Monday, March 30, 2009

Manit Sriwanichpoom. “Darling of the Lechers,” in Siamrath Weekly News, Yr.52, Vol.40, 24 Feb.– 2 Mar. 2549 / 2006

Tanate Aowasintsiri (age 46) is a painter (realist) who is under-rated, though his ideas, abilities and skills are beyond the ordinary. You will notice that his work is not much spoken of in the history of Thai art, or that he doesn’t much get invited to join exhibitions with his artist friends of the same generation like Chatchai Puipia or even his juniors, like Nati Utharit or Tawisak Srithongdi, who are better known.

In any case, Tanate has never retreated because he well understands that the world of art outside and within him are two different worlds with different goals. He works on a regular basis, quietly in the teachers’ studio at Bangkok University where he has been teaching for three or four years. He takes these works to a solo show. His life lacks excitement. It would bore many people.

If anyone goes to see the ‘Darling of the Lechers,’ his latest set of 9 acrylic paintings now showing at 100 Tonson Gallery (19 Jan – 26 Feb 2006),
they will understand Tanate immediately and will be happy with him, too, that he hasn’t changed to art ‘in the fashion.’ In which case, we would lose another real painter, an honest painter, honest to his own feelings. He searches for the forms, style and technique to a high level to reach real excellence.

At the opening of his show, I had a chance to chat with the artist and I would like to share that interview with you, my readers.

Manit: I notice that your earlier works look blurred, oily and dark.

Tanate: There is a lot of texture, heavy and dark, slightly thickened colors.

Manit: Do you see that, up to today, it comes out rather clean, soft and sweet?

Tanate: In part, it is because of the age at which we look at the world. I look at the world as terrible…I used to…(he laughs). It just happens that at this age I can create some better balance in myself concerning the world.

Manit: Would you please explain more on this point?

Tanate: For example, when I was young, I thought the world was so bad. It would mix and mingle inside me. When I make pictures, they would come out a bit negatively. Nowadays, I still look at the world with a negative view, but I understand things better; [I understand] that really, the world is truly terrible in the larger system – it’s evil. But it seems that the longer one remains in this evil world, one needs to create a balance in oneself in order to live in it but not be part of it. I think it is a characteristic of seeking balance in the heart in the face of what we don’t like.

Frankly speaking, I don’t like the world as it is. But one seeks a point of balance. Maybe I am lucky because I am a provincial. I used to experience the true forest – real nature. Now, I think of myself as if I lost the natural light already. For example, I rent a room and it is always light. True darkness, as it really is, we don’t have it anymore. I don’t have the night I had in my childhood anymore. These things – and I think there are many of them – the detritus – come up in tranquility. Peacefulness has value.

Manit: As I see it, you use painting to create substitutes of feeling for what you used to have, and make us feel that we can go on in the world.
Tanate: One has to find balance with a world that is no good, because we have to remain in the world.

Manit: This is part of your reason, is it not, for using ‘woman’ as your subject?

Tanate: I think that many things – maybe we find feelings and take the idea of someone who is very trusting ‘post-feminist.’ I think a look at women very positively. I bring them all together very easily.

Manit: Yes. I forgot to ask you why you use women as symbols.

Tanate: What I said about nature and a feeling of relaxing, letting go of tension, getting away from negative thinking, thinking of generosity, having compassion, being at peace, in quiet, etc. I think that this is the treasure that they call ‘being a woman’ in the form that I know. I don’t divide the sexes that much, but I feel that, if you call this a heritage, you speak of womanliness.

Manit: Therefore, your women are more than sexual.

Tanate: It’s like an inheritance. It’s a state of being. A person can be half human – showing that state of being. But I didn’t plan it that way. It is as if when drawn, it goes that way. It adjusts itself and works like Asian people used to do – not thinking much. We use our lives, what we got , this and that, and record it.

Manit: If you look at women 5 years ago, they were meatier. The women you paint are women with very dark skins – chocolate skins. They seem Asian, but not really. You might say African or Latin. A mixture. They are like ceramics, the color of fired clay.

Tanate: They are not particularly specified.

Manit: It seems like you create ideal women. Another point is, they don’t have shiny eyes. They have broad lips and black eyes. Their figures are rather classic.
Tanate: Not much flesh; they are all scrubbed.

Manit: And what is this landscape of pillows – where does that come from?

Tanate: Speaking simply, the pillows are soft. When you lie upon them, you feel so comfortable. And we live on our bed when we sleep or when we are sick, when we dream or sleep, or whatever. But I didn’t choose them (the pillow symbol) like a conceptual artist or anything, but naturally. Whatever I do, it’s like a landscape.

Manit: And the earthen water jars?

Tanate: These jars have many designs. The old kind, when I was young, were filled with root vegetables. Grandmother pickled them. We used to get larva [from such jars] for our fighting fish. Those were the simple ones. But if you wanted more complexity, as in the earlier days in the city, they used to bury the valuables of the dead in such jars. There are many ways when one thinks; one can think with ones feelings, not with reason.

Manit: Talking about earlier works, your works were full of so many things. If there were people, they would be women. If there were animals, they would be symbols: cats, dogs, crocodiles.

Tanate: Cats and such come from my teaching. I read a lot and know how to use symbols. They come from white systems: dogs suggest faithfulness; cats are women – charming. It’s a comparison. They are good company, but sometimes feisty and scratch. In the West, in the work of Balthus or Manet, cats are used this way. You can see when you study art history. But they don’t use [these symbols] much nowadays.

Manit: In this set of works I am surprised they are so sweet.

Tanate: For me, I don’t find them sweet. I find in them a state of transparent comfort.

Manit: You seem to have crystallized this state in stillness. In earlier works it was as if you threw everything in – everything you knew. And the works were quite big. This set is quite the opposite. Totally from the heart.

Tanate: This (he points to an older work) is the work of a youth. He wants to try. Especially painters. They get the urge to do a painting of 5 or 10 meters. They think it is nothing and plunge into it. I have 3 pieces which are 2 m.60 cm x 2 m 30 cm. A canvas of 6 square meters. No need to show it, but one needs to do it. One tests oneself, like a writer who wants to write an epic poem. But I don’t do that anymore.

Manit: And the crocodile?

Tanate: Myself. (He laughs.) When I was younger, I played around. I was sometimes rowdy, you know. I thought I was a crocodile. That’s over now.

Manit: Or are you just an old crocodile now?
Tanate: (laughs)

The Art of the 9th Reign / 6 Decades - Manit Sriwanichpoom in Siamrath Weekly news / Silpa Wattanatham column

Manit Sriwanichpoom. “The Art of the 9th Reign” in Silpa Wattanatham column of Siamrath Weekly News, Yr.54 Vol.15, 5 – 11 January 2550 / 2007

There is an art exhibition that everyone should see. Don’t miss it. The show to celebrate the art of the 9th Reign – 6 Decades of Thai Art at the Queen’s Gallery (Sirikit) at Sapan Phan Fha from 11 February.

This show is one of the ongoing projects of the Rama 9 Art Org Foundation. They used to organize a celebration of the reign of the present King on the 50th anniversary of his reign in 2539 (1996). It was a grand celebration. Many of the masterpieces of Thai art were collected together as never before in history, using the extensive premises of the Sirikit National Convention Center.

This time, the exhibition premises are much smaller by comparison, and the number of works on show [are fewer] as well.

A show of H.M. the King’s own works is on the first floor. They asked His Majesty to allow his works to be exhibited: Red Hand, an oil painting (49 x 59 cm) 2504 (1971), and Royal Hands, a black and white photo (43 x 59 cm).

About this room, you understand that the works of art are His Majesty’s, shown this time by his gracious permission. It shows the need in our country to find something unanimous.

The real exhibition hall, 6 Decades of Thai Art, has been divided in 6 rooms and covers 3 floors. Each room represents one decade, beginning in 2489 (1946), when His Majesty returned to rule again, until 2540 (2006). According to the brochure for the show, “the works selected to show in each room mean the best works of the important artists who had a role in that era. Enjoying this show is like going back in the pages of history. You can see contemporary Thai art coming into being and evolving step by step in these rare masterpieces.

The Virtual Gallery is set up on the 5th floor to demonstrate how the chow can be seen on the Net henceforth very easily. The viewer just clicks on and can see the whole show. And they have put it on a CD and proudly advertise, ‘ Is it possible? As we still have no international quality art museum, today can we own a virtual gallery, the biggest in the world?’

The information is expanded. ‘Virtual Gallery’ means viewing the show via other media in a new atmosphere with the latest technology. Thus, the whole world can see the exhibition whenever they like. And the feeling is like taking a personal tour. Of course, seeing the original is best, but seeing it via new media can replace that lost opportunity.

I would like to say very directly that the star of this exhibition is the Virtual Gallery. When you compare the area used for the show, the virtual show uses the whole 5th floor. Four or five computers around the room would be enough to introduce the project. No need to project images from the website to the ceiling or to use real space to express ‘virtual space.’ Unfortunately, it didn’t make much sense in such a limited space.

But it is understandable: Rama 9 Art Foundation invested a lot in their Virtual Gallery Website. They needed to do the PR so the public would know about it. They had to make a big deal of it – the foundation’s primary work is the website for Thai art.

In the midst of wide eyed excitement about the hi-tech digital gallery (by which the foundation thought they might make up for the real gallery of international standard which we don’t have), one thing we shouldn’t forget and should see as the important center is content. It looks like the organizers invested (brains, time and effort) too little in this respect. The academic results in this exhibition are rather thin – lacking analysis, distillation and serious clarification of levels of importance in the information. Are there artists or creative groups who should be invited to show whose works and ideas are reflected in this artistic, social, political and cultural progress and development? In terms of ‘doing ones homework,’ not enough has been done. Many important artists have been left out, and many are in the show who should not be.

Let me give the example of the 4th floor which shows the works of the 6th decade 2539 -2549 (1996 – 2006). It is a history of the creation of contemporary Thai art, still fresh and new in the memory of the Thai artworld. But when one reads the information posted on the wall of the exhibition hall and looks at the art on show, one finds that many artists who started movements in the Thai artworld have been left out – for example, Nitaya Eua-ariworakul, the important center of Womanifesto, who opened the exhibition stage for many Thai women artists and made much of the rights of women. She and her friends have been working on this for 10 years or more.

