Saturday, March 12, 2011

Manit Sriwanichpoom. Art After Red May (5) 14 – 20 Jan. 2011.

Manit Sriwanichpoom. Art After Red May (5), in the Silpa Wattanatham column of Siamrath Weekly News magazine, Yr. 58, Vol. 17, 14 – 20 Jan. 2011.

After talking about contemporary works of art with content associated with the violent events of this past May, 2010, the works of senior artists, the older artists of international standing, let’s turn to the younger generation, which has also taken strong interest in what is happening in their own country, in their own politics.

‘Within These Walls,’ is an exhibition by five artists – three of them Thai, two foreign – i.e. Rerngsak Anuwatwimol, Chalitaporn Yamoon, and Charintorn Rachurach, and Rupert Jones (UK) and Jeff Gompritz (US) in the glass rooms on the second floor of the BMA Art and Culture Gallery, 11 Dec. 2010 to 6 Jan. 2011. The show presents the initiativ, ideas and selection of artists by a new face – a woman curator, Bo Wasinont, who announced her intentions for this show in a news release, as follows:

“…After the conflicting events of last May, have we created material walls, and walls in our own thinking in order to cover up the damage? Our new walls have been varnished over with hope and encouragement.
We vow seriously to move forward, but have we understood what we must leave behind us or not? And have we learned? Do we acknowledge the wrongs and mistakes or not?”

These five artists investigate and recall the losses from the violent political events which came to pass in May of last year. Their works are brought together within a structure of ideas which investigate the meaning of citizenship, of the propaganda created to control the feelings and thoughts of most of the people, and the uneasy confusion which arises from conflict and division among people…”

In line with the exhibition’s theme, ‘Inside the Walls,’ the curator brought mucky and faded stickers to close off the glass rooms of the second floor of the gallery.
Areas are created which become ‘inside – outside.’ So there is a feeling of secrecy and concealment, stimulating immediate curiosity. It’s a very clever way of solving the problem of glassed in rooms which were divided for business purposes, areas which were never intended to be used as galleries.

One room shows works ‘ Within the framework of ideas seeking the meaning of citizenship.’
There is an installation by Reuangsak Anuwatwimol with Thai content under the ‘white’ name, ‘ Everything Might be OK, All About Thai.’ The artist has invited his friends and acquaintances and general audiences to join in and show ideas and opinions about the meaning of the words, ‘Thai citizen.’

People are asked to bring in whatever objects are able to represent the meanings and feelings which they feel are appropriate, and place them in the exhibition room. These things are painted red, white and blue, like the Thai flag. And we find that the variety of objects brought in include fresh apples, a cake, the 1997 constitution, T-shirts and plastic handguns, for example. The artist himself brought three things and put them in place first: a pair of dinosaurs the colors of the Thai flag, tri-colored plastic bags, and the skeleton of a dog carrying in its jaws an old map of Thailand.

Is it possible or not that the violent incidents of Red May in which people were killed and injured have shaken to their foundation, to their very roots our ideas and beliefs in rank, status and privilege? And our definition of the meaning of ‘Thai citizen,’ and what we used to recite by heart, ‘Thai people love peace.’

If we consider the symbolic objects which they deposited here, there is irony, contempt, anger, hatred and spite expressed toward the wicked baseness of Thai society because of said events. The state of emotion isn’t just among artists only. No few Thai people have become depressed and hopeless since these turbulent events have occurred.

In any case, for the audience, the various symbols brought together in this definition make quite a mix. Most are unrelated or scarcely related to the violent events which have passed, perhaps because it has been many months now. The feelings and ideas have cooled and changed, for Thai people forget very easily. For example, there is a wedding cake with a white groom and a Thai bride. And also, the apples.

In the next room as well, ‘Propaganda created to control feelings and thoughts of most of the people,’ by Charintorn Rachurat in the white piece labeled, ‘Trust Me.’ It is a work of art which assembles together eight inkjet, poster size prints, with an orange neon sign which says ‘Trust Me’ in the middle of the exhibition room.

Though the artists were determined to critique the use of mass media during those events and the attempt to direct and control the ideas of the people, only two works really address this issue. The rest are simply mocking and ironic regarding the different colored rallies. For example, in ‘The Duties of Students,’ Charintorn makes a collage using line drawings and primary school study models from the Pibulsongkram era. There is a picture of two pairs of men and women facing the Democracy Monument, along with photos of trucks carrying people off to political rallies. There is a text which says: ‘Renoo goes to the morning assembly; Banya goes to the morning assembly; brothers and sisters all, we meet together in the morning.’

