A Cocktail
of Spicy
Light Bites

Michael Shaowanasai Presents
Adler Subhashok Gallery, Bangkok
06.03.15 – 19.04.15

Thai artist Michael Shaowanasai is generally known for his provocative auto-portrait photography work in which he usually appears in drag. Among the most notorious is the Portrait of a Man in Habits, which shows him in a Buddhist monk robe with full drag make-up. The Lady of the Low Country presumably portrays the first lady in an elegant old-fashioned dress standing tall like a statute beside a velvet throne. Many of his works teasingly ridicule Thai societal values and pose questions on the meaning of ‘Thainess’, with his bold, campy, idiosyncratic in-your-face expression, yet meticulous minute details.

Shaowanasai’s latest exhibition, ‘Michael Shaowanasai presents…’ welcomed his return after a three-year hiatus.This new opus shows a distinct departure from his familiar spunky and rebellious voice towards a mellower tone, a much more laid-back manner. As a consequence, this work seems relatively ‘light’ on the whole compared to his past exhibitions where many of his ideas are brief linguistic puns or merely playful spin-offs of existing philosophical aphorisms. Nevertheless, Michael Shaowanasai hardly ever runs out of flashy style to convey these simple, marginally banal ideas and manages to reinvent his artistic vision to explore new realms as never before.

One refreshing breakthrough is that Shaowanasai targeted the exhibition towards both English- and Thai-speaking audiences; half of the display deliberately delivers their meaning through an understanding of the Thai language and culture, whereas, his previous works were exclusively Anglophonic. Almost all of his works also play heavily on the implicit semiotic psychological and cultural constructs of typesetting glyphs, dominated by distinctive font styles.

For his English works, Michael Shaowanasai still adores playing with sexually explicit phrases or sentences in the same vein as the naughty titles of his late 1990s offerings, such as Fresh Young Boys, Semen for Sale or Please COME again, a pun satirising Thailand’s sex tourism.However, he ponders these notions even more deeply, adding philosophical twists to seemingly primitive urges.

A pair of black-and-white circular signs proclaiming: ‘I Am Made For Sin’ and ‘U R Also Made For Sin’ in bold square glyphs represent the key theme of selfish instinctive desire in the whole exhibition. The reference to ‘I’ and ‘U’ also stresses the universal nature of these yearnings for acceptability. A set of stark and colourful hand-sprayed graffiti bearing the same caption, ‘I Suck Almost Indiscriminately’ seems like a strike-back to racist messages found on metropolitan walls. The word ‘Almost’ suggests some kind of ‘reservation’, reminding us that eventually, democratic equality has no place in personal sexual preference, even for the most open-minded. A fuchsia-pink hypnotic spiral wheel laced with golden circular, winding script in a perpetual round reads ‘A Cock is A Cock is A Cock…’, contemplating the influence and value of what we call ‘a cock’ with an implication that perhaps it is nothing more than what it actually is. The importance placed on this thing can therefore be exaggerated, and brainwashing with a hypnotic spinning wheel is needed as an antidote to this excess. A large rectangular sheet of mirror glamorously mounted in a golden Art Deco frame seems a most improbable background for the beautiful italicised profanity: You can only Fuck one hole at a time. Naughty as it may sound, this oxymoronic work, in terms of message and style, provides an excellent example of how Michael Shaowanasai philosophises our carnal desire and adopts the Buddhist ideology of self-sufficient living for uninhibited sexual behaviour.

Michael Shaowanasai, I Suck Almost Discriminately, 2015, Digital image. 《我几乎不分种族地吸吮》,2015,数字图像,迈克尔•绍瓦那塞。

Michael Shaowanasai, I Suck Almost Discriminately, 2015, Digital image.《我几乎不分种族地吸吮》,2015,数字图像,迈克尔•绍瓦那塞。

The overt vulgarity used in these works may sound indiscreet to some, but judging by the voices Michael uses to convey his personal views, the genuine purpose is to express his pensive mood without the slightest intention to merely shock or flabbergast the audience. The apparent innocence of all these lewd testimonies affirms the artist’s sincerity and earnestness. Fortunately, the art world values freedom of expression over illusive societal morality, and hence it shrugs off the cheap notion of offensiveness, cherishing any kind of reflection on the human state of mind.

