Saturday, October 16, 2010

Paisarn Tirapongwit, ‘Art Exhibition for “Peace” That Can Only Happen in Your Dreams,’

Paisarn Tirapongwit, ‘Art Exhibition for “Peace” That Can Only Happen in Your Dreams,’ from the Silpa Wattanatham column of Siam Rath Weekly News Magazine, 23 – 29 July 2010.

On the evening of Thursday, 24 June, 2010, about a month ago, the Ministry of Culture organized and hosted an exhibition on the theme, ‘Imagine Peace.’ The show was installed in the exhibition hall on the 9th floor of the Bangkok Metropolitan Gallery. There are dozens of works of art of diverse techniques and styles, by artists both Thai and foreign, presented for the interested public to visit and enjoy.

The exhibition, hosted by the state Ministry of Culture, was funded in large part by the Thai – Khem Kaeng (i.e. ‘stalwart Thai’) budget. One could say, though without enthusiasm, that the show is passing fair, but not that it is outstanding. Most of the works - - virtually all of them - - are new, and address the theme, ‘Imagine Peace,’ which was set by the Ministry from the beginning,.

In this show the Ministry of Culture was looking for content in line with their policy – ‘Unity and Transparency’ – which is the tune the government is playing, for they are determined to recover the social atmosphere of the country which is now full of conflict, division and hatred, and broken into factions of many different colors by stupidity and madness. The government wants things to return to normal.

I think this goal will be difficult to reach successfully, and I don’t see how it can end as beautifully as the government imagines. The description of what is needed is very abstract indeed: the state of ‘Unity and Transparency.’ It is something which has to be conceived of and all must try to reach the same final destination.

But this is no different from grabbing wildly in search of ‘peace,’ something humanity continues to seek, as it has been seeking for so many hundreds of years. We still have neither the light of peace nor the absence of war, murder and genocide. These evils persist and endure.

Alongside of ordinary development, wars continue. Ambitious men still attack and destroy other groups and factions. Violence goes on and multiplies with no sign at all of drawing to an end – in fact, quite the reverse. The seeds of hatred spread along with desire and covetousness, aggression, and the will to control and possess. These grow larger and more powerful all the time.

Just look at the name of this art exhibition, clearly labeled ‘Peace’ and organized by the Ministry of Culture in the real world of humanity. Human beings love to wallow drunkenly in conflict and hatred. They have a basic, instinctive love of violence.: They want to see it actually come to pass. “Peace,” then, can only be a passing dream, a destination never actually arrived at.

This is confirmed in the various artworks which have been selected to show together in the exhibition floor space of the BMA Gallery. As I experienced it, the theme of the exhibition, ‘Imagine Peace,’ suggests that ‘Peace’ is just an illusion, something intangible which humans can only dream of in their sleep. That’s when they might find it. Peace is just a pretty but empty picture, sketched out and colored according to the imaginative fantasies of various individuals, distilled and expressed in works of art – fairy tales – short stories – vacuous bits of poetry and song, movies, dramas and consumer goods.

Most of the artworks brought together in the exhibition addressed the theme of the show, ‘Imagine Peace,’ but many also seemed to have little to do with it. If they had, it would mean they had something to show about a faraway dream of peace, something very flimsy and intangible; something very indefinite, so thin that I couldn’t find it. The images, content and stories expressed in many of the works didn’t seem to fit in with the overall concept, ‘Imagine Peace,’ at all.

Some works did communicate about dreams of peace, or reflected conflicts and divisions in society, important obstacles which make peace a hard goal to realize. Some reflect and express attitudes and beliefs which seem easy to believe; they are so blunt and obtuse, direct, unvarnished and lacking in wit. These artworks are quite mediocre. They cannot move us as they should, or lead us to ponder on anything, as artworks are supposed to do. It is very sad, indeed, that works like these make us feel that they are out of place and unable to do the task that was theirs to do.