In another work, ‘Announcement,’ is a blue poster mocking nationalist announcements in the era of Pibulsongkram. The colors people wear express their political preferences.

These two works reflect the fact that the artists have never joined any such meeting or movement to fight for anything.
If they had, these gestures would never have materialized. They wouldn’t have contempt for or make ironic comments about rallies of opposing colors who have different ideas.

On the other hand, one image of drawings going back to the Pibulsongkram era, ‘Gaily Colored Family,’ satirizes and critiques political rallies very creatively. And they look much better, and are very direct in presenting their point of view and in raising awareness. In the picture you see two ideal families. Both fathers are boasting to their wives and children as they show them bombs, but outside the house the town is burning wildly. At the top of the image, the text says, ‘We go to rallies. We choose sides with solidarity.’ This poster is like a horror movie in the middle of a delightfully fine day.

In a state of war at whatever level, propaganda is a weapon against an enemy, whether it is the Aphisit government or Taksin and the Red Shirts. This is nothing new. But what is different, and which Charintorn observed, was the use of new communication technology, different from May 1992 when they talked about the ‘mobile phone mob.’ Nowadays, we have an online network society called Facebook. In Charintorn’s ‘Network,’ she touches on this too, but only lightly, not deeply enough. She just takes a picture of a laptop computer monitor displaying the word Facebook and the word [in Thai] No. And there are scolding, argumentative texts about the rallies.
In order to communicate that all this is propaganda, the artist uses poster drawings from the era of the Chinese communist revolution. The picture of those intent and stalwart armed Chinese youths, both men and women, recalls very well the dress and attitudes of that era of communist dictatorship. ( The poster could be used in China.)
I did hear news that during the [Red May]violence, the hot ‘war’ on online networks was no less intense than the fighting on the street. Vile – raw – lawless. There were no class distinctions, no gentry, no peasants. Everyone was brought down to the same low level.

As for the works of art in the other rooms concerning ‘definition of confusion and hesitation that occurs when people are conflicted and divided,’ there is the work, Pointless, an installation by Chalitaporn Yamoon which presents violence via a variety of plastic guns emerging from a mirror attached to the wall. These guns are painted pink and reflect light. At the end of the barrels are lasers. The other end of the gun is the mirror on the wall. Opposite is a mirror on the other wall. The result is that the laser lights [from the gun barrels] go back and forth unceasingly. To the audience it says that the result of killing others falls on the killer’s own head, i.e. we reap what we sow. Assessing this artwork, one concludes that Chalitaporn’s offering is the weakest one in the group.

In the last two rooms which are worth noting, there are installations by a pair of whites, Rupert Jones and Jeff Gombritch. I have no information about how long either of them has been in Thailand. But that is not as important as what they try to reflect of the haunting and frightening results of the violent events of the past Red May. These two artists do not create anything new. They simply collected some of the debris left over from the fire at the Siam Theatre complex. And they have used it very cleverly. They use the crippled objects to reflect the story: the objects are the story-tellers.

Kring-kring! The sound of the telephone loudly arises outside the exhibition room. When the audience follows the sound, they find a congealed green public telephone which appears extremely moldy and repugnant to the touch.
It is attached to a black wall in a black room. There is a single spotlight fixed on that phone. The atmosphere is dark, scary and isolated in the room. The phone just keeps on ringing. If you lift the receiver to listen, there is no voice on the line, but the phone continues to ring. Rupert and Jeff have entitled this work, ‘No Answer.’

In the adjoining room a[n old-fashioned vinyl] recording of the Thai national anthem made by the Fine Arts Department can be played. The record has been warped by the fires which were the work of the Red Shirts. The record’s distorted sound of the music and singing is the result of the violence.

Unfortunately, the other side of the record is the royal anthem. If not for the censors and the proprietor’s fear of being charged with lèse majesté, how powerful this work would be. At this point, the nation’s highest institution is also being challenged, dragged into the contest for power and advantage. The sound of the royal anthem, incoherent and stuttering, would completely dismay Thai people who love and revere this institution, filling them with apprehension.

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