March 9 - September 14, 2014
By BANSIE VASVANI, MAY 2014
Urged by his teacher and mentor Rikrit Tiranvanija to be authentically Thai, twenty-seven-year-old Korakrit Arunanondchai’s solo exhibition at MoMA PS1 takes on this challenge with great gusto. For Krit, as he is commonly known, the question of his Thai identity emerged through his school years at RISD (Rhode Island School of Design) and then his MFA program at Columbia University in New York. From the get go, videos and the temporality of performance were crucial to express the cultural hybridity of his practice—and performance especially became symbolic of the crucible of change and the altar from which new visions were possible.
In Untitled (Muen Kuey No. 8), 2013, Krit uses his body to paint his canvas. Inspired by the controversy of a Thai go-go dancer who was paid to paint the canvas in the same manner at a talent contest broadcast on television in Thailand, Krit’s versions are accompanied by videos of him making the art. Here bright exuberant colors appear in spontaneous swaths against his signature burnt denim background. Aesthetic and startlingly refreshing, these large canvases painted in the vein of the abstract expressionists subvert art school conservatism and its bias towards painting. Resembling the spontaneity of Jackson Pollack throwing paint, Krit’s art embodies the confrontation of modernism as it expresses a language that allows for the voicing of complex socio political ideas.
If the performative aspect of his art represents cultural dislocation, changing perspectives, and identity politics, Untitled (History Painting), 2013, finds a new place for art from Southeast Asia. In a series of works shaped by burnt denim fabric that is glued over photographic flames, Krit integrates contrasting systems of language through contrasting materials. The burnt denim fabric brings a visceral texture to the surface, while images of the burning orange flames below offer a different kind of density, speed, and character to the piece. From this seeming incongruity there appears to be a certain harmony and beauty where each material is allowed its own space and moves to its own rhythm without regard to whatever else is unfolding in the work. This distinctive quality of the series flies in the face of those who practice a form of painting that is unified and resolved, marking a new journey through an altered experience.
Not meant to establish truth but to showcase changing times, Krit’s choice of denim is the ubiquitous material that is worn across Thailand and at the same time represents conspicuous consumption. Tourism and the impact of capitalism are also manifested in his Untitled (White Temple Painting), 2013, series. Inspired by a famous modern Thai temple called Wat Rong Kun (white temple) designed by an artist, these eleven paintings combine traditional Thai decorative aesthetics with his signature mark making process. Elaborate white curvaceous designs are interspersed with denim clothes and discernible gold body marks. Through the works’ inventive pairings of old and new the viewer is drawn towards the artist’s introspective journey.
Precariously poised as the outsider looking in, Krit strikes a fine balance between the past and the present to point towards an impermanent permeable future. For Krit the community is a dynamic force and he encourages the public to take ownership of history. Targeting all audiences, the artist engineers an intimate collaborative zone by providing lounging denim clad cushions in the centre of the room. From there people watch 2012-2555, (2555 is represented as the year 2012 in the Buddhist calendar) a large-scale installation that is part of a trilogy of video installations. Meant to explore the cyclical qualities of life, Krit’s penetration of the audience space through his videos and art ultimately allows him to communicate the layered discursive perspective on life that is a staple of his culture and Thai identity.
Bansie Vasvani is an independent art critic based in New York City. My interest is in covering non-western art and the play of identity politics. I have written for Art Asia Pacific, Modern Art Asia, The Brooklyn Rail, Daily Serving, Art India, Art New England, New York Arts Magazine, and The Culture Trip.view all articles from this author