There are, however, many very interesting works, for example, the installation of Jakrapan Vilsineekul entitled “Hanging in the Air/ Balanced on a Single Rope.” Jakrapan has hung a wooden chair precariously from a rope attached to a flagpole with the national flag attached to the gallery wall. It is suspended in a very temporary, unstable, uncertain state. Furthermore, the situation of the chair is opposite to the proper function of the thing. If anyone was foolish enough to fly up and try to insert himself into it, that person would come painfully crashing to the floor.

‘We Are the Zip,” by Chachawan Konkajee, unfolds a Thai flag which takes the shape of a large person’s shirt with a black zipper. It appears to compare the people, the citizenry, with the zipper in the middle of the shirt. When the zipper is pulled down, the flag-shirt divides into two separate pieces. Pulled upward, the zipper brings the two sides together: the division and hatred in Thai society disappears. If the people’s hatred toward ’the opposition’ melts, they can join together as one, accepting their differences. They make of themselves a zipper, bringing unity and conciliation.

The work, ‘Large Black and White Photo,’ by Anuchai Sriroonputhong expresses imagination and ideas. It speaks of the influence and power of ‘color’ nowadays, which makes people wobble off center and misunderstand. Sometimes information is biased, distorted and twisted, full of the ignorance and illusion of prejudice. These things are important factors, currents which create, plant and stir up turmoil and disorder among the people, in the society and across the country, chaining them to the power of the media.

Sattawat Chuaynoon’s abstract painting slashes and slaps black color in a confusion of violence, reflecting bursting movement. Besides the abstract color of ‘Dream of Peace,’ the artist has written something to communicate his idea:

I was there at 6 October 1976, at 17 May 1992, at 20 April 2010, at 19 May 2010, these repeated disasters. The air in Thailand is still fresh. I close my eyes. I dream of peace.

Other works in the show include,:‘Peace can happen, but greed, anger, and ignorance must be killed in ones self,’ by Kamin Lertchaiprasert; an installation by Rerkrit Triwanich; ‘Love and Miss Peace,’ by Kanya Charoensupakul; ‘Heaven in Ones Breast – Hell in Ones Heart,’ by Sutee Kunawichaiyanont; ‘Peace’ by Kris Ngamsom; ‘Please Don’t Despair,’ by Yuri Kensaku; ‘Sai Wat,’ and a photo by Tavorn Ko-udomwit, ‘This Shirt is Yellow, This Shirt is Red;’ and ‘Tug of War’ by Somsak Raksuwan.

‘Mourning Glory’ is an enlargement from the film of Rupert James.

In particular, one sculpture of many hands reaching up together has become a rather provocative story which made the newspapers not long ago. The sculpture is the work of Louise Bourgeois, a French woman artist who only recently passed away on 31 May 2010.

The cause of the row stemmed from the fact that the sculpture of these hands, created by Louise Bourgeois, was intended for a site on the beach at Krabi as a memorial to the tragedy of the tsunami.

The Ministry of Culture, which set up the ‘Imagine Peace’ exhibition, simply commandeered this sculpture to use in their show without asking permission from or even informing the agency in Krabi for whom the work was actually intended. There were some protests as a result and the story got into the newspapers.

In the end, the Minister of Culture, as the host, had to quickly take that sculpture out of the show and send it down to Krabi, along with explanations and apologies. So audiences who visited the show, ‘Imagine Peace,’ afterwards, didn’t see that work. If you want to see the sculpture by this famous woman with your own eyes, you’ll have to go down to Krabi. I am not certain that they have installed the piece in its proper place there or not.

For readers who are interested in viewing and appreciating art, you are invited to visit the BMA Gallery to enjoy the ideas and feelings of ‘Imagine Peace’ under the present government’s theme of ‘Unity and Transparency,’ as you are inclined. Each of you may see the show from a different angle from my own and have something different to say about it.
I myself firmly believe that lasting peace and tranquility, as well as unity and transparency etc., could happen only in a world of fantasy, imagination and totally ignorant dreams.

The ‘Imagine Peace’ exhibition is showing on the 9th floor of the BMA Gallery at the Patumwan Intersection, across from the Maboonkrong Shopping Center until Sunday, 22 August, from 10 am to 7 pm daily, except Mondays.

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