Cultural Hybridity In Flux: Natee Utarit’s “Déjà vu: When the Sun Rises in the West”

Natee Utarit, Déjà Vu, 2019, papier-mâché, 240 cm in height (each). Installation view in “Déjà vu: When the Sun Rises in the West” at Art Centre, Silpakorn University, Bangkok, 4 March – 7 May 2022. Image courtesy of the artist and Art Centre, Silpakorn University.
(Left) Natee Utarit, The Dream of Siamese Monks, 2020, oil on canvas, 380 x 540 cm (6 panels). (Right) Natee Utarit, Buddha Descended from Heaven, 2020, woodblock print on rice paper mounted on silk scroll, 137.5 x 72.5 cm, edition 2 of 10. Installation view in “Déjà vu: When the Sun Rises in the West” at Art Centre, Silpakorn University, Bangkok, 4 March – 7 May 2022. Image courtesy of the artist and Art Centre, Silpakorn University.
Natee Utarit, Death of Buddha, 2020, bronze, 170 x 50 x 27 cm. Installation view in “Déjà vu: When the Sun Rises in the West” at Art Centre, Silpakorn University, Bangkok, 4 March – 7 May 2022. Image courtesy of the artist and Art Centre, Silpakorn University.
(Left) Natee Utarit, Separation from the Loved is Suffering, 2020, die cut translucent sticker. (Right) Natee Utarit, Heaven: Trāyastrimśa, 2020, stained glass / lightbox, 240 x 178 cm (9 connected panels). Installation view in “Déjà vu: When the Sun Rises in the West” at Art Centre, Silpakorn University, Bangkok, 4 March – 7 May 2022. Image courtesy of the artist and Art Centre, Silpakorn University.
Natee Utarit, Casa Buddha, 2019, embroidery, spray paint and acrylic on linen, 300 x 1200 cm (6 panels). Installation view in “Déjà vu: When the Sun Rises in the West” at Art Centre, Silpakorn University, Bangkok, 4 March – 7 May 2022. Image courtesy of the artist and Art Centre, Silpakorn University.
Natee Utarit, Buddha was Here, 2019, mosaic, 81 x 151.5 x 3 cm (each). Installation view in “Déjà vu: When the Sun Rises in the West” at Art Centre, Silpakorn University, Bangkok, 4 March – 7 May 2022. Image courtesy of the artist and Art Centre, Silpakorn University.
Natee Utarit, The Arahant, 2020, bronze and marble, 38 x 50 x 29 cm. Installation view in “Déjà vu: When the Sun Rises in the West” at Art Centre, Silpakorn University, Bangkok, 4 March – 7 May 2022. Image courtesy of the artist and Art Centre, Silpakorn University.
Natee Utarit, The Past is More than a Memory, 2019, oil on canvas, 190 x 340 cm. Installation view in “Déjà vu: When the Sun Rises in the West” at Art Centre, Silpakorn University, Bangkok, 4 March – 7 May 2022. Image courtesy of the artist and Art Centre, Silpakorn University.
Natee Utarit, Adoration, 2019, oil on canvas, 44 x 34 cm (each), set of 2. Installation view in “Déjà vu: When the Sun Rises in the West” at Art Centre, Silpakorn University, Bangkok, 4 March – 7 May 2022. Image courtesy of the artist and Art Centre, Silpakorn University.
TOP
1172
45
0
 
2
May
2
May
CoBo Social Market News

Thai artist Natee Utarit’s new exhibition at Bangkok’s Art Centre, Silpakorn University, offers a daring synthesis of his transcultural aesthetics.

TEXT: Rémy Jarry
IMAGES: Courtesy of the artist and Art Centre, Silpakorn University

 

Natee Utarit, Déjà Vu, 2019, papier-mâché, 240 cm in height (each). Installation view in “Déjà vu: When the Sun Rises in the West” at Art Centre, Silpakorn University, Bangkok, 4 March – 7 May 2022. Image courtesy of the artist and Art Centre, Silpakorn University.

 

“Déjà vu: When the Sun Rises in the West”, the new solo exhibition of Thai artist Natee Utarit at the Art Centre of Silpakorn University in Bangkok, is an invitation to an unprecedented Eurasian odyssey. Gathering some 30 recent works created between 2018 and 2021, the exhibition stands as a manifesto for cultural fluidity. Curated by renowned Southeast Asian contemporary art scholar Loredana Pazzini-Paracciani, the show spans two floors of the Wang Thapra Palace, a heritage building from the 19th century across the street from the Grand Palace. With its style blending European Neoclassicism with Siamese architecture, the mansion is an ideal shell for the artist’s work. The location on Silpakorn University’s historic campus is also meaningful for the artist who is an alumnus, more than 30 years after his graduation in 1991.