Michael Shaowanasai and Montri Termsombat have come out clearly as gay artists. They have made art about the difficulties of homosexual relationships, directly challenging the values of society generally. Neither are represented in the show; these distinctive new movements in the 6th decade are being denied.

Michael was not invited, but he shows up by good fortune in the video of Sakharin Kreu-on. Why not get Michael’s ‘gay monk’ photos and put them up with the paintings of Anupong Jantorn, a new young artist who has many less hours of work than Michael? There is nothing new in the area of seriously critical work. There is nothing of interest but the various forms and styles of picture-making.

The cases of Rerkridt Tirawanit, Surasi Kusolwong and Nawin Lawanchaikul – international artists who have become famous in Thailand and abroad – why are their works not included? Not even mentioned in the text!

Looking at the works in the show, most are not the most outstanding examples, the masterpieces. For example, among the paintings of Chatchai Puipia they should have done better than the portrait of Wasan Sittiket.
The organizer’s method of selecting works – their way, you get the name alright. But they shouldn’t have simply asked each artist for a work to include in the show. The artists have so many works; the organizers should have requested specific works. Such a general request may not be taken very seriously: the artist simply picks up whatever is at hand. And the best works have been picked up by collectors already. They are not shown because they are hard to get. When one goes for ease and convenience, artists respond in kind. In the end, this is what you get.

The way out in this (I’m sure the organizers will agree) is to use a curator. If this job had used a real curator, the audience would have seen real and clear development, real progress of artists in the era of the 9th reign.

Why didn’t they go that route? Such a big show and no one making selections? Very strange. It wasn’t a charity affair like a Red Cross Fair. Many artists sent in their work. But academically, in terms of scholarly presentation, the effort fails. How can we cite “…The art of other reigns…we can clearly see what it was like. But the art of the 9th Reign, what is it like?”

Finally, besides the content of the virtual gallery, the organizers should use Thai language for Thai visitors to read, too, not just English. Where is the rejoicing in being Thai? The national pride? Love for the institution? No matter how difficult it is to do these things, they should be done.
If not they will say we are trying to please the whites.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Draft Act for the Funding of Contemporary Art, in Silpa Wattantham Column, Siamrath Weekly, Sept 2006

Manit Sriwanichpoom. “Draft of the Funding Act to Promote Contemporary Art (1)” in Silpa Wattanatham column of Siamrath Weekly News, Yr.53, Vol.16,

Manit Sriwanichpoom. “Draft of the Funding Act to Promote Contemporary Art (1)” in Silpa Wattanatham column of Siamrath Weekly News, Yr.53, Vol.16, 8 – 14 September. 2549 / 2006

1/ On Wednesday, 23August, the Office of Contemporary Art and Culture of the Ministry of Culture had an open public hearing at the SD Avenue Hotel, Pra Borom chonanee Road in Bangkok on the draft resolution for a fund to promote contemporary art. Only 60 people came to the hearing to listen and participate.

2/ As I was one of the committee who drafted the act, I felt that participation in the hearing was too narrow and limited. The Office of Contemporary Art and Culture needed to better publicize the event and to invite more people from the various branches of the contemporary artworld. Those with something to lose or to gain directly from this act – they should know about it and express their opinions. In the future, when the act passes through Parliament and becomes law, it will be difficult to amend. I recommended that Samart Jansorn, the director of the Institute for Contemporary Art and Culture who is directly responsible for this, put the draft of the act on the website of the Office of Contemporary Art and Culture so that artists, art teachers and activists, curators throughout Bangkok and upcountry - all can send their ideas by email to the website very conveniently, saving time and money.

3/ Those who cannot get on the internet can fax or send a letter to Director Samart Jansorn at the Office of Contemporary Art and Culture at the Ministry of Culture, 17th Floor, Thanalongkorn Tower Bldg., 666 Phra Boromchonani Rd, Kwaeng Bang Bamru, Bangplad District, Bkk. 10700.

4/ I would like to briefly explain that this act is not a law of censorship or an act aimed at putting controls on creativity. Quite the opposite -the name tells the story. It is an act providing supporting funds. It takes state funding or even private funding donated for the support of contemporary art activities. It is an act which is very progressive. In the past, contemporary art was practically invisible. [i.e. to the government and the general public]

5/ From here on, I would like to give the space of the column to the entirety of this proposed act.

6/ Principles and Reasons: the draft of the act for a fund to support contemporary art and culture…

7/ Principles: To have a law regarding a fund for supporting contemporary art.

8/ Reasons: Contemporary artists are pare of the preserving and carrying forward of the nation’s culture and continuously develop in conjunction with the act/ Article 81 of the Constitution of the Kingdom of Thailand. The act aims to support the nation’s art and culture and the policy of the government to develop the quality of the people and the society. Works of art have an impact on the youth of the nation, to study and know and find the aesthetic value of art. Besides, this is developing and building up the quality of life of the people and their morality, creating unanimity and happiness in heart and mind, directly and indirectly. Ultimately, contemporary art will be the culture of the nation. It is a capital investment and energy which helps push the economy of the nation to improve. Therefore, supporting contemporary culture is the duty of the state which must be done, both in the private and public sectors, and by the people, especially creative artists, under the fund to support contemporary art, taking legal measures. Hence, such an act is necessary.

9/ Draft of the Act to Fund Contemporary ArtArticle 1. This Act is named The Act to Fund and Support Contemporary Art.
Article 2. This act will be in force the day after it is published in the Royal Gazette.

Article 3. According to this Act:

• ‘Contemporary Art’ means art which is newly created from imagination, feeling, ideas and in application. ‘Culture’ is the important root which creates it. It includes visual art or other branches designated by the Ministry.
• ‘Fund’ means the fund to support contemporary art.
• ‘Committee’ means the committee to gather the fund to support contemporary art.
• ‘The director’ means the director of the Office of Contemporary Art and Culture.
• ‘The Office’ means the Office of Contemporary Art and Culture.
• ‘Minister’ means the action minister, according to the Act.

Article 4. The Ministry of Art and Culture has power, according to the regulations of the ministry, according to this act. Those regulations, when published in the Royal Gazette, will come into effect.

Section 1

Means of Supporting Contemporary Art
Article 5. A person whose profession is in contemporary art, by joining in a group or faculty, which may or may not be a legal entity. If seeking support from this funding act, they must request to register with the Office of Contemporary Art and Culture in the Ministry of Culture according to the principles and methods as stated in the announcements of the Office.

• Checking the qualifications of people wishing to register as agencies or companies of persons, and who wish to be considered for registration, will be carried out according to the announcements of the committee.

Article 6. Educational institutions which aim to receive support for contemporary art can make a request to the Office of Contemporary Art and Culture (OCAC) in the Ministry of Culture. This will proceed according to Article 7.

Article 7. Agencies or faculties of persons or educational institutions asking for support under the act must arrange a project and stipulate the information as follows:
1. The registration number of the agency or group of persons given by the OCAC.
2. The list of all names of the members of the agency or group.
3. Details of the property, debt and burdens and obligations of the agency or group of persons.
4. Details of the project.
5. Reasons for proposing the project.
6. Principles, process and stages of carrying out the project.
7. Period during which the project will be carried out.
8. List of persons offering support to the project, with details of that support, if any.

9. Results of the plan or project which the people and the nation will receive.
Educational institutions should stipulate information only for points 4,5,6,7, and 8.

Article 8. The committee has the power to consider for approval of projects by the regulations and means set in the announcement by the committee, and they should announce the results of their considerations to the agency or group of persons or educational institution within 180 days from the day the project is received, except in the event of necessity, but not more than another 180 days.

In cases which will not receive support, let the agency or group of persons or the educational institution have the right to appeal to an inner committee within 60 days of learning of the rejection.

Article 9. Let the director have the power to consider the approval of projects which request less than 50,000 baht.
Let the committee have the power to consider approving projects which request more than 50,000 baht.

Article 10. The committee and the director may agree to a project by stipulating conditions.

Article 11. Allow the agency or group of persons or the educational institution to report on the progress of the project which is approved by the Office according to the conditions and period of time announced by the committee.
Let the office check out and evaluate the results of the project. If the results show that the project was not carried out as agreed upon, the agency or group of people or educational institution must correct or improve their work in the time allotted. And in cases, where it is suitable, there may be an order to stop or slow payment to the project in that period.
In case it is clear that the agency or group of persons or the educational institution has not carried out their project as stipulated in the support agreement, the director may recommend to the committee that they suspend the project.

(Manit completed the presentation of the draft of the Funding Act for the Support of Contemporary Art the following week: Manit Sriwanichpoom. “Draft of the Funding Act to Promote Contemporary Art (finish)” in Silpa Wattanatham column of Siamrath Weekly News, Yr.53, Vol.17, 15 – 21 September. 2549 / 2006)

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.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

King Kong Siam and Night Butterflies / Manit Sriwanichpoom in Silpa Wattanatham, Siamrath Weekly

Manit Sriwanichpoom. “King Kong Siam and Night Butterflies” in Siamrath Weekly News, Yr.49, Vol.19, 4 – 10 October. 2545 / 2002.

