In her latest solo exhibition, Araya Rasdjamrearnsook presents her new sculptures and videos, also ‘Trying To Return To Being A Writer’
Death, animals, dead bodies and mad people are what seem to have disappeared from Araya Rasdjarmrearnsook’s work while dogs have become the key character in her most recent works. But in July of 2017, the long-absent dead bodies, animals and the mad people made their return. Rasdjarmrearnsook photographs these dead bodies, animals and mad women, not as another series of her artistic works, but as something she can revisit from the point of view of a spectator. The captured images of the dead, animals and the mad are framed and mounted on the gallery’s walls for Rasdjarmrearnsook to critique her own works, to talk about their smells; the smells that have been with her over the past 30 years. Created are pieces of two video works titled ‘I was just told that my work is more or less too sad for Christmas’ (2017) and ‘The Cruel’ (2017).
Rasdjarmrearnsook began to incorporate ‘act of criticism’ in her videos with ‘The Two Planet’ (2009) where significant works in Western art history such as The Gleaners (1857) or The Midday Sleep (1890) by Vincent Van Gogh are taken out of the gallery space to a rural setting where groups of people living in the village discuss the artworks (they make great fun out of the discussion). Then Rasdjarmrearnsook takes a Jeff Koons to a Buddhist temple in Village and Elsewhere (2011) with a special character appearing in the frame. That special character is a monk who stands in the chapel giving Buddhist lessons from the semi-nude image that is Jeff Koons’ work titled ‘Village and Elsewhere (2011)’ while everyone in the video laughs along to the monk’s story that tells the tale of Judith decapitating Holofernes from Artemisia Gentileschi’s Judith Slaying Holofernes and how the act is the karma of the man in Koons’ work and his act of adultery. Not only that, Rasdjarmrearnsook installs ‘Wolfman’ in a local fresh market, causing criticism over moral appropriation and the effect the work has on the place’s image. The very same work is relocated to another market and receives positive feedback from the locals who interpret the raunchy image as a campaign to create AIDS awareness.
Taking works of art out of the space of an art museum does have its repercussions, and especially for certain people (while Rasdjarmrearnsook told us that she just wants to know the reaction of people towards a Jeff Koons’ work in the context like a fresh market in Thailand) and these certain people are not the local folks who may be discussing the work of one of the most influential artists in the history of western art and calling it a pornographic image because it really is one. The target here is the people Rasdjarmrearnsook mentioned in the pamphlet of her show where she described how she came across a statement – “For the development of art in Asia to be possible, it requires insightful critique from the outside, as in Europe and other places,” in an art review piece. She views it as a colonialist attitude in the artistic context where some people still see Asia’s artistic creations to be somewhat less civilized than those of the West, steadfastly believing that there is only one ‘standard’ used to measure the value of artistic creations.
An ‘act of criticism’ reappeared in The Cruel (2017), a video that is cut from ‘Sanook Dee Museum,’ an activity Rasdjarmrearnsook did with students from the Department of Multidisciplinary Art, Faculty of Fine Arts, Chiang Mai University. Five years later, Rasdjarmrearnsook changed the setting from a rural area to a gallery. She invited the same group of villagers and the same Buddhist Monk to view artworks in a new context. Works of western art fill up the gallery’s space along with some of her old works and they are all the targets of criticism. The dead body, men and animal series are trashed by the four students from her class who act as fake professors as they get into a debate with the villagers (who defend Rasdjarmrearnsook) for calling the use of human corpses in works of art immoral, insulting the obscurity of Insane (2006) as lacking of advanced visual art techniques among other things all the way to stating that Rasdjarmrearnsook’s 2005 performance ‘The Nine-Day Pregnancy of a Single Middle-Aged Associate Professor’ where she faked her own pregnancy for nine days was unethical.
The dialogues of the fake professors on ‘The Cruel’ have their origin. Rasdjarmrearnsook takes them from the statements of four national artists who aborted her two applications for professor positions with quotes like “the works need to have academic value. They have to be academically empirical.” or “I want to assess her works so bad. First off, the work has to be a new creation and secondly it needs to be ethical. She calls her fake pregnancy an artwork. We don’t even know whether the hospital allows those mad women to appear in her work or not,” or “the work is in black and white and blurry. It doesn’t show any use of advanced visual art techniques.” The students from her class recite these lines in the video where the statements are inserted at the final part. Without directly telling who the people saying these statements are, the song Santa Lucia is played at the end of the video as a hint.
