Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Commentary on Parinya Tantisuk. ‘Chatchai Puipia –One More Time’

Parinya Tantisuk. ‘Chatchai Puipia –One More Time’ in Silpa Wattanatham, Siam Rath Weekly News magazine, Yr.44, Vol. 25, 23 – 29 Nov. 1997 / 2540. (2)

It is difficult to find earlier examples of critiques by Parinya Tantisuk which focus on artworks emphasizing social criticism. Typically the most urbane and discrete of critics, Parinya would not identify with harsh and very negative works of art, especially since – in polite Thai society – direct, publicly voiced criticism is looked upon as rowdy and aggressive.

However, after the financial crisis of mid 1997 had sent the nation reeling, Parinya did express his indignation in หน้าศิลปวัฒนธรรม [the Silpa Wattanatham column], particularly in regard to the political and economic folly which had dragged millions of Thai people into financial disaster. He also featured more artists and exhibitions critical of various aspects of contemporary Thai society.

In March, 1998, for example, the critic describes Chakraphan Rattanachan’s paintings of drunkenness and debauchery in his essay, ‘สังคมนรก’ [Hell Society]. In August, he writes about the mocking, inflatable carcasses created by Suti Kunavichayanont in ‘ฝนตก ขี้หมูไหล’ [When it Rains, Pig Shit Runs], and in November, 1998, Bandid Poonsombatlert’s prize-winning conceptual work featuring grisly bags of body-parts on sale from a pushcart in ‘Ready Made Human Products with Chromium Trolley’.

Not that angry art had never surfaced in the Thai artworld before 1997. Indeed, a rival school of ‘art for life’ had long been simmering with social protest – for example, in the early paintings of Pratuang Emcharoen and in the works of Tavi Rachineekorn. But 1997 seems particularly to mark a turning point in the tenor of Parinya Tantisuk’s criticism in หน้าศิลปวัฒนธรรม [the Silpa Wattanatham column]. He no longer needs to reach back to 1990 to praise Chatchai’s finely crafted, but docile obstructing elephant. In November, 1997 Parinya wholeheartedly welcomes Chatchai’s rudely calculated exhibition entitled, Almost to Heaven - a slang expression for sensual pleasure that is almost at its peak.

In the new show, Parinya finds the artist to be, as ever, ‘a thinker, bold and mischievous,’ with impressive command of his craft, skilled in artistic expression, witty, charming and insightful, an artist who creatively combines imaginative ideas and droll emotions. In short, he says, Chatchai ‘has it all.’ The exhibition’s eight pictures are ‘spicy, in eight delicious flavors.’

At the top of the article’s first page, a bullying arrogant face eyes the reader with a threatening growl, though this little printed image is smooth and cool, burning without producing much heat. On the opposite page, a set of naked buttocks spreads like a trumpeting banner. The expanse of liberated flesh suggests both boldness and vulnerability. By contrast, ติ่ง ติ่ง [a little protrusion], shows the artist standing naked and sheepish, reluctant to fully turn and face his audience.

Parinya also includes an image of Chatchai’s painting of a large, enigmatic head which has sprouted pairs of playfully nonchalant legs. The monstrous visage with a cold eye seems to peer out from inside its frame. Text and pictures distill the critic’s eyewitness account of the show:

"His works make one angry, make one laugh and make one think. Where can
you go to look at pictures in an exhibition, pass a curtain, and meet an image
of a butt from which the anus appear to be releasing a fart? Look to the left
and right – you find another ass – not just one, but 4 or 5. And the smiling
red face of the artist pokes in, grinning broadly. But he has a broken, twisted
topknot in disarray. He is naked, turning his butt toward us, smiling sheepishly, protective of the good and the bad. One painting shows only a head with flowers…a giant head. The color and the eyes are abnormal, unnatural; the heads sprout things…
When you see it all, you have to look again, because the taste of the color is delicious - red which is so red. It splashes, shining, on a giant wounded face; a smile, a broad grin, with dirty yellow teeth. This is even more satisfying. The brushstrokes are also pleasing. This is altogether and truly good; the feeling explodes out."

Parinya relishes the recollection of Chatchai’s masterful use of color and painterly fielding of brushstrokes in all eight paintings. On newsprint, however, words and pictures in pale, colored ink tell a cooler story. The threats, challenges and mocking absurdities of the jeering faces and wounded heads are tamed by their diminished size and by the uniformity of the colored ink dots. In any case, the message of youthful defiance radiates off the page which now, incidentally, is the property of the subscriber.

The large painting which gave the show, ‘Almost to Heaven’, its name stood at the very center of the exhibition. Apparently, it was the defining image: broad, naked buttocks and suspended testicles, with two ladders leading upward, one propped against the left cheek, one against the right. In the sky above, clouds float endlessly by, benign and oblivious. To what end does the head grovel and the tail wag behind? To what sort of advancement do these ladders lead? Works such as these seem designed, as Parinya observes, to confound the hopes of art-lovers in search of romantic or idealized heroes or heroines.

The image at the top of the column’s second page shows a garlanded, monumental, toppled head entitled, ดอกปีบ ตายแล้วไปไหน เออ [Where do these fragrant white Flowers go when they die?] The stony face refuses to rest on the earth but hovers restlessly. Welcoming with delight these weird and beautifully crafted images, the critic only hints at interpretations, concluding at the last:

"In all these works, Chatchai uses his own face to express madness, weirdness,abnormality, strangeness, someone ‘not all there,’ desire, the need to come out. But after looking at them, one thinks of the Thai proverb, ‘After looking at a play …look at yourself.’

Apparently, Chatchai had explored his own dark intransigence and invited his countrymen to examine their own lives and consciences as well.

For Thai people generally, a brief, breathtaking visit to the gallery to see this show would be possible for only a relative handful of privileged individuals. The great majority of readers in provinces distant from Bangkok would have a very slim likelihood of ever actually seeing any of the original paintings. Such artifacts, rare, exotic and expensive, would in any case have very little connection in their lives. But the pictures and the report of the show in the pages of หน้าศิลปวัฒนธรรม [the Silpa Wattanatham column] have the warmth and earnest intimacy of a personal letter.

The essay does not connect anyone with either the artist or the artworks, but it does link readers with the voice of Parinya Tantisuk. The art critic and the mass forum provided by the magazine, rather than the artist or the precious artworks, become the vital interpreters. It is mass media and mass art which equips readers with symbols and gives them the words they need in order to participate in their own society’s contemporary cultural discourse.

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