Manit Sriwanichpoom. “King Kong Siam and Night Butterflies” in Siamrath Weekly News, Yr.49, Vol.19, 4 – 10 October. 2545 / 2002. (p.66-67)

What if I were a foreign tourist taken on a shopping tour by a guide and I got off the bus at the Silom Gallery, a place where antiques and works of art are on sale.
l. 6 – 7 Going along admiring the works at the 19th Contemporary Art Exhibition for Young Artists, I might come to some conclusions about Thailand which the local young men and women artists (16 – 25 years of age) are showing in the 117 works in the exhibition, i.e. that the country has only ‘King Kong Siam’ and ‘Night Butterflies.’
l. 13 Why ‘King Kong Siam?
l. 14 The silkscreen prints which look like a brightly colored cartoons are by Tanapol Sertsanit. There are two, entitled Siam, Land of Smiles #1 and #2. In the first there are white tourists, young, like husband and wife, and in the second, a white female in a skimpy outfit welcomed by the smile of a young male ‘King Kong Siam.’ The work of Tanapol in this set invites one to laugh hard and bitterly and then not to laugh at all. (King Kong Siam in the second picture wears a T-shirt with a Thai flag on it. The fellow is a bit meaty; the shirt is tight, a bit too small. The belly pushes out like an old dandy trying to court a young white girl – pathetic indeed.
l. 28 It is interesting how artists view the Amazing Thailand effort to promote tourism by the state Tourism Authority and the private sector. It’s all about Monkey Trick Lords or King Kong Tricks: Slashing the Whites. The attempt to sell the exotic, to sell what we call the ‘Thai-ness’ or ‘being Thai’ of Thai people to foreign tourists is not much different from selling pictures of ‘primitives’ in Hollywood movies.
l. 37 – 38 Thai charm = the primitive (backward and undeveloped) = King Kong Siam
l. 39 – 40 If Tanapol presents a picture of King Kong smiling, King Kong as the playboy dandy, Jittrakarn Kaewtinkoi presents an image of King Kong the Zombie in the work entitled The Opening. It is a large acrylic painting (150 x 190 cm) – a picture of a ribbon-cutting ceremony to open one event or another. It is like a photo of such social events which we commonly see in newspapers.
l. 47 -48. The artist is good at creating an atmosphere of gloomy color, chilling, of people in the picture, as the presiding figure opens the event. The honored guests are like zombies rather than like living people. Their faces lack emotion. They seem to have no eyes (i.e. no soul), with faces green, red or purple. The presiding individual grins broadly as he carefully cuts the ribbon separating the audience looking at the painting and all the honored zombies, opening the way for them to troop in and mob the audience (and eat them up!)
l. 57 And then there is ‘King Kong craving sex’ in the work Victim of Emotion by Arthit Amornchorn, an acrylic painting (70 x 130 cm). It is a picture of a girl sitting on a bus going home in the evening. The upper part of the painting depicts a group of fierce, cold-blooded males staring at her in a state of extreme sexual excitement - like hungry tigers staring at their prey. The artist warns people in society to be alert to sexual hazards which are present all around us.
l. 68. Why ‘Butterflies of the Night’?
l.69 I got this idea from Portrait of Night Butterflies by Nittipan Hoisaengthong. It is a large, rust-colored painting (170 x 200 cm) depicting girls in high school student uniforms with their backs turned to the audience. Behind them is a large butterfly with a pattern of round stars and circles. There is a nose and a mouth on the butterfly. When you move back from the painting far enough, you see the whole picture. It looks like a person’s face – as if a demon is appearing behind these young girls.

l. 80 -81 The artist is telling about the problem of prostitution among young students. He compare their being girls to being like butterflies with life and beauty. They fly upon the earth for a very short time before they die. It is a sad story and very depressing that they have to sacrifice their valuable maidenhood for money, convenience and luxury.
l. 88. Tanwa Wongsamutorn is another artist who presents ‘night butterflies,’ beautiful and full of sadness, in the work entitled Hesitate #2, an oil painting (150 x 190 cm)
l. 93 -94 In this picture, 5 young girls like prisoners in a jail with nothing to do but dress up beautifully and walk back and forth, up and down, round and round among the rooms and levels of a brothel, an empty row house. There are only beds, pictures, and a big portrait of a young girl.
l. 99 – 100 On the bed, one girl wears a long red skirt, the color of lust and sexual desire. We can’t see her torso or face because her friend is blocking our view. The latter wears black and a pale-colored short skirt. (p.67) She lifts her knee, showing a bit of thigh, her face without emotion, her eyes expressionless. Others walk up and down the stairs, lifeless and heartless, like zombies.
l. (1)05-6 And there are many other works which are critical of ‘Butterflies of the Night’ which reflect the decline of society, for example, Sideline No.2, by Amnart Kongwari; Pair of Opposites, by Worapote Rodsuk; and Beauty Queen, Deceptive Woman, by Sittikorn Thepsuwan, a picture which critiques beauty contests in society generally. (This picture won the prize given to encourage a young Thai artist.)

l. 13 – 14. Actually, the Contemporary Art Exhibition for Young Artists has been going on for a long time. This is the 19th year. Organizing such an event is really worthwhile. At least, it gives us a chance to see the ideas and skills of the new generation of artists who have grown up and will be the older generation of artists in the future. A number of famous artists have passed this stage before, for example, Chatchai Puipia, Jakapan Vilasinikul, Sakwudt Wisetmani, and Nawin Lawalchayakul.
l. 23 -24 But don’t give too much importance to prizes because they usually go to those works upon which the whole committee can agree. So a prize doesn’t reflect much more than the political acceptance and close-knit attitudes and ideas of the judging committee.
l. 30 – 32 I think we should look around at works which did not win prizes so we can understand and see the whole picture - the big picture, wider and clearer. That means we can see Thai society, the whole of it, the attitudes, ideas and skills of the artists of this generation.
l. 35 There is another exhibition in a shopping mall, but it is underground. The name of the show is quite long: Passing on the Culture of Sukhothai in the Millenial Year 2001. This is a show of historical pictures of Sukhothai by 50 senior artists with support from many sponsors. The catalog is in 4 colors – very good, and free. If I told you the names of the artists, they are all well known.
l. 50 – 51 Tourists like me are happy that we can see the works and ideas of young artists first. Otherwise one might misunderstand that Thailand has only Buddha images and the ruins of temples all over the country in time capsules, unchanged!

l.57 – 58 And pray that they don’t allow these young artists grow up to be King Kong Siam and Night Butterflies like their elders, their seniors, always spinning round and round. Amen.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Good Luck: Died Already (Santi Thongsuk)

Manit Sriwanichpoom. “Good Luck – Died Already,’ in Siamrath Weekly News, Yr.47, Vol.4, 25 June – 1 July, 2543 / 2000.

Manit Sriwanichpoom. “Good Luck – Died Already,’ in Siamrath Weekly News, Yr.47, Vol.4, 25 June – 1 July, 2543 / 2000.

‘What is something that has died? What has died from me is the soul of art – so very sad. It has begged leave to depart from me. All that is left today is ‘body,’ made of mortal flesh and blood. Limbs, heart, and a brain to use for the work at hand. Go on then, you sad, sad soul. When you go, I’ll be bright and gay. If you pull out now, one day you may want to return. I will make a place for you. But my temporary brain has to think it over, please, because ‘ere long my body may withdraw like you, too.’

l. 10. This is from the catalog of the painting show by Santi Thongsuk, a young male artist age 31 who just exhibited his latest series of works, ‘Good Luck – That I Died Already’ at a new gallery called Si-Am Art Space (they call it see-am art space...I’m not sure about it). It is in the soi behind Green Tower building on Rama IV Road. It used to be a row of units housing silkscreen printers. After that, they dressed it up as a school to teach art and an art gallery.

l. 18 If you just read the meaning in Santi’s mind, at bottom, in which he offers and invites, it’s really very interesting to see his 12 works. This is very personal meaning from the heart of someone who is rebelling – not tame, not believing, and having a problem with the ‘soul of art’ to which the artworld and artists value and refer to so frequently.

l.23 Santi Thongsuk is very well known in art competition circles, both nationally and internationally. He took first prize in the 1st ASEAN competition, Phillip Morris, 2534 (1991). The picture reflected social problems in which people struggle among themselves to survive in the midst of an uproar. The colors are very sad, dark and black. A woman gives birth to an infant, born into the midst of bitter strife.

l. 30 Besides, if you look in various catalogs through the history of exhibitions and prizes, you will see that Santi has exhibited in many big shows since 2533 (1990), and he has swept up the prizes in almost every category in shows like Bangkok Bank’s Bua Luang, the Thai Farmers Bank show, and exhibitions sponsored by Toshiba, Panasonic and AIT.

l. 36 So, it is very interesting that an artist who walks along the path given by society and wins many prizes and is honored as an outstanding artist, one who meets the standard and has everything in the life of an ‘artist’ - this person who looks so smooth and covered in rose petals, as everyone dreams of experiencing – and what happens? One day, that artist stands up and says, “Good luck! I have already died.” And what has “died’ is “the soul of art which is so very sad.” Like what Santi is doing here: this sort of thing. If it doesn’t really grab you and make you think, I don’t know what to say.

l. 45 It’s like that. We should seek an answer by taking a look at his paintings.
l. 47 The first piece is very big – 290 x 940 cm, entitled ‘I’m Glad I’m Dead.’ It is a picture of ‘prayers for the dead’ in which Santi himself is the corpse. He lays there, stretched out, naked, hands set in prayer on a pedestal in the background of the picture. It is very strange that the artist’s corpse is not in a coffin. It rather offends the eyes of people who have come to join the ceremony, even though he is a famous artist. But the people who have come to listen, about 25 locals rather than people in the artworld or friends of the artist, or from banks in suits and ties, sitting about, embellishing the ceremony. In the middle of the picture there is a large portrait of the face of Santi set between the monks and the local people. Santi’s eyes seem distant and distracted, his hands, fingers spread, lace together before him. Over the frame is a black and white garland, hung upon it as an ornament. This portrait is the focal point of the painting. In addition to its large size, its color is the only point where a different color has been applied, unlike the generally monochromatic color scheme. Because through the rest of the scene, there is only yellow, like the gold of the evening sun in the background, and some burnt brown of the people, creating the sad atmosphere of a funeral.

l. 64 I tried to interpret. The ‘sadness of the soul’ of which Santi speaks. What is it? Where is it in the picture? I still can’t find it. I look for a symbol, as in the work of Chatchai Puipia, who uses symbols ironically, critiquing the atmosphere of the ‘modern Thai artworld.’ For example, the picture of the sculpture of Acharn Silpa Bhirasri, or pictures which are ‘masterpieces’ are put in pairs with weird, enormous faces of Chatchai – something like that. I still can’t find such a thing [in Santi’s picture]. In the end I would say that ‘Santi’s corpse’ is a symbol of the very sad soul, surely, because in any case, Santi created himself fully according to the formula for success of a Thai artist. Why use anyone else as the symbol. He uses himself: that’s the safest choice.

