exhibition, I AM YOU
Vasan Sitthiket: I AM YOU
Bangkok Art and Culture Centre
23.03.18 – 27.05.18
Joint Second Prize
Entry in English
Although the Bangkok Art and Culture Centre is independently run by the Bangkok Art and Culture Centre Foundation, the venue receives partial annual financial support from the Thai government. It seems rather startling that the BACC decided to curate Vasan Sitthiket’s highly political works earlier this year, many of which fiercely criticise the corrupt government and politicians in Thailand. The exhibition called I AM YOU therefore shows BACC’s respectable adherence to its ideology – to give artists complete freedom of expression, despite the message of these exhibited works strongly attacking their own sponsor.
Vasan Sitthiket’s I AM YOU is a retrospective exposition of the artist’s politically-charged oeuvre over the past decades. These works collectively express the artist’s dismay with the depravation of the Thai government, both under the ministries of the Democrat Party’s Abhisit Vejjajiva and the Pheu Thai Party’s Shinawatra family, where notorious corruption and abuses of power miserably became the norm, regardless of the ruler’s political leaning. Sitthiket’s flashy, colourful and confrontational artistic style may expose him to accusations of exploiting art as a channel to express his personal political views. Yet, close study reveals how he also approaches these deeply demoralising phenomena in a genuinely humanistic spirit. His so-called ‘social art’ in fact entails interesting interplays between the individual, personal and artistic views of the artist, the debauched politics in Thailand as a social phenomenon, and the personal desires of individual politicians themselves, outlining the often neglected, close ties between individuals and social spheres.
Triumphantly occupying the entire eighth floor of the BACC, I AM YOU welcomes spectators with a comical display of Sitthiket’s ‘Artist Party’ publicity material. The Artist Party is a genuine Thai political party, officially registered in October 2007 by Sitthiket, the party leader, himself. The party is an outcome of Sitthiket’s conceptual art project. He took the opportunity of Thai democratic freedom to establish a real political party, emphasising the importance of humanist morals through artistic ideology often absent in other power-greedy parties. The party was symbolised by a white pigeon and its political philosophy advocated the idea of ‘ruling by NOT ruling’. Members of the party include Sitthiket’s fellow artists, famous folk-music singers and bands, as well as poets and writers. The party was disqualified in 2009 when it failed to attract the required number of members and regional sectors. Yet Sitthiket and his members did everything a political party could possibly do to promote their idealistic policy. The Artist Party section of the I AM YOU exhibition displays the legacy of this political involvement with a collection of political campaign billboards, posters and banners declaring the party’s absurdly utopian policies, posing Sitthiket as a candidate for the position of prime minister. This seemingly playful prank on the incompetency of Thai political parties pointedly examines what they unpardonably lack in terms of volunteers to run the country, leaving room for the Artist Party to offer itself, with its strong personal ideals, as an alternative to the desperate political choices available in Thailand. The colourful painting section attacks the political circumstances in Thailand even more bluntly and savagely, with such works as The Scene from the Meeting in Parliament, The Scene of Revising the Constitution 2010, You Must Be Poor and an Idiot Forever – acrylic-on-canvas pieces adopting the flattened perspective of Buddhist mural style to criticise the endless greed of politicians in power. In these works, Sitthiket cleverly uses the didactic manners of Buddhist ancient murals found in certain temples – depicting how greed ruthlessly dehumanises individuals when they are punished in hell – to illustrate the parallels with Thai politics. In The Scene from the Meeting in Parliament and The Scene of Revising the Constitution 2010, Sitthiket portrays the parliamentary members in action as monitor lizards, the most repulsively ill-behaved beasts in Thailand, dressed in Western suits. They selfishly make personal demands, raising their hands to devour every natural right, while others indolently doze off during the meeting. The constitutional revision scene is rendered as an explicit oral-sex orgy among the long-tongued monitor lizards, where naked women give fellatio to these beasts in uniform, transforming the semen into futile faeces, as a metaphor for the secretive, undisclosed alteration of the constitution in order to favour themselves.
In You Must Be Poor and an Idiot Forever, the orgy is depicted yet again. The high officials are transformed into monitor lizards as well as a mischievous fox receiving fellatio from a male governor and his naked wife, leaving the human citizen wishing to seek their fortune through gambling and superstition, as the only way to escape poverty. The unsophisticated mural style of these works subtly reminds viewers of how the Buddhist philosophy accentuates individual greed as a major trigger of human misconduct. The uninhibited sexual desires also lead to immoral sins, driving an individual perpetually to indulge their own personal needs, in wilful disregard for the suffering of others. The heavy use of sexual acts in Sitthiket’s works identifies how the personal biological desires of politicians and people in power lead to their corruptive misconduct. The images clearly show that the broader social deterioration of Thai politics stems from the endless individual cravings of just a few.
The reference to Buddhist philosophy is also apparent in a series of paintings called Preta, featuring a tall, skinny Buddhist demon, who suffers from eternal starving as his mouth is shrunk to the size of a pinhead, severely limiting food consumption, as a result of unforgivable sins committed in a past life. In this series, Sitthiket paints five monochrome tableaux in the manner of Henri Matisse’s The Dance, showing the circles of karma among the Pretas in hell, devouring, burning, slashing, punishing and raping each other. The five colours of the monochrome tableaux form the red-white-blue-white-red of the Thai national flag, condemning the state as a kingdom of sinners, even though the country claims itself to be a devoted Buddhist nation. Preta symbolises a being who suffers from their own incapacity to suppress indecent lust, allowing selfishness to overcome moral integrity. The tableaux illustrate human beings in their future life in the most dehumanised form, as an alarming warning that greed may easily overthrow the nation, when one is selfishly wrapped up in one’s own needs.