Utarit has been acclaimed all around the world for his large-scale paintings empowered by his technical mastery and sophisticated aesthetics. Accounting for about one third of the exhibited works, the show endorses his current inclination towards sculpture and stained glass, a new exploration enriching his artistic practice. Whatever the art genre, the systematic cultural hybridity of his works remains his signature. But “Déjà vu” further amplifies the chronological and territorial turbulences that he has previously explored on canvas, and now in sculpture. Déjà Vu (2019), the eponymous work displayed at the beginning of the show, perfectly encapsulates this artistic agenda. A set of two papier-mâché sculptures facing each other, the 2.4-metre-tall figures are replicas of Doryphoros of Polykleitos, a Greek sculpture from the fifth century BCE, and Walking Buddha, a statue by Italian-born artist Silpa Bhirasri (aka Corrado Feroci[1]) in 1957 reviving Thai classical style. Recreated with slight yet significant modifications, Utarit’s sculptures appear as the “reincarnation” of their respective models. The medium itself is meaningful, paper being a Chinese invention. Unified by their immaculate white colour and soft texture, the vulnerable condition of the papier-mâché sculptures recalls that of straw dogs (chu gou 芻狗), sacrificial objects used in ancient China.

 

(Left) Natee Utarit, The Dream of Siamese Monks, 2020, oil on canvas, 380 x 540 cm (6 panels). (Right) Natee Utarit, Buddha Descended from Heaven, 2020, woodblock print on rice paper mounted on silk scroll, 137.5 x 72.5 cm, edition 2 of 10. Installation view in “Déjà vu: When the Sun Rises in the West” at Art Centre, Silpakorn University, Bangkok, 4 March – 7 May 2022. Image courtesy of the artist and Art Centre, Silpakorn University.
Natee Utarit, Death of Buddha, 2020, bronze, 170 x 50 x 27 cm. Installation view in “Déjà vu: When the Sun Rises in the West” at Art Centre, Silpakorn University, Bangkok, 4 March – 7 May 2022. Image courtesy of the artist and Art Centre, Silpakorn University.

 

Such a Chinese connection is more explicit in Buddha Descended from Heaven (2020), a black monochromatic woodblock print on rice paper mounted on a silk scroll. The work amusingly hangs on a wall in the staircase and depicts anachronistically the Buddha standing on an escalator. Upstairs, The Death of Buddha (2020) relays this transcultural dialogue. The life-size bronze sculpture represents a Thai-style image of the Buddha lying on a rectangular base like a corpse. At odds with traditional Buddhist art, the Buddha is represented here lying on his back. Defying the artistic canon of the reclining posture, Utarit applies a common representation of the dead Christ seen in Renaissance paintings to the Buddha. This unconventional gesture is actually thought-provoking: Buddhist art remained aniconic until the 1st century CE in accordance with the Buddha’s will. It’s only from the emergence of Greco-Buddhist art that artists have given him a human appearance. Utarit is thus, mimicking another rupture in art history.

In parallel, Greco-Buddhist art is explicitly referred to in three other bronze sculptures: The Dream of Siamese Monks (2020), The Supreme (2020), and Ye Dhamma Hetuppabhava (2021). Although cast in metal, each sculpture looks like fragile archaeological remains, as a possible symbol of human frailty. In addition, their surface shows carved cursive writings in English as if the sculpture has become a contemporary palimpsest.

 

(Left) Natee Utarit, Separation from the Loved is Suffering, 2020, die cut translucent sticker. (Right) Natee Utarit, Heaven: Trāyastrimśa, 2020, stained glass / lightbox, 240 x 178 cm (9 connected panels). Installation view in “Déjà vu: When the Sun Rises in the West” at Art Centre, Silpakorn University, Bangkok, 4 March – 7 May 2022. Image courtesy of the artist and Art Centre, Silpakorn University.
Natee Utarit, Casa Buddha, 2019, embroidery, spray paint and acrylic on linen, 300 x 1200 cm (6 panels). Installation view in “Déjà vu: When the Sun Rises in the West” at Art Centre, Silpakorn University, Bangkok, 4 March – 7 May 2022. Image courtesy of the artist and Art Centre, Silpakorn University.

 

Works in stained glass are among the most original creations of the show. Heaven: Trāyastrimśa (2020), a 2.4 by 1.8-metre stained glass fixed on a lightbox, seems to represent a graphic front view of the Duomo in Milan at first sight. Yet, the title of this colourful scene alludes to the Buddhist cosmology and the red zigzag on top of the edifice recalls a stylistic pattern found in Thai mural paintings. Likewise, The Dream of Siamese Monks (2020), a monumentally-sized oil painting, is clearly inspired by one of the mural paintings by Khrua In Khong, a celebrated Thai artist from the second half of the 19th century and famous for integrating Western influences.