l. 76 I see that drawing an image of a corpse, his own, is like contemplating his own death, as in Buddhist practice. Especially for the Mahayan Buddhist, death is the tool to make our own awareness more keen and it is a preparation for that day to come. Some Tibetan monks believe that faking a funeral for oneself is a way of averting a disaster in ones life, and may lengthen it. It’s something they do frequently. I wonder if Sonti is thinking anything like this or not. Is it a reminder of mortality or a way of averting disaster – which one?

l.93 ‘When I Go Under Water, the First Thing I do is Put My Feet to the Sky’ is an oil painting (250 x 350 cm) of Santi sleeping in an attitude in which his feet point to the sky.

l. 2 – 3 ‘Floating In, Floating Out’ (290 x 290 cm) is a picture of two of Santi’s red corpses, floating in a blue sky. His hands take a prayerful gesture, clasping lotus, incense and candles.

l. 6 -7 In the picture ‘Someone With No Face’ (290 x 300 cm), Santi sits naked with his back to the viewer, his left hand grasping his right arm behind his back, like someone willingly accepting imprisonment. What is clear is that there is no head on these shoulders. His body faces the sea, like someone enjoying the sea at evening, but this man won’t see its beauty.

l. 13 all three of the pictures I have mentioned express states of emotion, or you could say, ‘the human condition’ and they bespeak the crisis of the soul of art for which Santi uses himself as a symbol. I understand that Santi is confronting big problems (metaphysical, they call them). That is, he has questions – beginning not to believe in the value of things he used to believe in, was taught to believe. Although Santi himself has already enjoyed success in the mainstream: graduating from art school; entering competitions; winning prizes; becoming a university art teacher ; being an invited artist, an honored artist, a national artist.

l. 26 – 27 And so, in the life of an artist, is that all there is? What we call ‘success’? And is that genuinely valuable or not?

l. 30 I think that Santi has not only faced a crisis of belief in the soul of art; he also reflects a crisis of faith in Buddhist religion in the work entitled ‘Yee! Yee! Yee!’ It is a big painting in which you see only the golden face of a Buddha image, showing a state of ‘Yee!’ (distaste) for the gold leaf which has been plastered on its face.

l. 37 – 38 And six pictures resembling his own face with characteristics of varied emotions. Some pictures have a symbol of a Buddha image on the face; there is one (banana leaf) green picture in which you see Santi with long ears. Some show him with hair curled in little shells, as in a Buddha image. Some pictures look like ‘gay’ Buddha images. These pictures express emotion. They pose doubts about the Buddhist character of the artist and of society.

l. 47 – 48 If you overlook the clumsy drawing and brushstroke, the lack of commitment in the drawing of these images - not up to his full ability – the content makes a great leap forward and is very interesting indeed. Pay no attention to the catcalls of ‘ Santi Puipia!’ Because, in any case, the road of ‘ Santi Puipia’ has challenges and is surely more interesting for ‘ Santi the national artist.’

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Suthi Kunawichayanond on Thai artworld 1987 - 97

Suti Kunawichaiyanont. “Art Before and After14 October: From Underground to Above Ground,” in Siamrath Weekly News, Yr.50, Vol.27, Nov 28 – 4 Dec. 2546 / 2003.

Thai Art in the Current of Change.
Thailand in the decade of 2530 (1987) developed greatly materially. The economy expanded in a ‘bubble.’ An economic crisis followed, beginning in 2540 (1997). There was a movement calling for democracy that led to the Black May Crisis in 2535 (1992) and a movement leading to the ‘people’s constitution’ of 2540 (1997).

Thailand was once like a village, a little community. It was opened up. The world’s currents came flooding violently in. It was a completely new experience. For the contemporary Thai artworld in this era, the outstanding characteristic was that Thai art entered the world and Thai artists turned to the international scene. They followed the current of an identity crisis – or one might say, the current to find out what it really means to be Thai in the midst of the globalizing process.

Jumphol Apisuk,
a Thai artist who traversed the continent to show his work almost halfway round the world, did social and art activism. Jumphol is a development worker like those NGO’s. He joins social action with art and life, bringing them together as one. At the end of the decade of the 2530’s (1987-1990), he began doing performance art in earnest, in 2539 (1996) and 2541 (1998), Asiatopia, an international project in Bangkok.

In the decade of 2530 (1986 – 96) mixed media artists and installation artists, like Montien Boonma, were interested in searching out the possibilities of common local materials used by country people, and natural materials, cheap materials used by country folk – all of which had been overlooked by the mainstream. One example of art with social concerns was Bangkok Angel 2534-37 (1991 – 94) in which Montien brought discarded construction material to create an image of a woman who came to Bangkok looking for work.

Early in the decade of the 2540’s (1997-2007), the Nuts society, a group of people in the field of design, did activities in art using techniques of advertising, investment marketing and consumerism in a way that negates itself. He campaigned for more sensitivity and awareness on the part of Thai people (using Thai language) which seems to be ever scarcer nowadays.

From the beginning of the decade of the 2540’s (1997- 07), similarly, Kraisorn Prasert made installations and did performances with social content about the lives and deaths of good persons. For example, his project to honor Good Citizens in 2543 (2000). He began with a campaign to encourage people like Christopher Jack Benchakul who was badly injured when he went to help someone else. Kraisorn made installations in public places, for example, at various shopping malls (6 of them) all over Bangkok. People generally were able to take part by writing postcards to encourage Christopher. Kraisorn collected 6,000 cards.

Other important artists in the decade of the 2530’s (1987 – 97) included:
Wasan Sittiket, whose role as social critic, admonishing and protesting ever more intensely. Since the end of the decade of the 2520’s (1977-87), Wasan’s life as an artist and social activist have become ever more inseparable. An outstanding work, for example, Niryoktah, from 2534 (1991), inspired by the Triphumi. Wasan assigns some harsh punishments for sinners from various professions in contemporary society. His painting depicts the punishment, along with information about the sin and the way the punishment is administered.

The Ukabat Group became active around 2536 (1993). The membership consists primarily of Paisarn Plienbangchang, Sompong Tawi and Jittima Ponsawake. The activities of Ukabat include art exhibitions in many media. Sometimes they take part in larger art exhibitions in Thailand and abroad. Sometimes they install protest exhibitions in communities or in public areas, for example, in the Siam Square area, or protesting in front of the Alliance Francaise when the French were doing their atomic bomb testing.

Since 2539 (1996), Manit Sriwanichpoom began using photos as his medium for expressing ideas. The work which made his name [as a photographer] was The Bloodless War at the end of 2540 (1997) after the onslaught of the economic crisis. He took black and white photos, using models from some famous war news photos. The images seem vaguely familiar under a cursory glance, but closer consideration shows that they are new images. The people in the pictures are contemporary Thai people who are wounded, tortured and killed in this economic war.
Chatchai Puipia is one of the painters who came on strong in the decade of 2530 – 2540 (1987 – 97) for his skills in making beautiful oil paintings with ironic social commentary. He made self-portraits in states ranging from not quite normal to insane. His face sometimes fills the whole canvas, tearing it with a tremendous grin as in the picture Siamese Smile/ The Photographer’s Joy 2538 (1995). Some pictures show the artist wrapped in only a loincloth laying on a wicker pallet (in the picture Last Action Hero 2536 (1993).

The painting of Paritat Hutangkul from the end of the decade of the 2530 ‘s is full of violence and anarchy, both in content and form, in the rough use of oil color. The brushstrokes are brutal in pictures full of weirdness. For example, his work Returning the Yellow Robes. It is a picture of the Buddha in a peaceful attitude as he meets a representative of the new world filled with lusts and desires. This sinner brings the monk’s yellow robe to return in order to be unhindered in following the consumerist lifestyle, free of the need to give any thought whatsoever to ethics and morals.

Fighting for Space
Fighting for space in history and the memory of society, especially in areas where the state doesn’t need for the people to know or remember: hence, man memorials and monuments have to fight and compete for a long time before they can be realized. For example, the 6 October 2519 (1976) memorial which was just opened on 6 October 2543 (2000) in the area in front of the big auditorium at Thammasat University. The 14 October 2516 (1973) Memorial was opened on 14 October 2544 (2001); it took 28 years to build it.

Role of Women
Even though the number of Thai women artists is not great, their role in the artworld helped greatly to make things lively and intense during the decade from 2530 to 2540. Some brought forward the issue of being a woman in contemporary Thai society in very interesting ways. They began to gain some interest in international shows too, For example, Araya Radchamroensuk and Pinnaree Sanpitak. Some women artists from the decade of the 2510’s (1977 – 87) still have an important role as university art teachers, for example, Kanya Charoensupakul, Laksmi Hongnakorn (Tangchaloke), Siriwan Jenhattakarnkij, Sermsuk Tiensoontorn, Surojana Setabutr, Kaisaeng Banyawachira, Jittima Polsawake; Nittya Eua-ariworakul, Wimolmalai Kantachuwana, M.L. Busyamart Nantawan, Oranong Klinsiri, Duanghatai Pongprasert, Wacharaporn Sirisuk, Yuwanna Boonwattanawit and Suwanee Sarnkana.l.

In the period at the end of the decade of the 2530’s (1987-97), we begin to see the first brisk movement of women artists. It begins with the show Tradisexion, from a gathering of Thai women artists in 2538 (1995) who came together and showed again in Womanifesto, which began in 2540 (1997). Hers Group showed for the first time in the same year.

On the Exhibition Stage

At the end of the decade of the 2530’s (1987 – 97) the new mainstream became art which looked at social problems and the modern world. The works of university art students which had been full of abstraction and traditionally inspired art with Buddhist themes waned, even at PSG/SU.

The National Art Exhibition, which had been criticized for being hostile to art for life, formerly handing out prizes to the dominant purely abstract or semi-abstract art, now welcomed more socially critical contemporary art which more resembled ‘art for life.’

Many works in this vein won many major prizes, for example, in the 44th National show in 2541 (1998) – a mixed media work by Daeg Buasaen, a gold medal winner. Or in the 12th Contemporary Art Competition for Young Artists in 2543 (2000), works of this kind by Tanwat Suriyathongtham, Tanakorn Sararak, Sittikorn Thepsuwan and Amnat Kongwaree all received prizes.