The Thai counterpart of the exhibition also plays friskily with typesetting style and word puns. The most archetypical piece is a bilingual sign which reads ‘เจร‘ญPORN’ in an elegant yellow customary Buddhist glyph bearing dual interpretations of either ‘Buddha blesses you’or ‘Viva Pornography!’ It cleverly mimics Thailand as a home of devoted Buddhists as well as sex workers and performers. This linguistic crossover word-pun can be found again in another sign with green and black labelling in antique Thai font style: ‘As เย็ถ’ ( reading ‘As yet’ with the latter word deliberately spelled out in Thai as ‘เย็ถ’ equivalent to the word ‘fuck’ in English. These two works demonstrate how the same sound conveys a completely different meaning in different languages; a phonetic psychological attachment where vulgarity is in fact culturally dependent.

The Thais’ delirious addiction to materialism is sarcastically attacked in a set of black-and-white signs naively questioning ‘Is your Louis Vuitton / Dior / Prada /Gucci / Chanel half-full or half-empty?’ but written in bold, rigid tabloid-style Thai alphabet, except for the top brand names which appear in their original logo designs. The Thais’ insane craze for acquiring these materialistic high-class certifications is widely known, and Michael Shaowanasai adopts the Buddhist philosophy of optimism /pessimism and living sufficiently to tease this absurd behaviour. The tabloid-style glyph ridicules these shopaholics’ level of literacy by reflecting what they actually read,and the Thai alphabet was used to depict a compromise where pure English can be incomprehensible. The fact that each sign was priced at 50,000 Baht for interested spectators makes the work even more satirical.

The only photograph shown in this exhibition is a black-and-white auto-portrait of Michael Shaowanasai, this time in a neat Thai schoolgirl uniform staring back with a pair of determined eyes, ready to conform to whatever she is taught. This work strongly reflects the sensitivity of Thailand’s education system and conjectures that the root cause of the circumstances addressed in this exhibition partly stems from how we groom our youth. The black-and-white hue also emphasises her complete lack of a colourful character.

Perhaps the most harrowing word pun in the exhibition can be found in a cryptic work called ‘The Untouchables’, a red wooden box containing the unseen neon Thai descriptions ‘Nai Luang’ ( His Majesty the King ) and ‘Pra Rashi-nee’ ( Her Majesty the Queen ). In this case, the word ‘untouchable’ which bears a range of meanings is used to describe the royal family class in Thailand. It implies a solid class separation where the highest of the highest need to be shielded by the lèse-majesté law which is still in force. In any case, Michael Shaowanasai’s forthright and unbiased presentation of this work makes it look like a mere depiction rather than an irony.

The positively symbolic term ‘pillar of the society’ was also mercilessly bantered in the installation corner. Instead of representing ‘nation’, ‘religion’ or ‘monarchy’, Michael Shaowanasai personally objectifies the ‘pillar’ of Thai society as a go-go dance pole, fully decorated with Thai traditional frescoes. This bite of harsh reality where sex tourism is in fact one of the major sources of the nation’s income discloses an unabashed hypocrisy we tend to let slip from our consciousness. This installation is surrounded by huge pink neon letters forming the word ‘อย“ก?’ or ‘yearning?’ in an old Thai romance novel font style which perfectly summarises the whole theme of the exhibition. The retro feel of the glyph design also indicates that this endless pursuit of lust and passion is timeless, since it was a key ingredient of pulp romance plots even in a relatively conservative era.

