A NEW DOCUMENTARY SHORT BY DESIGNER NUANKHANIT PHROMCHANYA LOOKING AT THE LIFE AND WORKS OF THAI ARTIST CHAVALIT SOEMPRUNGSUK BRINGS THE STRUGGLES FACED BY CREATIVE INDIVIDUALS, WHETHER PAST OR PRESENT, INTO FOCUS.
Whether it is Art of Not depicts the alienated lives of contemporary art makers through the story of Amsterdam-based Thai artist, Chavalit Soemprungsuk (1939), who has been living in perpetual in-between worlds for the past 50 years.
This project is a tribute to Soemprungsuk as made through the eyes of three young Thai designers who are fascinated by his life and works, including: a short documentary film by Nuankhanit Phromchanya and a printed publication by Pat Laddapan and Piyakorn Chaiverapundech which examine his recent digital works and transform them onto physical pages.
art4d caught up with Nuankhanit to learn more about the film which explores the personal lifelong dilemmas of Soemprungsuk – being part of two cultures, a dedication to the practice of art and the constraints of living in modern society, the choice between fame and isolation, and the blurring boundaries between physical and digital realities.
Tell us a little about yourself and your practice, I understand that you have been based in Amsterdam for the past 5 years or so?
Nuankhanit Phromchanya: I work as a designer and visual researcher and am currently based in Amsterdam. I moved here in 2011 to study my Master Degree’s in Design at the Sandberg Instituut, Gerrit Rietveld Academie, and later on continued my professional practice as an independent design studio (www.nuankhanit.com) developing autonomous projects. I occasionally serve as a guest teacher at several design schools.
Could you introduce the project, Whether It Is Art or Not?
NP: Whether it is Art of Not is a project that looks into the life and works of a 77-year-old Thai artist, Chavalit Soemprungsuk, through the eyes of three designers who are fascinated by his artistic creations and also him as a person. It includes a publication (edition of 300) by Pat Laddapan and Piyakorn Chaiverapundech which analyzes his online work archive and transforms it into a physical catalogue, as well as a short documentary film (35 mins) focusing on his current life in Amsterdam produced by myself. It is also my first time switching from the role of a designer to that of a filmmaker.
Though the tile is ‘Whether it is Art of Not: Life and Works of Chavalit Soemprungsuk,’ it’s not exactly made as a tribute, but more so as a multi-medium project that investigates a single subject, in this case, an artist. We look at Chavalit as a source of inspiring materials, full with ambiguous qualities that we would like to confront ourselves and the audience with. We approached him with our intentions, and he was generous enough to give us complete freedom to use and interpret his life and works how we saw them. In fact, he will see the film for the first time along with others on the upcoming premiere night.
I understand that you found many of the issues that come up in the film to be fairly universal and representative of today’s existential struggles of creative individuals. Could you elaborate on these conflicts that came to the foreground?
NP: There are several issues in his life that I recognize for myself and also for other designers/artists I know, only that Chavalit’s experiences are different versions of them because of the time he lives in and the position he has gained. One example would be the balance between making work and being seen. Chavalit is very persistent about being a ‘serious artist,’ he takes the process of art making very seriously, and without compromise. He is against the traditional concept of self-promotion and the commercialization of art, for example he would refuse to perform drawing on TV or use a gallery to represent his works. The result is that he has produced a great amount of art but is somehow known only to small group of people (compared to the quality of the works) and, at an old age, lives a seemingly solitude life. For me, it is a pity but for him it’s a choice he is happy with, and somehow he earned the national artist recognition at a later stage of life. I found this example to be very relevant in the current era where self-presentation has become almost as important as the quality of the work. To be seen, to be liked, to be followed is beneficial to one’s development of a creative career. I don’t wish to join this trend but also don’t have the courage to make the choices he has made.
The film is described as taking us “on a personal journey of unraveling oneself through art and the making of art itself.” Did the process and practice of documenting Chavalit’s story and creating the work in some ways lead to your own personal journey, whether with or without art, as well?
NP: It definitely has. Whether it is art or not implies the storyline around the value of art and the life of an artist which is of course an important part of the film. But on another layer, it also implies very much my own involvement in Chavalit’s life (and vice versa) as the movie making process became a means for us to connect and exchange thoughts. It might be cliche to say you can learn a lot from people of another generation, but it is true for me in this case. It is also a great journey of discovering film as a new medium of expression, and without encountering Chavalit, it might never have happened. So I do hope this journey will continue in one way or another.
For you, any favorite moments captured in the film?
NP: One of my favorite moments is when he was with his friend’s dog, Flappy. Chavalit is a true dog lover and you can feel it in the film how he lets a bit of his vulnerability be shown when describing how the hole in his life can be filled just simply by having a dog around. This moment is pretty lovely in my point of view.
And last but not least, where and when can we see the film?
NP: The project will be shown in both cities, Amsterdam and Bangkok, over the upcoming weeks.
The Amsterdam film premiere will happen on Thursday September 22, 2016 at 7 pm. at De Punt located on Frans de Wollantstraat 84. The event is hosted by NEVERNEVERLAND, a new initiative for the arts based in Amsterdam.
In Bangkok there will be a film screening along with the launch of the catalogue at Bangkok CityCity Gallery on Sathorn Soi 1 on Saturday, October 2, 2016 at 7 pm.