Or, in the private sector competitions such as Thai Farmers Bank’s [Kasikorn Bank] Contemporary Art show, the prizewinning work of Pittiwan Somthai, a work of graphic art, an etching, intense black, showing the dark side of life and humanity, a desolating nightmare. And in 2542 (1999) the work of Panupong Chuaroon, Piya Puangkuntien and Wora Chaiyanit or the artworks of many other artists who were chosen to join the show did not win prizes – they also presented images of social problems.

The artistic approaches that had not been accepted as they should at the institutional level were welcomed warmly, though there is no market for such works at all 30 years after 14 October. Art which reflects and presents social problems, or ‘art for life,’ which used to be a secondary current, an underground movement, has now become a popular style in the mainstream.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Manit Sriwanichpoom on Mae Nak Prakanong

Manit Sriwanichpoom. “Portraits of Mae Nak,” in Siamrath Weekly News, Yr.53, Vol.1, 26 May – 1 June. 2549 / 2006

1/ Many months ago, The Puzzling Hour, a documentary about magic, superstition, mystery and ghosts on Channel 7 Color TV (for you!) aired a show about the shrine of Mae Nak Prakanong.

2/ What really struck me was not the story of the famous starlet, Peet Tongjer, who claimed to be a direct descendent of Mae Nak. Not at all. It was all the portraits of Mae Nak, dozens of them, hanging in this shrine.

3/ I have studied picture making, and have been hired to do illustrations for the theses of senior friends in times past so I could pay my way – in those days – till I got through my studies - can’t make pictures anymore since I abandoned paper, pencil, color and brush long ago and picked up the camera instead. I became interested in the history of all these images of Mae Nak. Where did they come from?

4/ Last week I asked my friends to check out the portraits of Mae Nak Prakanong at Wat Mahabutr, Soi Orn Nut.

5/ The people come here to ask for help from the gods or to fulfill their vows. Some dreamed of her and hired someone to make a drawing. The old uncle who looked after the shrine helped me deal with my doubts. “What you see here is only part of it all. The rest [of the pictures] are collected away; no place to put them up.”

6/ The more interesting answer came when the famous painter, Chatchai Puipia, one in the group of friends who came along, asked, “If I make a picture, will you put it up?”

7/ “Why would you make a drawing? Did you have a dream? Or are you fulfilling a vow? If you bring it, I must ask to see it first. Is the picture good enough to show?” The brusqueness of the old man’s speech made Chatchai’s chuckle stick in his throat.

8/ Very interesting, to ‘dream of’ or to fulfill a vow. The reply of the old uncle reflected that ‘not just anybody’ feeling of Thai people. They will pay someone to draw a picture of Mae Nak and freely offer it to the spirit of Mae Nak at the shrine. They ask that it be displayed for worshippers of Mae Nak to enjoy. Whether it is created by a world famous artist or not, by Chatchai Puipia or not, if there was no dream, or if it is not in fulfillment of a vow, don’t ask the shrine to receive the artwork.

9/ The 20+ portraits of Mae Nak hanging in the shrine, the figure of Mae Nak is covered in gold. She lifts her little infant on her lap. There are two groups – pictures of the face of Mae Nak on a smooth background and of Mae Nak with her baby and the background of a traditional Thai house. These pictures are totally different in technique, method and materials used. Some use oil color; some use water color. Some use colored chalk, some colored pencil, some use ordinary pencil. Some use black thread on cloth with a poem accompanying.

10 / The style of picture making is sometimes realist (good skill) by young artists such as Chakraphand Posyakrit – looking sweet and gentle. The face of Mae Nak looks like the old movie stars – like Aranya Namwong. The pictures are beautiful, in the way that Chakraphand does them. The person who pays might hire an artist to do the job. But there are other pictures made by people who haven't studied picture-making. The lines and elements and proportions of the face – the eyebrows, the eyes, nose, mouth and body. The shadows in the image – they look distorted, childish. We call this ‘naïve art’; it is sincere and charming.

11/ At the same time, the frames vary considerably. The pictures in the style of Chakraphand use wire frames in the gold ‘Louis’ style. They look very lavish. [But] the naïve images have awkward frames, very ordinary dark brown. The artists had little money to invest.

12/ There is some confusion generally about the legend of the love story of Mae Nak and Poh Mahk. It probably happened during the 4th Reign (the film Nang Nak by Nonsri Nimitrbutr depends on that time period for its scenes and constumes). Unfortunately, these two lovers were poor farmers. They had no money to have their photo taken. So we don’t know what Mae Nak actually looked like. Was she like the drawings or like the hired artist’s imagination?

13/ For this reason, we don’t have a photo to use as proof. So, it leaves all possibilities open. Unlike the case of the 5th King and เสด็จ เตี้ย Krom Luang Chumporn. They had many photos taken as proof of their appearance, which [therefore] cannot simply be dreamed up just by anybody.

14/ In the image of Mae Nak, the farm girl, her face is clear, white, smooth, fresh and unblemished. She is a young woman who has never been burned by the sun. Her hair is sometimes short, sometimes long. As for her clothing, sometimes she is dressed poorly, sometimes richly. Sometimes she is bejeweled like wealthy gentry. This seems far from realistic - Mae Nak in the legend.

15/ I don’t know who brought movie posters about Nang Nak – 15 of them - to show on a website. Mae Nak in these posters looks very scary and aggressive. You feel like blocking the view and not looking.

16/ “Uncle…why are the pictures of Nang Nak in the shrine different from in the movies? In the shrine the images are sweet and kind, modest and orderly. Gentle. But in the movie she is fierce and frightening.” I asked the old uncle who takes care of the shrine.

17/ “Oh, those movie-makers…they should have done better. She is fierce at all,” says Uncle wearily.18/ It may be true as he says. Mae Nak must be a kind-hearted ghost, really. Her shrine is full of portraits of longhaired women with bulging eyes, swollen with long arms and legs, ugly and scary as we see in the posters of Thai movies rather than images of a lovely young woman, modest mother and homemaker.

19/ And if she is not kind? There are shops selling ritual items – fortune tellers’ stalls, dozens of them in the vicinity. Mae Nak might chase them all away. Not counting the seekers after winning lottery numbers: the people come and rub the Takien tree near her grave in hopes of finding the right number. This is not kindness, but what would you call it?

20/ I am not a student of parapsychology (ghosts) or a social scientist. I am not able to explain the ways of Mae Nak’s ghost and Thai society. But I would like to observe that while these images of Mae Nak Prakanong are shown and passed on in the film world, celluloid or digital, it never seems to let up. She tricks people now and then – it is in newspapers from time to time. It’s hair-raising. But this feeling will be dissipated by the portraits I have just been discussing. Those who don’t dare to prostrate themselves before her image plastered in gold leaf will feel better when looking up to see the lovely lady’s face in a Thai-style dress in the various pictures in her shrine.

21/ If you think about it, ghosts are a set of beliefs created by society as instruments by which to control and direct the behavior of the lives of people in the area. The love stories and stories of the faithfulness of Mae Nak for Poh Mahk; though she died in childbirth, she refused to let go. She became a ghost and haunted the house – one love, one heart. This is about women in Thai society – Mae Nak Prakanong.

22/ The portraits in her shrine serve to carry on and influence the value of femininity in the ideal of Thai culture in the midst of the globalizing world outside this shrine.

23/ “Will you draw a picture of Mae Nak?” I asked Chatchai before jumping into the car.
24/ “Think I will have to wait for a dream,” he replied, smiling.

"Protest Art,” by Manit Sriwanichpoom. / 2006

“ Protest Art,” by Manit Sriwanichpoom, in the Silpa Wattanatham column of Siamrath Weekly news, Yr. 52, Vol. 45, 31 Mar – 6 Apr. 2006.

In the year 2050 CE, the British Parliament and the Big Ben clock tower are blown up. The brightness of the explosion and the fireworks set off to celebrate the destructions of symbols of the fraudulent government drive away the darkness of the night and the dark power of the dictator who ruled London for a long time.

That was a very satisfying fantasy scene at the conclusion of “V for Vendetta,” a film celebrating anarchy and terrorism. My friends called and insisted I go to see it. It went very well with Thailand’s situation in 2006 – which is really not so very far from the movie.

“The people should not fear the government; the government should be afraid of the people.” These are the words of the hero, a mysterious individual concealing himself behind a mask of Guy Fawkes (who tried to blow up the houses of parliament in London many centuries before). These words would be appropriate for those who believe in democracy rather than in anarchy and terrorism.

In any case, when society has no other way to go, and the country is in the hands of a dictator (the whole parliament), violence is the last option, and it cannot be avoided.

After watching the movie to its end, I said to myself I would like to see the Parliament building, Government House, the Constitutional Court, the kor-kor-tor, the kor-lor-tor, and all the rest blown to ruins. But when I realized that doing so would not solve the problem, and that things couldn’t end as neatly as they did in the film, I went back to talk with my auntie. A woman between 60 and 70 years of age, she screamed, Taksin! Get Out!

The speaker on the platform for the People’s Alliance for Democracy to unseat Taksin said that it is a gathering calling for people who are politically mature. Most of these people who have come to demonstrate understand the situation very well. Importantly, it is a peaceful demonstration, without violence.

I agree with that. And I pray that these gatherings will go on peacefully, without the bloodshed we have seen in the past. This is another reason which makes me understand and agree with the call for a royally appointed prime minister, as the Alliance is urging, according to Article 7 [of the Constitution]. It’s a good choice, the best option in a situation like this, to avoid loss. (Except some people think that without bloodshed and death, there’s no crisis.) In any case, it won’t be easy to get Taksin to resign, because the Shin with Themasek for 70,000 million baht is a personal gain which he will have to protect at all costs.

