Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Surachat Ketprasit. ‘Is it Art or Not?’ (FINE ART magazine, 2006)



Surachat Ketprasit. ‘Is it Art or Not?’ in FINE ART magazine, Vol. 3, No. 19,
15 Feb – 15 Mar, 2006.


Body Art – Erotic Art – Penis Art – Vagina Art – Vagina Painting“หีนศีลป” “อุบาทวศิลป” “อัปรียศิลปะ” หรือ “วิตคารศิลปะ”

The Thai vocabulary offered by the writer is rather risqué, actually. Absolutely do not use them as enlightened terminology for use in scholarly studies of art. I believe that by presenting this theme and the attitudes expressed in this vocabulary, I will surely get some knocks from the people in the artworld here in Thailand for ‘grasping a corpse with the sacrament still on my lips,’ or something like that. In any case, I am not going to respond to any such accusations.

But there are some possible ideas from another angle. For example, one refuses to be someone who ‘has a corpse in his mouth and nothing holy in hand.’ That is, being ethically irresponsible and saying nothing at all about this theme which I see in many circles in our society today, especially in the art world. The writer opens it up as a challenge. The ideas and opinions are offered to relevant persons in the artworld, whoever takes an interest in art movements, whether in Thailand or abroad. Anyone. Will there be similar opinions or different? And in what way? I will go ahead and try to express the ideas.

The story concerns the writer’s ideas and inspiration from a book entitled
(พม) เป็น ศิลปิน (‘I am an artist’)by Araya Radchamroensuk.
I read it. It has something to say. It presents ideas and opinions from the viewpoints of artists and scholars as two people, two sexes – male and female – in the same body. Some sections are very tasty reading indeed. Some are rather laborious and tiring. The writer in some passages of the book expresses ‘two in one,’ back and forth.

In any case, the writer has followed this story for the whole time it was being printed in Matichon Weekly, and did not miss the opportunity to hurry and buy unhesitatingly when Matichon published the book because the writer is, at least, a professional art teacher. Had to find and read it, collect the information, the knowledge, in order to show off when teaching and critiquing works of student art.

In Araya’s book, (‘I am an artist’) there are many interesting articles. One in particular is entitled จากเศษส่วนถึงจำนวนเต็มของร่างกายศิลปิน (‘from fragments to wholeness in the body of the artist’). The content is a critique describing various activities and asking if they are art or not. If they are, how is it possible? And what kind of art is it? What value and meaning can we find in the word, ‘art’? How much, how good? If these kinds of art activities appeared in Thailand ‘s artworld someday, would they be consistent with Thai culture and society? Or are such activities simply the fruit of actions which wash away the raw and repressed instincts of a group of deviants with evil minds and perverse habits? Do they grab the cloak of ‘art’ to cover antisocial abnormalities? Such activities arise and people call them ‘creative art.’

On page 318 of the book, A. Araya tells of an exhibition of (abnormal) art by three foreign artists. The first was a young Japanese woman, Shigeko Kubota. According to the article, ‘the fragment of the artist very worth seeing and not to be seen,’ but admired in a work of art was a painting of the woman’s genitals. To make the painting she had used her monthly menstruation – something usually regarded as neither fresh nor uplifting, though it is presented as bright and refreshing in television ads for sanitary napkins. It was very lively in a 1965 exhibition in New York on a large piece of paper. The artist wore short, tight dresses, wearing underwear, of course…Kubota developed the action painting of Pollack who was famous for his gestures and ideas. The Japanese artist squatted and strained, stretching out arms and legs, allowing the blood to drip on the paper. “Her movements…the natural color coming from her various acts and gestures, were a woman’s way of drawing and painting, joined with the color of her menstrual blood as she strained to get it out. She drew with no hands; it was an abstraction on paper.”

The writer of the above quoted article expressed the view that the action of the young Japanese woman artist that time, in terms of art, was certainly out of the ordinary. In fact, it was totally meaningless because the vagina was made sexual reproduction. Its role was changed, becoming a drawing or recording instrument. It was an attempt to erase the former meaning of reproduction, sex and vulva. Change had come; she created a new role for the organ and spoiled it.

Acharn Araya called this kind of art ‘vagina painting.’ As an academic matter which looks weird, it’s no joke, but the writer prefers the Thai term: โยนีจิตรกรรม, i.e. using the vagina as a tool and taking menstrual blood for use as color in picture-making. Oh, this is deeply abnormal, this woman (artist).

Two other foreign artists, Mr. Otto Muel and his friend, Mr. Guenter Brus, undertook art activities as white males. The event was described as follows: “ You see two male artists taking their clothes off. They wear only socks. One man is named Otto Muel; the other is Guenter Brus. One directs a stream of urine from the penis in his grasp at the other, who opens his mouth to receive it. The work is entitled, loosely, Piss. It was a live performance, as the Viennese prefer and was defined as ‘Direct Art.’ The event was critiqued as ‘a summary of sexuality and personality via body language in order to touch existence more directly.’

In Araya Radchamroensuk’s article I am an Artist, there are no illustrations for us to see the deviant activities (art) of those people. But the writing is close when read. Reading it here, you can envision the actions (referred to in the name of art), virtually all of them abnormal, deviant and perverted as described.
Let’s follow up the deviance of Guenter Brus as described by Acharn Araya:

“In 1968 the University of Vienna allowed performance artists invited by student associations to make political commentary about the status of art in the late socialist era. Brus gave a live performance entitled ‘Art and Revolution.’ He stood up and took off all his clothes, except his socks. He stood on a chair in front of the auditorium and cut his chest and thighs with a razor. Then he pissed into a glass and drank it in one gulp. Then he shit and put the shit on himself. After he finished, he lay down peacefully on the floor and masturbated rhythmically to the tune of the Austrian national anthem. Of course, he was arrested for indecency, for misuse of national symbols, and was banished to the frontier (East Berlin). There were quite a number of other charges: he was pardoned in 1976.”

Is this art? Many people may be asking the same question of the writer here, and he cannot but answer that it should not be…If answering in the negative, then what is art? The present writer replies with his point of view about what it ought to be: it ought to have enough value to nicely lift our minds and our awareness.

The writer sees that we should at least return to and review the meaning of art, which has been referred to, studied and passed on for a long time in Western theory. This can be compared with the art (deviant) activities, weird and full of perversion and sadism, which invite one to feel disgusted – in taste, smell, and image of the artist’s deviant gestures done in public. This has taken place first among Western artists. Of course, that doesn’t mean that the art of the past was the most perfect and correct: everything continues to change. As a rule, to stop is to die.

As to the illustrations in Part I and in other parts of this article, they come from ‘Women Artists in the 20th and 21st Century,’ by Taschen Publishing, 2001. This is a book about contemporary art by women, both from the East and Western worlds, who are forward looking, brave, bold and daring. No Thai women are included. I am sure that these illustrations will help the reader to feel confident of the actual activities in art of such a weird persuasion – though they lack any true purpose. It is not like seeing the original exhibition where one would gain a better understanding of these activities at some level.

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