This is Pornpraseart Yamazaki's third solo exhibition in Bangkok since laudable shows at the now defunct Whitespace Gallery during 2007 and 2009. A dexterous artist who pilfers from a variety of trends and precedents in a manner that is not lazy emulation, Pornpraseart's works are distinctly his own and they carry a robust and ambitious sensibility. While awkwardly titled "Mistaken Gear Wheel For Lotus" _ Thai galleries, please start employing copywriters or grammar-check _ this exhibition is another important note on how local artists are responding to the critical legacy of the bloody protests of 2010.
Mistaken Gear Wheel For Lotus shows at La Lanta Fine Art until Nov 6. Visit www.lalanta.com
The artist's motifs include plates, excremental forms, stylised heads and an extended balaclava that morphs as phallic or intestinal. There is a certain literalness running through the artworks that risks flattening interest to a mere message about indoctrination, but Pornpraseart's ability to manage a variety of painterly and sculptural methods creates contrasts that render the works compelling, almost in spite of the themselves. The Who series features paintings on driftwood that depict peculiar heads, one of which is tellingly shaped as a Thai farmer's hat. Pornpraseart has exchanged the human details with graphic signs of sperm, rocks and vaginas, against a flag-like backdrop of muted or cold stripes. The heads themselves are unpainted, and the old, worn surfaces of the driftwood speak of decay and disregard. A row of cheap metal plates are inscribed with an expanded repertoire of such signs to include feet, insects, a hand grenade, groups of balaclava-clad figures and riffs on the intestinal/excremental motif.
Central to the exhibition are four sculptural assemblages, including the extended balaclava displayed on a wire mannequin with a red spoon dangling beneath. Its black and white pattern refers to a barcode. Outsider is a raw wooden box structure with a small aperture through which one can glimpse flashing red and green lights, inducing an abstracted sense of the experience of a nightclub, and the pleasures that might signify. But here one remains on the outside looking in.
A series of antique-styled photographs titled Leader show the artist wrapped in the balaclava, his eyes peering out, amidst rural landscapes. Less incongruous than one might expect, the striped figure appears as a weird creature posing in its habitat. But, as a symbol, the form curiously points in different directions: either an ominous, masculine figure that is all-seeing, or a muted creature reduced to the bare bones of identity (i.e. the barcode stripes). These photographs function as a commentary on how the political status of Thai rural communities remains ambiguous _ either potentially disruptive or silenced. The divergent interest of the photographs renders them all the more interesting. These works are objects of contemplation, not vehicles for earnest messages.
The title of the exhibition, however awkwardly translated, refers to a Thai proverb about ignorance that mistakes evil for good. The implications of the artworks are clear in this regard _ mistaking excrement for nourishment, acquiescence for choice, and marginalisation for something else. But Pornpraseart's mind and hand are too restless to be strictly instructive. His works cannot be fixed by specific contexts _ political, historical or otherwise. Instead, he retains a certain ambiguity around his forms and images so they become more universal deliberations on power and its vicissitudes, on indoctrination and the ways we can succumb to but also potentially refuse external forces or ideologies. "Mistaken Gear Wheel For Lotus" proves itself a mostly engaging exhibition, crossing the interest of the politically coded yet rhetorically subversive. The artist more or less understands that avoiding a strict point of view can bring us above the fray _ ultimately offering a more significant perspective than taking sides typically allows.
About the author
- Writer: Brian Curtin
Position: An Irish-born artist and curator based in Bangkok.