While looking for a way out of the problem, I used my free time before going to listen to the platform speakers by walking about the demonstration and the footpath used as a ‘political area’ by the people who joined the meeting. They came to express their feelings and opinions. There were people oppressed by the prime minister’s family. And there were people who had suffered with the tsunami, and who had lost their land to capitalists favored by Taksin.
On the gate in front of Government House there was a sign, “Government House For Rent.” Some demonstrators set up a store to boil coffee ‘to save the country.’ Take it to overcome drowsiness and to soothe thirst. A few steps further on, a ‘fortune teller’ was on duty. And then shadow puppets told about people who had suffered in the tsunami. There were some coffins laid out for Taksin and his wife, with candles, incense and curses.

The middle of the road is taken over with tents of the Santi Asoke Dhamma Army. A table has been set up as an altar. There is traditional massage offered, and free food prepared for the demonstrators. All along Phitsanuloke Road and in front of Government House is a large demonstration, indeed, calling for Taksin to get out!

After walking awhile, I turned on to outer Rachadamnoen Road. I saw the ‘Protest Art’ put up by many groups and many callings. There were ‘movie posters’ such as ‘Shinawat Productions and the Moon Shines on the Earth.’ (Taksin used to be in the movie business.) Whose work it was, I don’t know, but the skill in editing images of Taksin and company in Thai, Chinese, Korean and Hollywood posters was quite good. Posters included, ‘Lord of Evil,’ ‘Shin City’, ‘Destructive Demon of the World,’ etc.

One kid had copied and printed images for sale on 4 x 6 inch cards. One was ‘Taksin with Hitler.’ The anonymous creator of this composite gave Taksin a little mustache; he also holds a small sign which says, ‘Sawasdika,’ as he sits in a car with Adolf Hitler, riding in a parade. No other words are given or required.

Another Nazi poster uses the face of Taksin (the color is a bit scary), i.e. Taksin’s face over Hitler’s face (I think) with the words ‘Get the fuck out! Tyrant! A corrupted man! Don’t let him rule!

The last picture is a portrait of the leader, Taksin, in a Nazi uniform. It seems to come from a black and white portrait of Hitler with the word, Taksin…A red Nazi flag waves on a black background.

I think Wasan Sittiket was the first to put the Hitler-mustache on Taksin. After that, the debate was on: who was worse, Taksin or Hitler?

Some Thai scholars came on the platform and claimed that Taksin was the worst because he was behind the killing of a thousand people accused of being drug dealers, and the deaths of Muslim people at the Kruseh mosque and at Tak Bai. And he did it all for himself – unlike Hitler, who worked for the kingdom of Germany. But a white tourist said it was not so, because Hitler started the second World War and practiced genocide against millions of Jews.

In any case, the black heads and the red heads both agreed that both Hitler and Taksin both came to power by election.

An art reporter for the newspaper commented that this demonstration uses a lot of art to make it livelier. There are spot commercials ridiculing the Taksin government in the form of Chinese opera and even Rap music. Politics creates a lot of fun and entertainment for the demonstrators. I can’t remember whether there was less art during the Black May incident of 1992.

But what I did notice was the not a few of the people joining these demonstrations had creative ideas and had created posters of their own. They came by taxi and brought them to the demonstration. (Of course, anyone who spoke badly of Taksin would be chased out of the taxi.) Many people with backpacks came by BTS. Many carried them in the back of their cars. They prepared their own comforts – it wasn’t a paid mob. When did hired mobs ever have their own creative ideas?

So, now I understand that protests don’t lack for art. Because protests themselves create negotiations, chatting, calling for…pleading and bargaining between sides to reach objectives. In order to get results, you need art.

Oi! Pojaman won’t wait. She’ll hurry to fly to Singapore, a large woman in a sparkling gown with fan in hand to cool herself.

‘And why won’t she wait for Khun Taksin,’ asks the audience. ‘She’s crazy!’

‘Bye, bye now.’ She waves, and disappears among the mass of protesters.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Final report on The Art Critics and Art Criticism of the Silpa Wattanatham Column in Siamrath Weekly News Magazine 1997 - 2007

The Art Critics and Art Criticism of the Silpa Wattanatham Column in Siamrath Weekly News Magazine 1997 - 2007
A Bibliography with Summaries

Janice M. Wongsurawat, Researcher.
Kiriya Chayakul, Achara Nuansawat,
Supalux Suwandee and Uthai Asana,
Assistant Researchers.

Introduction August, 2008

The Silpa Wattanatham (Art & Culture) column first began appearing in Siamrath Weekly news magazine in 1977. It is Thailand’s oldest regular column of art criticism. The collected writings by the art critics for Silpa Wattanatham constitute a long, lively, and intriguing historical record which reveals much about the development of the modern artworld in Thailand.

To date, Silpa Wattanatham has an oeuvre of more than 1500 articles by many critics with diverse points of view. This column is an important early (and contemporary) example of the attempt to open up and connect the Thai artworld with the nation’s reading public, via mass media. The critics of Silpa Wattanatham have given, and continue to give their own distinctive voice to emerging aesthetic and critical thought in Thailand today.

Four Critics from SilpaWattanatham’s Third Decade:
Parinya Tantisuk and Sutee Kunavichayanont
Manit Sriwanichpoom and Paisarn Plienbangchang

Parinya Tantisuk

The most equable and gracious of his generation among the art critics of Silpa Wattanatham, Parinya Tantisuk, wouldn’t usually peer with delight into a leering face whose gaping mouth suggests reeking breath and dental caries. This face, however, is special, as the critic says:

The color and the eyes are abnormal, unnatural. But when you see the image, you have to look and look again, because the taste of the color is delicious. Red which is so red, splashing, shining, in the giant face, which has a wound and a smile. The broad grin and dirty yellow teeth are even more satisfying. The brushstrokes are also pleasing. Altogether, this is truly good feeling, exploding out.

Thoroughly enjoying the paintings in Chatchai Puipia’s solo exhibition at the gallery of Bangkok University, Parinya finds that the artist is still a thinker whose work is bold, playful, hot, spicy and delicious, and who hasn’t given up satirizing life in Thai society.

Chatchai and Parinya studied in the same university faculty. Chatchai chose the life of an independent artist. Parinya became a government officer and art teacher at Silpakorn University. A successful artist in his own right, Parinya has become a respected critic as well.

Many of the writers who contributed articles to Silpa Wattanatham in its first decade (1977 – 1987), and indeed, most of the artists they reviewed, were, like Parinya, closely associated with Silpakorn University and the artistic traditions of the Faculty of Painting, Sculpture and Graphic Art.

Not surprisingly, the critical values and beliefs of that particular school imbue Parinya’s essays throughout the period in which he was writing for Silpa Wattanatham. By comparison, Parinya is warmer, more benign, and never as strident as Pishnu Supanimitr, one of first leading critics of the Silpa Wattanatham column. Pishnu was one of Parinya’s mentors at the Faculty of Painting ; later, the two became colleagues. In the complex network of interconnecting relationships that characterizes the Thai artworld, Pishnu studied under Parinya’s father, Sawasdi Tantisuk, a teacher and later head master at the Chang Silpa College of Arts and Crafts. Sawasdi, in turn, was a student of the iconic founder of Silpakorn University, Professor Silpa Bhirasri, the Italian sculptor from a Florentine academy of art, who was originally hired by the Royal Thai government to train craftsmen in royal service.

The Thai artists and artworks discussed by Parinya in Silpa Wattanatham mostly belong to the artistic tradition and school of the Faculty of Painting at Silpakorn University. Parinya’s writings include many articles about life in the faculty with a keen awareness of the programs and courses being taught there, the students , their activities, field trips, examinations, and student shows.

Coming to maturity and flourishing within this elite circle, Parinya is part of its network of seniority and tradition, masters and students, in which the teachers are government officers, many of whom have for decades dominated the roster of the nation’s most famous artists. Parinya’s views as a critic reflect his lifelong immersion in the traditional atmosphere of a university art faculty which has tended to view itself as an art academy. An eloquent contemporary spokesman for this distinctive aesthetic point of view, Parinya’s writing is vivid, moving, and imaginative. The English summaries of his writings in the bibliography do not do justice to his essays in Thai, which await much more adequate translations. The lyricism and poetry of Parinya’s writing is moving and persuasive, as his introductory passage to a discussion of traditional Thai mural painting suggests:

When I drove out from home about 5am last Wednesday, Bangkok had a heavy fog. It was as if in a dream. The overhead walkways seemed literally to hang in mid-air as the fog obscured the stairways leading up and down. Only the bridge crossings were visible and the figures of the people walking across them. That dreamlike atmosphere made me think of old Thai painting, our Thai painting about heaven, earth and deities at various levels. I think dreams have an important part in Thai painting. Thai artisans like to dream, and they are good at it. Thai artisans in every era have created images dreamed up from stories in Buddhism, their subject…the stories of the Ten Incarnations, the life of the Buddha, the Triphumi. Thai artisans brought these things to think about, to distill, to dream of, mingling with things in nature, society, the environment and daily life…creating new forms, special, unique to Thailand, unlike anything else in the world.

Parinya presided in Silpa Wattanatham during the great economic crisis that shook Thailand in 1997, an avalanche of debt, out from under which the country would be digging itself for the next 10 years. The pressure to put culture to work earning tourism dollars became greater than ever. How was the high art sector to lend a hand in rescuing the nation?

True to the creed of his school, Parinya explains art as essentially a spiritual matter, but he knows well that serious artists generally learn to deal with markets, too. In the early years of the crash, in mid-1998, the government’s debt restructuring plan for the finance sector included an auction of the artworks in the asset portfolios of the bankrupt companies. Many works by luminaries of the Thai artworld went on the block. A senior professor from the Faculty of Painting at Silpakorn, Chalood Nimsamer, was appointed to head a sub-committee (which included Pishnu Supanimitr ) to consider the properties, give median price estimates, and set the manner of bidding. The Rama IX Foundation and Gallery, and Christies International Auction House also took part in the auction.
Parinya recorded the historic event from his insider’s vantage point. The auction must have been a painful shock to Thailand’s high artworld, but Parinya is a patriot. He commented:
The auction of fine art on 13 – 14 June was full to capacity at 400 persons. In a day or two, the results of the auction will have many repercussions in the Thai artworld, especially in terms of values and prices, of things bought and sold, of each piece by each artist. There will be things that people accept and do not accept…especially in terms of value vs. price…
But if you think that what has happened here is not something normal, it is one way of finding money for the state. Works of art and artists have a role in finding income to help the nation. If you look at it this way, as a principle, you can let go of conflicted feelings and accept what has happened.