This humorous Thai-English verbal and cultural juggling, however petty it may sound, provides a unique informal look at Thai society’s state of psyche, hardly ever documented in academic studies or by any other media. This exhibition therefore offers a candid and insightful glimpse into the not-so-elegant side of Thai living, an awkward mental corner we prefer to remain oblivious to.

Looking at the exhibition as a whole, ʻMichael Shaowanasai presents…ʼ has a clear central theme of endless human passion, especially that of carnal pleasure. The colourful kitschy and flirtatious presentation style which reminds us of Andy Warhol’s Pop art spirit, is sufficiently distinctive and appropriately serves the whimsical messages of the works. The prevalent use of exceptionally characteristic typesetting glyphs both in Thai and English demonstrates their influence over our mental and emotional perceptions based on our past experiences. Yet the obviously lenient and light-hearted manner of this opus also makes it seem trivial rather than substantial. This exhibition lacks the incisive, meticulously detailed posture and composition of his previous memorable photographic exhibitions. It appears to be merely a collection of clever wisecracks, interspersed with a few issues.

Nonetheless, now that Minimalism has challenged the long-established notion of artistic richness and the Postmodern movement has devastatingly demolished all the traditional criteria of criticism validating the suggestion that ‘anything can be good’, Shaowanasai may smile back at us and ask ‘Why should I bother being substantial at all?’




泰国艺术家迈克尔·绍瓦那塞( Michael Shaowanasai )以他那颇具争议的易装自拍肖像摄影而著名,最臭名昭著的一幅是《一位有癖好的男人肖像》,在其中,他穿着佛教僧人的衣服,画着男扮女装的妆容。《荷兰夫人》则描绘了泰国第一夫人穿着华丽而过时的衣服,如一座雕塑般矗立在天鹅绒宝座旁边。他的很多作品以其独有的大胆、媚俗、荒诞、赤裸裸但同时又对细节极度关注的表现手法,戏谑地嘲弄了泰国的社会价值,并质问了‘泰国性’的意义。


《卡门与同性恋》,2015,数字图像,迈克尔•绍瓦那塞。 Michael Shaowanasai, Carmen with a fag, 2013.

《卡门与同性恋》,2015,数字图像,迈克尔·绍瓦那塞。Michael Shaowanasai, Carmen with a fag, 2013.



一对黑白色圆形标示牌上,艺术家用加粗的方形字体写着 ‘I AM MADE FOR SIN’( ‘我的罪恶与生俱来’ )和‘U R ALSO MADE FOR SIN’( ‘你的罪恶同样与生俱来’ ),体现了整个展览的关键主题:一种本能的、自私的欲望。对于‘I’和‘U’的运用也强调了这种对接纳性的渴求是人的普遍天性。一系列色彩鲜艳、突兀的手喷涂鸦所写的上是同一句话;‘I SUCK ALMOST INDISCRIMINATELY’( ‘我几乎不分种族地吸吮’或‘我几乎不加选择地失败’ ),仿佛是在反驳都市墙上随手留下的宗族歧视话语。‘几乎’一词暗示了某种‘保留’,提醒我们哪怕是思想再开明的人,在个人性取向上,民主平等也是无足轻重的。一个令人晕眩的紫粉红色螺旋形轮子,外面超绕着金色的圆弧形文字:‘A COCK IS A COCK IS A COCK…’ (‘一只公鸡是一只公鸡是一只公鸡……’或‘一个阳具是一个阳具是一个阳具……’)这个作品似乎在反思我们所称‘公鸡’之物的影响和价值,并且暗示我们:除了它实际所代表的那个东西以外,它可能什么也不是。这件事物所具有的意义可能被夸大,而如何摆脱这种日常用语夸大?或许只能通过一只令人晕眩的旋转轮子的洗脑功力了。一面镶着华丽的金色装饰艺术外框的长方形镜子似乎是以下这句美丽的、斜体肮脏话语最不合适的背景:‘You can only Fuck one hole at a time’( ‘一次只能操一个洞’ )。这句话听起来很下流,然而这个看似矛盾的作品却在所传达讯息和风格上成为了迈克尔·绍瓦那塞作品的典型,它将我们的肉体欲望哲学化,并采纳了佛教思想:哪怕是放荡不羁的性行为都需要自给自足。


