Angels of trash
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Angels of trash

Prasert Yodkaew's 'Predetermined' is continuing his mission of sending falling devas to heaven


Prasert Yodkaew's angel wings are made of a plug, a Chinese spoon, a bidet spray, a used toothbrush, a plastic fork, an amulet, nuts and bolts and some wires wrapped roughly in plastic cover.

Deva 12.

This mixed-media painting and other pieces in the solo exhibition "Predetermined" at Tang Contemporary Art are the 27-year-old artist's continuing mission to send fallen devas (divine beings according to Hindu-Buddhist cosmology) back to heaven.

In last year's group exhibition "Thai Charisma: Heritage + Creative Power" at Bangkok Art and Culture Centre, which showcased museum artefacts juxtaposed with contemporary works of art, Prasert's sculptured devas lay damaged and defeated on the ground. One face down with a bicycle wreck while another was headless with a propeller made of trash, apparently a failed attempt to fly away from Earth.

Though unable to explain exactly how the idea of these devas being trapped on Earth came to him, the project has been inspired by the traditional Chak Phra Festival when people celebrate the Buddha's return from heaven to Earth at the end of Buddhist Lent. Prasert says it is believed that there's a stairway connecting heaven and Earth with which the Buddha uses to descend, and he got the idea that this might be the devas' opportunity to get back to heaven again.

"While the Buddha is coming down, these devas are running up past him, betraying him," says Prasert. "These fallen devas are powerless. They are just like us humans in the way that we are doing everything we can to make sure we get to go to heaven, even though we don't know if heaven really exists."

Prasert Yodkaew.

It's obvious just by looking at his content and neat brushstrokes that he has been heavily trained in traditional Thai art. He studied at the College of Fine Arts before a Bachelor's and Master's at Silpakorn University, both focusing on Thai art. Prasert used to be the kind of artist who was after pure and flawless traditional art aesthetics, drawing and painting for competitions, but the past couple of years saw him shift more towards the two-dimensional and now installation works.

"I get bored very easily," says Prasert. "When I start working, I have no idea how it's going to end, unlike my friends who would have a fixed sketch and the work that would come out of that. For me I keep changing, I have fun dealing with challenges that would constantly come up."

A sense of humour and human desperation pervades the gallery space, Prasert's angels seem an obvious metaphor for over-ambitious types of human beings. The aforementioned trash-made wings are of a 12-year-old deva (the painting is titled Deva 12). We see just the rear of this boy, but the scrawniness of his body painted with dark scruffy strokes is enough to rid out any remnant of hope and innocence.

It seems like he's sympathising with his subjects, and yet his random use of trash as his materials makes it almost like he's satirising or making fun of them.

"I think of trash as an object which witnesses people's lives," says Prasert. "The trash in each place tells the personality, lifestyles and the tastes of people there"

Set on the opposite wall is painting of a more grown-up deva entitled Deva 27 (Prasert is 27 years old). Compared to the younger deva, this one has purposely been painted more immaculately. And although this grown-up version of a deva has a crown signifying higher status in social hierarchy and a more technologically-advanced pair of Ferris wheel-like propellers, we see his head bent down more to the ground. He looks even more hopeless and defeated than his younger self.

"I think we humans are trying too hard," says Prasert. "This is of course not really about finding a way up to heaven. This is putting a question to those who are desperate to do good just so they can go to heaven to stop and reconsider."

Like his previous set of works at BACC, this new collection's main draw, aside from poignant social commentary under the guise of his sense of humour, is the works' fun mechanics and the audience participation.

In the middle of Tang Contemporary Art stands a parade vehicle with an elephant sculpture on top. This is also part of a plan for the devas' journey back to heaven. Although it is already gigantic by itself, this is actually just one part of a bigger ship which Prasert has created for his Master's thesis. Once the machine is turned on, several of the trash-made parts will start to squeak and spin. Viewers can also take a seat and cycle to make a drumming sound.

Other paintings on displayed include animals from Hindu-Buddhist mythology like an Erawan elephant and Annonta fish. While these depictions were kept relatively true to the tradition, with little alterations and interpretation from the artist, an interesting element present in most of these paintings are sketchy pencil lines alongside finished oil colour work.

This leads on to my favourite part of the exhibition: one whole side of the wall that is devoted to more than 100 small sketches. Like the pencil lines in his finished works, this set of sketches stress again that his work, done or not, is constantly in progress and as if the myth from which he's drawn inspiration from is ever-changing.

On one piece of paper on which he drew a bathtub with a deva's head, a handless deva on wheels nearby and a deva-head snake slithering across the room, he wrote the following as a footnote: "All is too much of a mess, it looks like trash."

"Predetermined" is on display until Feb 8 at Tang Contemporary Art, 5th floor, The Silom Galleria, Silom Road.

An installation featuring an Erawan elephant which also encourages audience participation.

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