It was his last year at Silpa Wattanatham. Finishing out his term, Parinya produced a stream of meditations on artists and on the fine art, beautiful or bitter, which continues to appear in the Thai artworld. Parinya bows out in January, 1999.

Sutee Kunavichayanont

Four years later, one of his colleagues from the Faculty of Painting, Sculpture and Graphic Art, Dr. Sutee Kunavichayanont from the Art Theory Department came forward to take part in the ongoing public critical discourse. Sharply contrasting with Parinya in terms of approach and style, Sutee’s opening assessment is clear:
Thailand does not lack artists; it is not short of art. There is much that is good, but we manage it badly. We mistake our understanding of ourselves. Society today, therefore, stands isolated, cut off from what has gone before, like a people who have no past, no history. (Or if you speak of the past, or of history, it becomes propaganda, nationalism, spoiled every time.)

Between February of 2003 and November of 2005, Sutee pens a series of 30 intense articles discussing the modern history of Thailand and analyzing the nation’s high artworld, its past achievements and present challenges. His approach is comprehensive, with a broad scope. For example, he raises the issue of long-term public access to and preservation of the nation’s scattered and vulnerable artistic heritage in traditional and early modern art. Sutee notes the increasing number of art exhibitions, nationally and internationally , and the growing influence of foreign funding and foreign buyers.

Pishnu Supanimitr and Parinya Tantisuk occasionally focused on aesthetics or history in their columns for Silpa Wattanatham; Sutee’s articles are consistently didactic. He lays out a historical and theoretical overview of the development of modern and contemporary art in Europe and in Thailand, touching on many aesthetic issues such as the alienation of artists in society and the gradual accustoming of society to high art’s predilection for the shocking and new.

Between September and December, 2003, Sutee wrote four articles on the modern Thai artworld ‘before and after the 14th October event,’ including mention of critical controversies and public debates about art in which Pishnu Supanimitr played an active role. Sutee focuses on art history and aesthetics in 2003, finding many parallels between the development of modern art in Europe and in Thailand.

Undaunted by the challenges of globalization, Sutee is nonetheless aware of the mixed feelings of many Thai people toward the intrusive Western presence. He compares Thai society to someone standing with his feet in two boats, one boat belonging to ‘whites’, one belonging to Thai. Sutee may himself be that man, but he manages well enough.
Citing the intransigence of the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration regarding a pledge to build a new metropolitan contemporary art gallery, Sutee lauds the Rama 9 Art Gallery Foundation and for moving ahead with an on-line gallery which can help bridge the gap. In the face of Bangkok’s hardboiled politics, Sutee looks to the North for more amenable society.

In the 4th quarter of 2004, he applauds the decision by some leading young artists to live and work in the provincial cities of Chiengmai, Chiengrai or Lamphoon rather than remaining in the capital. Pishnu’s hopes for Chiengmai recorded almost 30 years earlier in Silpa Wattanatham seem to resurface and flower in Sutee’s writing.
In his 3-part final series late in 2005, Sutee joins Manit Sriwanichpoom in a consideration of the theme of nationalism and neo-nationalism. Sutee surveys the nationalist politics of the 6th King, the regime of Field Marshal Plaeck Pibulsongkram in the era of World War II, the rise of the military dictator, Field Marshal Sarit Thanarat, and the return of monarchy and traditionalist spirit. Sutee’s overview includes the period of popular activism for democracy surrounding the 14 October event of 1973, as well as the bloodletting at Thammasat University in 1976.
His survey concludes around 1986, when some groups of Thai artists reflect their own nationalist spirit by opposing the influence of foreign culture, reviving Thai art while bringing it in a contemporary direction.

Both attached to the Faculty of Painting at Silpakorn, Sutee Kunavichayanont and Parinya Tantisuk have contrasting styles and spirit, reflecting their great difference in outlook and values. The landscape of Parinya’s writing shows him staying pretty close to home, at peace in his own fraternity, whose creed is the redeeming mission of artists and art objects for mankind. Parinya tends to see contemporary art as an individual exploration, with society as the moral context. Sutee’s writings – in a comparatively brief campaign of around 30 articles – emphasize rather the historical and political context in Thailand and the West. Sutee takes inventory of the great number of modern and traditional artifacts scattered round the country, and sees the dilemma of the need to preserve art objects vs. the public need to access them. Though his approach is historical, academic and didactic, Sutee resembles Manit Sriwanichpoom in emphasizing the importance of seeing art as one of the players in the larger social and political context.

Manit Sriwanichpoom

Manit Sriwanichpoom, who began writing for Silpa Wattanatham in 1999 just as Parinya was stepping down, is as likely to review a show negatively as to approve of it (quite unlike Parinya), and he often lashes out at what offends him. Still, when Manit warms to something he likes, he is generous, even outspoken, in his praise.
For example, Parinya very clearly admires Chatchai Puipia, but Manit goes further, unhesitatingly accounting him the greatest modern Thai painter. As he states matter-of-factly :
Some people would say I exaggerate on behalf of my friends. That doesn’t mean anything to me, because I have talented friends whose abilities are beyond the ordinary, equal to true masters. I count it my good luck to have a chance to know a master artist during my lifetime.

When he first began writing for Silpa Wattanatham, however, Manit’s reviews were mostly grouchy and bad-tempered. Despite the buffering effect throughout 1999 of his mild, earnest, and more lyrically-inclined fellow critics– the Golden Paintbrush , Niran Ketudad and Pen Pakta – Manit’s vitriol and ill-humor seem like an endless torrent, a rage that cannot be appeased.

Manit begins by protesting destructive IMF interference in Thailand’s economic affairs, lamenting the loss in 1997 of 700,000 million baht by the Thai authorities’ ill-conceived currency policy. But his most bitter attacks are aimed at American economic imperialism, which has replaced US military adventurism in Southeast Asia. He parodies famous photos from the era of the American war in Vietnam, remaking them into images of Thai yuppies being hounded by their foreign creditors. The critic then blasts an American film company for destroying an idyllic seaside landscape during the making of ‘der beesh’ (The Beach).
Manit’s fierce polemic against Leonardo DiCaprio, the star of the film, suggests nothing so much as a dog savaging a rat. Closer to home, Manit assesses as a boring, superficial stunt, the so-called “Bangkok Art Project.” Billed as a cooperative venture by the Tourism Authority of Thailand, the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration, and a host of artists from the local high artworld, the project is dubbed by Manit as the ‘Great Make-Up Job with Powder and Rouge to Create an Image.’ In April, he criticizes as spineless, Kamol Tassanchalee , recently named a National Artist and regarded as a hero by much of the rest of the local artworld (and also by one of his fellow critics at Silpa Wattanatham, who called Kamol ‘the eagle of Siam.’ )
After slamming Kamol, Manit comes up with a guarded but basically sympathetic assessment of the works of Paritat Hutangkul. Manit’s descriptions of Paritat’s vigorous, expressionistic use of color and witty, searing images suggest an artist who has real creative power. At the same time, however, Paritat’s crusading depictions excoriating corrupted Buddhist practices in Thailand also appear to be misogynist and xenophobic.

At mid-year, Manit is in Italy, finding solace in the example of St.Francis of Assisi, and feeling almost giddy in the presence of so much beautiful art: it literally made him feverish, he writes. Seeing this beauty everywhere – in Rome, Florence and Naples – Manit thinks of Thai artists such as Nai Kong Pae, Kru In-Kong, Acharn Fua Haripitak and Chakrabhand Posayakrit and his puppet theatre. These masters represent true seekers after perfection.
Inspired by the Sistine Chapel, Manit judges by comparison that too many talented Thai artists nowadays have shallow, short-sighted goals. Back in Thailand, bored and disgusted with himself, Manit allows his friends, Vasan Sitthiket, Mana Pupichit and Paisarn Plienbangchang, to drag him along to the village of Bahn Krut in Prachuab Kirikan. The group hopes to encourage and give moral support to the local people in their fight to halt construction, in their neighborhood, of a coal-fired, electricity generating plant. In the end, the depressed critic’s morale is lifted by the spirited efforts of the courageous villagers.

For whatever reason, before mid-year 2000, Manit’s fellow critics at Silpa Wattanatham have all cleared out, and Manit is left with a sympathetic, new colleague, his friend, the adventurous, back-packing critic and performance artist, Paisarn Plienbangchang. For a long time after that, other than the writing by Sutee Kunavichayanont, these two will generally have the column pretty much to themselves.

As a critic for SilpaWattanatham during the decade of 1997 – 2007, Manit wrote about 200 articles. He speaks out repeatedly against the censorship which narrows and flattens the intellectual and creative vigor of the nation. The state, for example, firmly monopolizes the interpretation of history, as when censors banned the film Anna and the King but fully supported Suriyotai.

The critic also protested the failure of Chiengmai University to host discussions on censorship and social criticism in response to the scandal of complaints that works by Vasan Sitthiket and Michael Shaowanasai exhibited in the CMU gallery were pornographic. It is the very role of universities to analyze and explore issues such as the difference between art and pornography, Manit writes, but in this case, CMU shirked its responsibility to the community. Who then will be an intellectual light to the public if the universities refuse to speak? Late in 2001, reviewing a show by Sutee Kunavichayanont at the Wityanitat Gallery, Manit protests in two articles the official tendency to ignore and forget the repeated calls and sacrifices made for democratic reform throughout the modern history of Thailand. Describing the works in Sutee’s show, Manit notes that the less history we have in our children’s textbooks about calls for democracy, the clearer it is that our country is not democratic at all.

A professional photographer himself, Manit reviews many photography exhibitions in his columns for Silpa Wattanatham. His critical eye makes him doubly sensitive to photography’s many roles in society, for example, in wedding photos, in the world of high fashion, in magazine coverage (‘Child Molestation’) and in politics.
In one article, he celebrates the history of photography in Thailand as a triumph of the use of acquired technology to defeat colonialist incursions. Describing his work as a professional photographer on a freelance job for a bank, Manit considers the role of uniforms in Thai society. The preference for requiring uniforms in the Thai business and industrial sectors Manit sees as Japanese aesthetic influence.