展览中对应的泰语文字排版和词语双关作品同样充满玩味。最具有原型性的作品是一个双语标示‘เจรญ PORN’,用的是优雅黄色的佛教字体,具有双重释义:‘佛祖保佑你’或者‘色情万岁!’它显然是在嘲弄泰国同时作为佛教徒的圣地和性工作者和表演者的阵地。这种语言学游戏还出现在另一个绿黑相间的标示牌上,它用传统的泰语字体写着‘As เยถ’( 读作‘as yet’,‘至今为止’之意 ),后面一个单词故意用泰语‘เยถ’,与英文中的‘fuck’相对应。这两个单词展示了同一个发音可以在不同语言中传达完全不同的意义。对于发音我们有心理依附,可见低俗是因文化而异的。

《社会栋梁》,2015,装置/ 互动雕塑,迈克尔•绍瓦那塞。Michael Shaowanasai, The Pillar of the Society, 2015, Installation /  interactive sculpture.

《社会栋梁》,2015,装置/互动雕塑,迈克尔·绍瓦那塞。Michael Shaowanasai, The Pillar of the Society, 2015, Installation / interactive sculpture.

另一件作品攻击了泰国人那失去理智的物质主义,它是一副黑白标示牌,直接地问道:‘Is your LOUIS VUITTON/Dior/PRADA/GUCCI/CHANEL half-full or half-empty?’( ‘你的LV/Dior/PRADA/GUCCI/CHANEL一半满着还是一半空着?’ )用的是加粗的、僵硬的小报式泰语字母,除去中间的品牌名称是它们原本的logo设计。泰国人对获取这些物质主义上流社会身份证明的狂热名扬在外,而迈克尔·绍瓦那塞则借用了乐观/悲观以及生活自足的佛教哲学来嘲弄这种荒诞的行为。小报式的的字体暗讽了那些购物狂们的文化程度,这反映了他们日常的读物,而泰语字母则用以描绘一种妥协,因为纯英文他们看不懂。对于有意购买的藏家来说,每个作品标价五万泰铢,使这一切更为讽刺。


或许展览中最悲哀的文字游戏属于一件含义模糊的作品,名叫《不可触摸的人》,那是一个红色的木头盒子,里面装有看不见的泰语文字‘Nai Luang’( 国王陛下 )和‘Pra Rashi-nee’( 皇后陛下 )。在这里,词语‘不可触摸’就具有多重含义,用以形容泰国的皇室家族。它暗示了坚固的阶级分隔,至高无上之人需要被仍在广泛使用的‘冒犯君主法’保护。无论如何,迈克尔·绍瓦那塞那直接、不偏激的呈现使这件作品看起来仅仅像是一种描述,而非讽刺。



作为整体来看,《迈克尔·绍瓦那塞呈献……》这个展览具有一个中心主题,即人类无尽的激情,尤其是肉体愉悦的激情。色彩丰富、媚俗,具有诱惑力的呈现风格让人联想到安迪·沃霍尔( Andy Warhol )的波普艺术精神,这种风格足够独到,并天衣无缝地与作品那异想天开的讯息结合起来了。艺术家对于泰语和英语字体排版独具特点的运用展现了这些字体设计对于我们的心理和情感认知那潜移默化的影响,这种影响来自我们过去的经验。然而展览那宽容,甚至有些满不在意的态度使它看起来有些无足轻重,而不是郑重的。相对于他过去那些令人难忘的摄影展览,这次展出缺乏准确的、谨慎而细致的姿态以及整体构建。它看起来有点像俏皮点子的集合,偶尔穿插了一些重要议题。