Monday, January 23, 2012

Paisan Tirapongwit, ‘Art When it Floods and After the Water Subsides’

Paisan Tirapongwit, ‘Art When it Floods and After the Water Subsides,’ in the Silpa Wattanatham column of Siam Rath Weekly magazine. 23 – 29 December, 2011.
Year 59, Vol 14.

Until now, a great many people’s ‘Mr.Water’ or ‘Miss Water’ has moved along until pretty well drying up, all of it, in every area.  Some of the water was pushed out to sea by a great variety of measures, some effective, some not.  Afterwards, after the flood had passed, everybody who had fled the water as a refugee began coming back to return to their homes and put their possessions in order. But they met with sights which would make your heart simply evaporate: they saw disastrous losses of homes and living spaces materializing before their eyes.

After that, the task of each person was to get to work cleaning up their homes, tools, appliances, implements and all the various things that were still there after ‘Mr.Water’ or ‘Miss Water’ had thrown losses  – heavy or light -  their way.  Everyone had their work to do until the job was finished.  Every householder was happy to come back to sleep in their own house after having to abandon them to flee the water for a month or for many months.

People with savings, steady income, and secure jobs could get to work repairing and tidying up the various losses and destruction of their houses, recovering and rebuilding, making them fit to live in again in some normal fashion.  Friends and acquaintances in the local artworld who could be contacted mostly had experienced flooding in their homes, some critically, some minimally. Their eyes were pained, their faces set.  They were all occupied with cleaning up the mess to be thrown out.  Some people had to clean and clean again so many times.  

But what appeared to be the most serious problem after the water went down and dried up was the mold, bacteria and fungus that grew up all over the walls of the houses.  If you didn’t get this really cleaned up, it could be a source of long-term problems.  And they said there was some kind of mold that was really quite dangerous to human health.  Caution was necessary in cleaning up and getting under control all the scum that covered so many houses, especially air-conditioned ones.  Instead of getting right back to the work of making art after the water receded, it has often been necessary to take considerable time to consult a doctor about health issues.

In the past, I have written that there are no few people [in Thai art circles] working in the field of art. In the midst of these great floods this time, there were many violent impacts.  A number of people had to call a halt to their plans for exhibitions which they had been working on for many years.  They had to evacuate without any time to think about where else they might have their show. 

Not only the private exhibitions of many individual artists were cancelled or put on hold, even large shows planned by the Bangkok Metropolitan Authority to celebrate His Majesty, the 9th King’s 84th birthday.  Those plans were very grand for the BMA Art and Culture Gallery. They mobilized the borrowing of many works of art – paintings, sculptures, graphic art, photographs, mixed media and installations – to show  the public – bringing them together to enjoy the development of the local artworld during the whole period from the beginning of the 9th reign until the present.  This would help reflect the flourishing of the currents of art in the era of the 9th King.

And this big exhibition program planned by the BMA had to be cancelled, so very unfortunately, because of the problems caused by flooding.  That was very sad. One feels so full of regret on behalf of Thai people who love art.  There would be no chance now to see or experience the well-known and excellent works, the skillful works of many individual creative artists from many generations.  All those works would have been set up together to show in the BMA Art and Culture Gallery, or the BMA Gallery [for short].  As a rule, so many of these works would be carefully hidden away in the homes of collectors. They cannot simply be seen by anyone at any time, easily and comfortably.

Besides, there are still many people in many branches of the artworld that I know fairly well.  Bad luck for us all that their homes were flooded and that their tools and the working equipment of many of these artists were submerged and damaged, sometimes seriously, sometimes only a bit.  They were not always able to move things in time out of the way of the flood waters.  They had to patiently endure and fend for themselves.
I heard that the home of P’Suchart Suwatsri was flooded almost to the ceiling of the second story of the house.  This hit his collection of books hard. P’Suchart had collected and cared for them all his life, and he lost them all, disastrously, in one blow.  For people who are not interested in reading, how don’t love books with the reverence of a bookworm, they could not understand the value and worth of books which P’Suchart  had collected as his own personal heritage and treasure. They were so valuable and important to him.  Many people just looked at them as water-soaked paper, easy to buy and replace.

But the real value of each of those books which were packed into P’Suchart’s house and were all ruined – you could say they were completely beyond price.  Many of those books were quite rare.  If you had sacks and barrels of money, would you be able to gather such a collection back together again?
If you were flooded for a day or two, you might be able to do something for yourself.  You might have hope or find some way to save the situation, to cut your losses, to save some of those books damaged by the floodwater.  But the flooding of Rangsit lasted a month, and the paper of each book was soaked, immersed under water for a long period of time, for a month or more.   What would be left to rescue? There was nothing remaining but to mourn and despair.

I don’t know how to give assistance this time or help in the recovery of losses in cases like P’Suchart Sawatsri.  Should the state take some responsibility?  Should the Ministry of Culture, or the Association of Thai Writers have measures and take steps to help him?   Countless writers have, to some extent, experienced disaster on account of the flood.  What to do: this is the question, to doubt, that I don’t know how to answer.  And I don’t see any government agency taking any interest at all in helping P’Suchart address the losses to his home.

About a week ago or maybe longer, I read in the pages of a daily newspaper about a skilled photographer whose home was in the Don Muang area. He was aomong those who also had to deal with disastrous floods for more than a month.  In addition to there be no help in sight from the government (which should have been there, as they have at their disposal an utterly confusing array of agencies and units), there was no one taking responsibility for efficiently tackling the problem of the floods.  No answers came from state agencies which were supposed to manage and control the water. Would they help get rid of the water in the community so the people could regain some sense of normality?

The photographer I am speaking of and his friends in that housing area blew off some steam, venting their frustration and anger at the complete absence of any assistance from the state.  He took his camera and waded out to record from many perspectives the event and the fate of the people of Don Muang, their various dangerous and destructive encounters with flood water left standing and stagnant for a very long time.  Then, he enlarged the pictures and put them up on display in an exhibition publicly condemning the utter incompetence of the government.  The pictures were hung on the [exterior] walls of the flooded homes in the area to show passersby the suffering borne by local people and the uselessness of the relevant government agencies.  Those ‘professional political gamesmen’ did nothing but give interviews, hand out charity, make a few meals for a few groups and grin for the media cameras taking their photograph.

The work that they should have attended to and completely accomplished, they didn’t do.  In fact, they probably didn’t have the wit to make a good job of it. Truly wicked.  And this is such a sad story, even sadder than having their homes flooded, because the ability of our government lags so far behind like this.  Where will they find brains and the capability to tackle national problems?  They just talk and complain.  Nothing gets better.  They say don’t get your hopes and expectations up or ask for anything to benefit the nation and the lives of the common people. ‘Professional political gamesmen’ without a doubt, an endless disappointment.

The atmosphere in the local artworld during the floods and after the waters receded is probably still rather sad, quiet and worn out, lacking in energy and color, lacking any sparkle and liveliness.  The many exhibitions I have gone to see have all been indifferent and listless.  I’ve yet to see any works which are really energetic, stimulating and forcefully arouse imaginative ideas, or which are challenging and call for exercising of brain muscles.  I don’t mean that works that are moving along and put on show aren’t good quality.  But they are not really satisfying and replete with feeling.  They don’t draw the viewer in with imaginative thinking.

I hope that in the new year, under the same sky, with a new calendar marked with 2555 (2012), the pulse and respiration of the Thai art world will be moving along and will be somewhat more lively, fresh and interesting than the months and the year that we have just passed through.  Goodbye to the old year, and good luck, everyone, with life in the new year ahead.

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