The critic’s notes and impressions from photo exhibitions visited in Germany and Spain reflect Manit’s cosmopolitan sensibilities, and show, as well, that China is often on his mind. His essays in Silpa Wattanatham on the works of some non-Thai photographers are outstanding – for example : a Japanese schoolteacher in Bangkok looking at his students (‘Ghost Children’) ; a show by David Stuart of old people in New York City (‘Wilted’) ; the ‘Dark Memories’ of Antoine D’Agata ; and Richard Avedon’s disheartening images of ‘American Democracy, 2004’ . Manit presents equally moving accounts of exhibitions, in Bangkok or in China, of works by Chinese photographers.

Manit is generally ahead of his time in moral discernment when defending the rights and dignity of women. But he is also of his time, present at politically inspired art exhibitions, street demonstrations in Bangkok, and reporting on an official art exhibition in response to events in the bloody civil strife in Southern Thailand. Manit devotes two columns to the full draft of a new funding act which will promote contemporary art, a milestone for the future of Bangkok’s artworld, and later, after the 2006 coup against the Thaksin Shinawatra government, to proposed articles promoting art and culture in a new or revised constitution.

Paisarn Plienbangchang

The critical perspectives of Paisarn Plienbangchang are in striking contrast with the writings of Manit, Sutee and Parinya. A committed and enthusiastic advocate and practitioner of performance art, Paisarn often reports on his journeys abroad to take part in performance art events or festivals. His accounts are never mere travelogues, but always reflect back on what is happening in Thailand and the larger context of environment, cultural values, politics, and social justice. Paisarn’s writings catalog many performances by artists from all over the world, works which are touching, funny, insightful, sometimes shocking, even chilling, and always expressive of human relationships in the many dimensions of the modern world. For example, in Canada, Paisarn records the performance of Suzanne Joli, a Canadian artist:
She used only one chair, of the most ordinary kind, with sound equipment.
Picking it up and moving it about, turning and rubbing it, she elicited
all kinds of sounds from the chair – groaning, lamenting, howling. She helped
us to see that these objects have a nature of their own.

At a performance meet in Indonesia, Paisarn describes an Indonesian artist’s performance – a political protest:

Isa Perkasa, an artist who took part in ASIATOPIA several years ago, uses water to wash her face and hands, as if she were going to do a Muslim’s daily ritual of prayer. Instead, she sits down and takes out a large Indonesian flag and stuffs it all into her mouth. Soon, she chokes. Tears come out of her eyes and water oozes from her ears. Everything is returning – corruption, dirty politics, dictatorial government, and the question, “Are we on our way back to zero again?”

On a visit to a performance gathering in Rangoon, Paisarn records a performance by a local artist:

Tin Moung On, an artist from Mandalay, did a piece entitled Family Life, simple but meaningful. The artist lies down and chains his neck and hands. Then his assistants mix plaster and pour it over his hands and feet, eyes and ears. As he is plastered up, the artist tells fairy tales such as parents tell children at bedtime. ‘Once upon a time, there was a toad which kept crossing and re-crossing the road till it got run over...’ The stories finish, the plaster dries. The artist struggles to move.

The 3rd Da Dao Live Art Festival is an annual community event organized by performance artists in Beijing. It is put on by artists and for artists: no state agency comes in to organize things, the critic notes. Artists come from many countries to join in. This time, Paisarn and his brother, Mongkol, are both invited to take part. Among the performances recorded on this visit by Paisarn in his series of articles are these two:

Wang Tan, a young male artist, presented the work, Joy is Fleeting, in which he stripped down to his underpants and covered his body with a large piece of plastic. He breathed up all the air inside the plastic covering till it stuck tight to his body and he ran out of air.

In Hu Xing’s performance Hourglass, the artist sits naked in the lower chamber of a large hourglass. His assistant fills the top of the glass with sand. The sand drains down slowly, eventually covering the artist completely.

In Dalat, Vietnam, at a seminar on performance art, Paisarn records two works he witnessed there, the first by two senior artists, Kyan Nyunt Lynn and Aung Mint from Burma, reflecting on the authoritarian regime in their country:

After spreading red roses on the floor and passing them out to members of the audience as well, the artists crawled through the scattered flowers. After a while, however, others came and destroyed the roses, trampling and kicking the bodies of the artists as they crawled along the crimson pathway.

The second of these was by Myriam Laplante, an Italian, who presented a film about war and violence:

Video images were projected onto a table cloth. Myriam pretended to sit and eat, but the food and dishes were thrown on the floor. The picture on the cloth was of an air show in which one of the planes crashed in a great fireball. At the end, the artist put on the mask of an alien from outer space and picked up the pieces of the destroyed meal. It was a bitterly funny scene.

Paisarn has also followed the ASIATOPIA performance event for many years. In some of his descriptions of works from the 2005 gathering, he notes that the artists have many things to express. The works are all different and there are new questions being asked of audiences. Sometimes the performances seem ill fitting and untidy, are beautiful, critical, or violent:
Iwan Wijono is an artist from Indonesia interested in society and politics. He covered himself with a white cloth like a priest. A volunteer dragged him along the road to the railroad tracks. He reached Siam Square, fast food restaurants, fashionable clothing stores, and was stared at by curious passers by. He handed out papers which said (in Thai and English) ‘My religion is not your political tool.’ In closing, he asked people to write their opinions on his white clothing.

Bangladesh Band was a student group of experimental musicians from a Korat technical college. They mingled together the sounds of a violin, an organ, and electric instruments like drills and cutters. The sounds were industrial in a strange way.

Jumphol Apisuk played with the sounds of seeds falling on plates of different sizes.

Valerian Malay and Klara Schillinger, two artists from Austria who have been showing together for more than 25 years, sat at a table with 100 small glasses of whiskey. After lifting a glass to honor someone, they downed the shot and then named someone else, and toasted them, too. Eventually, they became so drunk they needed help from the audience to finish, and to release a bird as a symbol of blessing.

Images in the pages of Silpa Wattanatham of photos from these gatherings are hardly more than ciphers, but Paisarn’s descriptions of the performances bring the events to life for the reader. He writes with charm, humor and insight about his travels to perform and to meet other performance artists. He is gifted in his ability to describe in a very simple way how physically and emotionally demanding performance art can be. Avoiding comparisons with plays and dramatic arts, performance festivals tend to unfold in settings which are, by choice, awkward and unromantic, sometimes with other performance artists as the primary audience. In Myanmar, where all contemporary artists are constantly under official scrutiny, Paisarn describes a performance meet tucked away in someone’s garden space and office, cleared for the purpose. By contrast, in the small Spanish town of Huesca, the performances took place in the center of the town, watched by curious townspeople, with the local fire department standing by to deal with any possible mishaps when the artists were setting things on fire. Paisarn has done the artworld a notable service by recording so many amazing performances, along with the stories of the places and situations in which they occurred. One thinks of the writings of Allen Kaprow in Education of the Un-Artist. Paisarn’s Silpa Wattanatham accounts of his perspective of the world of performance art are contextual, appreciative of the individuals involved, sensitive to the character of the particular environment, and alive to the urgent social, political and psychological issues expressed.
Another distinctive aspect of Paisarn’s criticism is his interest in the plight of the poor who strive to defend themselves against the depredations of the state, as in the tragic saga of the Pak Moon Dam. Paisarn helps us see high art in new perspectives by drawing its discussion into the midst of social concerns. He contrasts high art stories not only with commentary about front-page social and political events, but with descriptions of the courageous struggle of marginalized indigenous peoples, ‘sea gypsies’ for example, whose lives and projects are often obscured and overlooked by the general public. Paisarn prefaces many of his critiques of exhibitions with references to current events, contrasting, for example, paintings and photos honoring the ancient glories of Nepal, Tibet and India with the spectacle of Thai people falling upon each other in violent conflict instigated by the government project to build a Thai-Malaysian gas pipeline. The critic complains that the state creates divisions among the people in order to manipulate them more easily. Practically in the same breath, Paisarn speaks out, as well, against wide-spread, extra-judicial killings during the ‘anti-drug’ campaign of the Thaksin administration. In 2004, prefacing a discussion of art museums in Bangkok, he recalls a visit, made with a group of artist friends, to the embattled villages of Bornok and Bahn Krut in Prachuab Kirikan province to encourage the people who were resisting the construction of a coal-fired electricity generating plant. Later, Paisarn, along with many others, grieves to hear the news of the assassination of Charoen Wataksorn, a local leader in that conflict. In 2007, he reports on the memorial statue created in honor of Charoen Themes such as these are woven into Paisarn’s criticism throughout the period of his writing in the decade of 1997 – 2007. Paisarn’s critiques were the most difficult to study because of his literary style, which sometimes demands a reader with sophisticated Thai language skills. He not infrequently takes a circuitous route in moving to his subject, as in his pensive, poetic and rambling introduction to a show by distinguished artists at the Wityanitat Gallery on the vision of art, faith and religion. Still, he has an intuitive gift for linking things up metaphorically, as when he connects the consequences of environmental destruction with Valentine’s Day consumerism.
In any case, his writing about particular artists and their works is splendid and worthy of further study. A brief mention of some of Paisarn’s typically fine critiques might include: his review of the erotic drawings of Chuang Mulpinit; a description of the performance of Marina Abramovic scraping blood and gristle off bones; his review of a show by Sompop Butrach in Khon Kaen; an admiring critique of the life and work of Jarng Sae Thang; his visit with to the provincial home of SEAwrite Award winner, Saksiri Misomseub; his review, in memoriam, of the life and work of Jirasak Patanapong an account of a show of watercolor paintings by Chokchai Takpot; his review of a show of abstract paintings by Seni Chaemdech; his account of a gathering of old activist artist friends, especially Sanam Chantrkoh, an artist of Buriram; a review of the surrealist works of Pratheeb Kochbua; a description of a group of artists doing conservation in the western forests; and his coverage of a 14 October Memorial show.