Obviously, oil paintings have also been very much celebrated in the exhibition. The Reclining Buddha with Volcano(2019), depicts the Buddha in a traditional reclining posture but surrounded by a Renaissance background. Copied from The Ideal City, a 15th century unattributed painting from the collection of Gemäldegalerie in Berlin, it represents an architectural view of an idealised city through a conspicuous monofocal perspective. The State of Mind (2019) and Casa Buddha (2019) are more disruptive to Utarit’s pictorial style. Sharing a similar interest in Italian architecture, the very pale colours of those monumental canvases let appear the front view of the National Archeological Museum in Naples and the façade of Santa Teresa, a nearby 17th century church. Getting closer, the viewer realises that the silky contours of the buildings are made of embroideries. In a more subversive gesture, the artist has tagged the canvases with white spray paint. Here again, the motive of the palimpsest gets a surprising actualisation with street art. And cultural hybridity is augmented by the diversity of art genres and media, from tapestry to graffiti.

 

Natee Utarit, Buddha was Here, 2019, mosaic, 81 x 151.5 x 3 cm (each). Installation view in “Déjà vu: When the Sun Rises in the West” at Art Centre, Silpakorn University, Bangkok, 4 March – 7 May 2022. Image courtesy of the artist and Art Centre, Silpakorn University.
Natee Utarit, The Arahant, 2020, bronze and marble, 38 x 50 x 29 cm. Installation view in “Déjà vu: When the Sun Rises in the West” at Art Centre, Silpakorn University, Bangkok, 4 March – 7 May 2022. Image courtesy of the artist and Art Centre, Silpakorn University.

 

Referring to the feeling of remembering scenes and events when experienced for the first time, the title “Déjà vu” induces a new semantics for the whole exhibition: from a French-born expression commonly found in Western pop music and cinema, it acquires deeper meaning in Thailand where the Buddhist thought still prevails. Beyond the reference to a hypothetical journey of the Buddha to the West, Utarit’s work establishes a surprising equivalence between the artistic process and metempsychosis. This creative leap opens a poetic alternative to the fate of works of art in modern times. Thus, Utarit may also aim at resuscitating the aura of the artwork in the age of technical reproducibility. This is in line with the genesis of the exhibition when Utarit was visiting the National Archeological Museum in Naples. Observing the Greco-Roman sculpture of Doryphoros of Polykleitos, he saw visual affinities with Bhirasri’s Walking Buddha. This epiphany is not a random phenomenon, but a revival of the cultural cross-pollination between the East and the West that goes back to the age of antiquity. Bhirasri was also the founder of the first art academy in Thailand, known now as Silpakorn University.

Ultimately, Utarit not only pursues his Eurasian experiments but also extends the scope of his references far beyond the realm of Western Renaissance and Siamese heritage. In other artworks, further references to Western modern art by artists such as Auguste Rodin (1840–1917), Joseph Albers (1888–1976), and Joseph Beuys (1921–1986), are made. In parallel, Utarit also references Japanese art, especially the work of Utagawa Kuniyoshi (1798–1861), a master ukiyo-e. The cultural fluidity of his work along with his emancipation from chronological and national barriers tends to give a visual illustration of There Is No Such Thing as Cultural Identity (2021), the essay by French philosopher François Jullien, who’s interestingly both a Hellenist and a Sinologist.

Indeed, Utarit’s new exhibition gives us a compelling visual demonstration that cultures exist in relation to one another and are constantly transforming themselves. Through the exhibition, Utarit’s artistic compass shows the cardinal directions by which to avoid the pitfalls of cultural imperialism.

 

Natee Utarit, The Past is More than a Memory, 2019, oil on canvas, 190 x 340 cm. Installation view in “Déjà vu: When the Sun Rises in the West” at Art Centre, Silpakorn University, Bangkok, 4 March – 7 May 2022. Image courtesy of the artist and Art Centre, Silpakorn University.
Natee Utarit, Adoration, 2019, oil on canvas, 44 x 34 cm (each), set of 2. Installation view in “Déjà vu: When the Sun Rises in the West” at Art Centre, Silpakorn University, Bangkok, 4 March – 7 May 2022. Image courtesy of the artist and Art Centre, Silpakorn University.

 

Natee Utarit: Déjà vu: When the Sun Rises in the West
4 March – 21 May 2022
Art Centre, Silpakorn University, Bangkok

 

[1] Corrado Feroci as known as Silpa Bhirasri ศิลป์ พีระศรี (1892-1962)

 

 

You might also enjoy reading

 

 

 
Leave a Comment

Leave a Reply