Another series of acrylic-and-mud on rice-paper paintings, called We Came from the Same Way, underscores our shared biological make-up, regardless of how great the individual mind. These show drawings of the heads of Vincent van Gogh, Pope John Paul II, Friedrich Engels, Chitr Bumisak ( a famous Thai political activist ) and the artist himself as grown-ups, each popping out downwards from a woman’s womb. The series intentionally shows the carnal origins of these great minds which are, indeed, indistinguishable from our own. The work again reminds us of our biological nature, as a driving force for behaviour as organisms, but also as civilised individuals, who are well aware of this and will find a way to manage our personal drives, to maintain order in society. This becomes the general theme of this exhibition, in which, consciously to overcome one’s own carnal desires, success and failure are vividly depicted, laced with Buddhist traits that chiefly focus on the process of suppressing one’s own yearnings within the individual sphere.
I AM YOU mischievously closes with four daring, life-sized monochrome fibreglass sculptures of Sitthiket himself, standing completely naked with a fully erect penis. He unabashedly declares that the driving power behind all this creativity actually comes from his libido, which may also be the case with all the politicians, governors and men in power portrayed in this exhibition.
This Freudian conclusion also reflects the Buddhist’s observation that carnal desire is one of the most powerfully destructive drivers. Although sexual drive is essential for the preservation of the human race, at the personal level it lets our innate savagery go wild and strongly draws us into selfishness. Taming one’s own libido is, therefore, one of the Buddhist exercises in self-discipline, enabling sexual activity to be reserved strictly for the sake of reproduction.
This seemingly bold and outrageous art exhibition, especially for a religious and culturally sensitive society such as Thailand, in fact offers a subtle and intricate analysis of Thai political corruption. The clear connection to Buddhist philosophy also highlights the failure of that religion to underpin the social mores. I AM YOU distinctly exposes the struggle between strong personal ideology and inevitable personal desires, where a draw is not a possible result. The exhibition title, ‘I AM YOU’, also highlights the personal aspect of the overall discussion, which is at the root of all social and political problems. This exhibition undoubtedly merits public exposure, to generate a dialogue within Thai society. The official BACC has proved to be a perfect, yet very surprising, venue for this uncompromisingly free display of artistic expression, although several questions remain for the authorities in charge of all these creative activities.
2018 年3 月23 日—2018 年5 月27 日
译 / 梁霄
展览气势雄宏地占据了曼谷艺术文化中心的整个8 层，并以一则滑稽可笑的标语欢迎入场的观众。标语内容来自瓦桑创立的“艺术家党”的政治宣传材料，这是一个真实的泰国政党，于2007 年10 月由政党领袖瓦桑·西特基特本人正式注册。“艺术家党”是瓦桑一次观念艺术项目的产出，他借助泰国民主自由的条件，建立了一个真正的政党，试图通过艺术思想强调人道主义精神的重要性，而后者往往在其他贪恋权力的政党内部杳无踪迹。该政党的标志是一只白鸽，在执政理念上主张“无为而治”。而党内的成员则包括瓦桑的艺术家同行、著名民谣歌手和乐队，以及诗人与作家。2009 年，由于未能达到党员人数和分布区域数量的要求，“艺术家党”被取消了政党资格。然而，瓦桑和他的党员们尽了一个政党所能做的一切来推行他们的理想主义政策。展览“我就是你”在“艺术家党”部分展现了此次政治参与过后留下的遗产，包括一系列竞选广告牌、海报与横幅，它们诉说着“艺术家党”荒诞的乌托邦政策，甚至宣称瓦桑应当成为泰国总理的候选人。艺术家恶作剧般的行为看似戏谑，实则针对的是泰国政党的无能，它尖锐地检视了这些政党在履行治理国家的志愿过程中所欠缺的不可原谅的东西，而这为“艺术家党”制造了生存空间， 使其成为泰国绝望的政治现实选择之外，另一种伴随着强烈个人理想的选项。
“我就是你”在视觉信息丰富的绘画部分，甚至更为坦率而残忍地攻击了泰国的政治生态。《议会会议现场》《2010 年宪法修订现场》《你必须永远贫穷和愚蠢》等丙烯绘画作品借佛教壁画中扁平的透视风格批评了当权的政客们无尽的贪婪。在某些古老寺庙中被发现的壁画描绘了当人们于地狱接受惩罚时，贪婪是如何无情地剥夺了人性。瓦桑巧妙地利用了这种壁画里的说教传统，并以此场景借喻其与泰国政治的相似之处。在作品《议会会议现场》与《2010 年宪法修订现场》里，正在行动的议员被瓦桑刻画成人形蜥蜴，穿着笔挺的西装，这是泰国最令人讨厌的行为恶劣的野兽。它们在画中自私地提出个人要求，为吞噬每一项权利举起自己的双手，而其他人则在会议中途懒洋洋地打着瞌睡；“修宪”场景在瓦桑·西特基特的笔下被描绘成一场露骨的、发生在长舌头的蜥蜴之间的性爱狂欢。赤裸的女人给这些穿着西装的野兽口交，将它们的精液转化成无用的粪便，似乎指涉着为了自己的利益而秘密修改宪法的匿名政客。