The title ‘The Cruel’ makes one wonder to whom or what she refers to. When the traces of her old works find their way back into the new ones, be it through the pattern of the video or the recurring characters, they bring with them a sense of mockery, which seems to be transferred to this latest artistic creation. Rasdjarmrearnsook knows that she cannot control the viewers’ opinions, and that there is always a possibility that some viewers will find the national artists’ statement agreeable while some may laugh at the ridiculously conventional standard used to judge a piece of art. These things are what should be used as the tool of measure, to see whether it’s Rasdjarmrearnsook who is cruel to those national artists or these national artists who cruelly judge her artworks? Nevertheless, the content of the video ‘I was just told that my work is more or less too sad for Christmas’ (2017) heavily manipulates ‘The Cruel’ in that it has nowhere else to go because at the very least, what it tells the viewers is that Rasdjarmrearnsook doesn’t use those judgmental comments to hurt herself again for nothing.
For this work of video art, Rasdjarmrearnsook wrote two sets of text. The first one she wrote for herself while playing the role of an outspoken professor with a PhD in art at the office, while the other is the dialogue of another version of Rasdjarmrearnsook who is a 60-year-old retired lady with a Chanthaburi accent. The two Rasdjarmrearnsooks meet on the same screen where they discuss different issues about art. They both agree and disagree on various matters. Speaking at the same time, viewers barely understand their conversation, which goes something like “the work is discussed with relation to morality and ethics, standards that I don’t even know really exist / turns out that the work helps someone show off their so-called ethical thoughts,” said the second Rasdjarmrearnsook, arguing Dr. Rasdjarmrearnsook’s statement – “If the standard assesses that the best action results in the best result, then many series of the works fail on both levels because they consist of controversial acts and characters whether it be the mad women or dead bodies (…).” In another part of the video, sentences like – “Isn’t morality a form of kindness? … if morality is more universal than just one person’s feelings then the work that is not able to step out of one’s personal space shouldn’t be evaluated using moral standards because it isn’t based on a truly public status” from Dr. Rasdjarmrearnsook seem to be agreeable with what the old lady Rasdjarmrearnsook said that “time and circumstances of the work are a moment of a relationship rather than a trace of a story (…).”
It’s pretty clear that Rasdjarmrearnsook doesn’t intend for the video to be didactic as she tries really hard to remove herself from the role of the creator by inserting the voices of the two Rasdjarmrearnsooks in a back and forth manner in order to keep the conversation from being a straight line with a definite beginning and ending. She intentionally writes the text as a straightforward criticism toward her previous works. But the question is, is criticizing her own artworks alone enough to keep Rasdjarmrearnsook’s subjectivity out of the video? This is not only because the 30-minute duration of ‘I was just told that my work is more or less too sad for Christmas’ can be considered a piece of critique, but it also serves as a platform where Rasdjarmrearnsook is able to talk about her own artistic creations (instead of leaving that job to writers). At this point, this critique cannot fully call itself a true criticism for Rasdjarmrearnsook today is still the same Rasdjarmrearnsook who read newspapers to a dead body. If one were to sum up what the artist does in this video, the words ‘explaining further’ may be more appropriate than the term ‘critique’ with the reason being that, at the end, the written text is unable to go beyond an attempt to fill in what was missing in Rasdjarmrearnsook’s own work. To be more straightforward, there are traces that can make one think that the text is written as an opposition to the malicious comments in ‘The Cruel.’
Before the succeeding question about whether Rasdjarmrearnsook, as an artist, can justifiably criticize her own work considering the fact that critics are sometimes accused of a lack of justification to coincidentally or intentionally comment on an artist’s work, the exhibition’s name, ‘An Artist is Trying to Return to Being a Writer,’ which at first, didn’t seem to have any involvement with the works, covers the justification issue. Rasdjarmrearnsook says rightfrom the start that she’s only ‘trying’ to be a writer and this happens to be a period of time when she is working on her book (which should be published and released after the exhibition ends). During the 8-month period of the exhibition, Rasdjarmrearnsook’s status is changing just like how she wears a wig when she’s in her Dr. Rasdjarmrearnsook persona (if she wishes to hide her identity, however, a pen name might be needed from now on). “Writing is much more exhausting than what I have done over the past 30 years,” said Rasdjarmrearnsook in her interview with Art Radar. To the female artist, creating an artwork is like a fast, effortless movement while writing requires her to sit still. “I feel like I’m becoming a stone.” Writing and art are a binary opposition (although binary oppositions are now somewhat of an obsolete concept). Rasdjarmrearnsook replaces “fast, effortless movement” with gestures of ballet dancing in the sculptural work titled ‘An Artist is Trying to Return to Being a Writer’ while the upside-down, naked Rasdjarmrearnsook figure (rendered using a 3D scanning technique) is, according to her explanation, an attempt to work on her writing.
Araya Rasdjarmrearnsook with ‘An Artist is Trying to Return to Being a Writer’ will be showing at 100 Tonson Gallery until the 14th of January 2018.
￼TEXT: NAPAT CHARITBUTRA
PHOTO : KETSIREE WONGWAN