Of course, the young [impersonators] practiced a lot to get it all perfectly. Imitating was their selling point. Look at it as ridicule or satirizing oneself as the second sex – tasteless – in the copying culture of the Thai. But it was about young women: the Cabaret ‘girls’ did it long ago, long before Morimura.

So! Why hasn’t anyone made them into great artists? Or recorded their stories in art history before Morimura? Who knows, but I expect the answer will be along the lines that ‘because they are not artists; they are entertainers, not artists.’ Or, ‘They don’t show in galleries.’ I hope I don’t get such a shallow and embarrassing answer.

To conclude, the work of Morimura-san: “ I don’t see anything.” Like little Miss Chamaiporn said, overlooking some points, in any case, because she is just a kid. There is so much she still doesn’t know…in this world.

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