The name Nipan Oranniwesna should ring a bell for those who prefer art that doesn't necessarily look like art as we know it. By that thinking, you will be greeted by mundane everyday objects: wooden planks, rice or whatever that is so easy to dismiss.
Embarrassingly enough, I actually put my voice recorder on top of one Nipan's art pieces during this interview, completely oblivious to the decorum that you shouldn't touch art, at least, not physically.
The 50-year-old artist and lecturer at the Visual Arts Department at Bangkok University has a solid background and plenty of experience under his belt; he has too many exhibitions, both group and solo, to list them all.
Nipan has had shows since 1985, and I was surprised to find out that even I have seen his work before _ though I'm not the type who lurks around art exhibitions during my free time.
One of his most famous installations is City Of Ghosts (2007), where a map of major cities such as Bangkok and Tokyo have been intricately cut in order to create a stencil to fashion a road map by pouring baby powder over it.
His distinctive style is shown in the way that most of his installations use materials found in everyday life, as well as hyper-awareness and attention to the use of space. The clean-cut minimalism of his work is surely influenced by his experience studying in Tokyo for six years on a Japanese government scholarship.
Nipan's latest exhibition, "Speechless", follows the same suit and idea as many of his previous works. The space of 100 Tonson Gallery has been "transformed" to represent Lumpini Park.
The gallery has undergone a major revamp other than lighting and roofing. This is Tonson's first exhibition since closing for renovation in June, and fittingly this exhibition that concerns spatial dimensions invites the viewers to interpret the gallery space in an entirely new way.
As you step into the high-ceilinged, white, clean space which measures 100m2, the first thing that grabs you is a man, dressed in black and jogging through the lush, green swathe of Lumpini. You'll see him for barely a second, because he is a fleeting phantom across a vertically positioned LED screen on the wall.
"You'll think he's running forward because your eyes will first fall on the screen on the left wall," Nipan explained.
The thing is, he's not. A similar LED screen on the opposite wall also lets you catch a glimpse of the jogger. Soon you'll realise that the man in the two screens reflects real-time experience, and the space of the room is coordinated to replicate the space of the park.
"It's the second screen which shows that he is circling the place _ we are all circling the same things. He isn't moving forward because he comes back to the same place."
One significant spatial concern is the location of 100 Tonson Gallery: it is very close to Lumpini Park. The exhibition has many political questions to raise, for the park was where the red-shirt demonstrators gathered during the massive protests in 2010.
There are six main objects in "Speechless", all of which include tables. The reason tables have been chosen to embody the idea and message, Nipan says, is because they "have a function of a station".
"In the context of this exhibition, people will be programmed to think of tables as one stop," the professor reasons. "As they make their way from table to table, I hope they will feel the essence of Lumpini Park that I have tried to re-create.
"What I want the viewers to do is to take their time to make their way through the exhibition and to take their time to read what each object is saying, until they are led to the last room. There are words and phrases that you must piece together yourself to get the whole message. Simply put, it's like I've left cookie crumbs for people to follow."
In the main space, five objects, all tables, are strategically positioned. Every single one has droplets of "water" under which a certain picture can be seen. Some are pictures of various corners of Lumpini Park, others are snaps of incidents during the red-shirt violence in 2010. Some seemingly unrelated ones are yellow sunflowers, while the knock-out picture is probably the one on the last table: the Khana Rasadorn Plaque _ or mood Khana Rasadorn, a round plaque on which the People's Party inscribed their democratic mission after the 1932 Revolution.
And the idea of seeing and not seeing is toyed around with a large rectangular black sticker blocking your view outside the glass windows when you look up from the table.
Every table has a further art piece that adds to the object as a whole. One has a sniper-like flashlight hidden under a baby towel embroidered with a small whale. The other two have screens where a looping movie is played. And two more have eye models on them and question how we see things, or rather, how things are manipulated so that we see them from a certain angle.
And speaking of seeing things, make sure you get a really good look at the movies playing on the screens. Are you sure they have not been manipulated?
"Whether we have resolved the situation or not, whether there is reconciliation or denial, we are, no doubt, a step further from that incident in 2010," Nipan says. "Whatever the deal is, it all boils down to: What on earth is going on?. 100 Tonson is like a metaphor for Lumpini and Bon Kai, and Lumpini and Bon Kai are like a metaphor for our society."
About the author
- Writer: Parisa Pichitmarn
Position: Life Writer