Surasi Kusolwong — Thailand Every Day

Surasi Kusolwong - Emotional Machine (VW) - Van Abbemuseum, Eindhoven.
Surasi Kusolwong , Ping Pong, Installation and performative
Surasi Kusolwong, Golden Ghost (Reality Called, So I Woke Up), Taipei Biennial 2014. 12 gold necklaces designed by the artist are hidden within 5 tons of industrial linen and audience are supposed to look for them. Variable dimensions.
Surasi Kusolwong , One Pound Turbo Market, Installation and performative
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Video Art Asia by COBOSocial.com

 

Surasi Kusolwong, internationally acclaimed artist from Thailand, now works and lives in Bangkok. Employing metaphors for critique on contemporary consumerism, his installations and performative works manage to intervene in the society through the participation of and interaction with the audience. Living and studying in Germany as a young artist gave Kusolwong the right distance to ponder upon Thailand as well as global socio-political realities from a unique perspective.

 


TEXT : Yidi Tsao
IMAGES : Courtesy of Surasi Kusolwong

 

Surasi Kusolwong , Ping Pong, Installation and performative
Surasi Kusolwong , Ping Pong, Installation and performative

 

Kusolwong’s work bears a close relationship to western modernism. He draws on a stock of European and North American modernist aesthetics in ways that could be interpreted as homage to western success and appears to be done in a spirit of celebration. Yet by appro-priating and altering genres of modernist aesthetics he translates the legacy of the Western canon into his own language. Objects are given new functions (or their function is re-configured in the case of design products), thereby undermining the usually distinct categories of utility and fine art. The works seem to question the necessity and appropriate-ness of such meanings in a global economic and cultural context.

The artist is also deeply concerned with the experience of the visitor, seeking a different kind of engagement than the normally passive consumption of images in a museum. Many of the works require direct participation in order to fully grasp their intention, while others are activated by performers, including the artist himself. Another important element of his work is the act of hospitality, inspired by the mixing of European and Asian cultural expectation.

Surasi Kusolwong, Golden Ghost (Reality Called, So I Woke Up), Taipei Biennial 2014.
Surasi Kusolwong, Golden Ghost (Reality Called, So I Woke Up), Taipei Biennial 2014. 12 gold necklaces designed by the artist are hidden within 5 tons of industrial linen and audience are supposed to look for them. Variable dimensions.

 

You majored in printmaking, but now you choose installation and participatory art as media. Would you share with us some insights behind such a shift?

In printmaking, the process matters more than the final work. When I was a student, I liked to question the system. For instance, traditionally speaking, the printmaker is supposed to sign at the lower right corner. But I sign wherever I like. After graduation, I taught at the same university for 5 years. Then I continued my studies in Germany with a scholarship. I arrived Frankfurt on October 4, 1990, soon after the fall of the Berlin Wall and the reunification of Germany. The event had a huge impact on me. When I returned to Thailand in 1996, the country was swept by financial crisis which forced me to question modern consumption and capitalist democracy. The traditional way of living is far more interesting than capitalism and consumerism. In a traditional market, for example, people talk, sing, dance, walk around and do their business. To me, what we call “installation” today is actually a more familiar approach. My mom always did this kind of thing except that she had never called it “installation art”. When I grew older enough, I always ran around in the city and the temples. I sat there, feeling the breeze as well as the inner tranquility. Painting doesn’t really fulfill me. Installation is closer to our intuitive feelings.

 

Surasi Kusolwong , One Pound Turbo Market, Installation and performative
Surasi Kusolwong , One Pound Turbo Market, Installation and performative

 

Let’s talk about One Pound Turbo Market (You’ll have a good time). You’ve done it in many different cities. As an artistic project, can it be collected? What’s the story behind the work?

It can and cannot be collected. Practically speaking, if you want to buy it, of course you can. But you cannot buy it as an intact piece. What you can buy is the money in the box which comes from the audience who have bought part of my work. It’s a circle. Money is the base material for the work. I talked with the local residents and bought some of their articles. This was the behind-the-scene process. The local context was my studio. I collected these articles little by little while talking to the local people. Then I gathered the articles together. The locals came to see my exhibition and they could buy the article they liked for one dollar (or in other currencies given the local contexts). At the end, all the articles were sold and transformed into monetary term. The work was completed.

I first did the piece in Bangkok where many people suffered the impact of the economic crisis. It occurred to me that we needed to see the articles with new light. I took care of the display in person to guarantee its aesthetic standard. But I allowed visitors to touch my work even though they were sometimes not prudent enough.

The work is highly conceptual. When dealing with audience from different cultural backgrounds, I always take the local contexts into consideration and try to cater for different needs. For example, I would sing some local songs at the opening. I’m a terrible singer and that’s why I sing – to use signing as a statement. I want to make it more interactive, for instance, to put on a sign reading “Please Touch”.

 

How would you comment on the current situation for artists in Thailand?

 Artists in Thailand don’t get much support. So they have to rely on themselves. On the contrary, they also enjoy the freedom of being market-independent. That’s what makes them interesting. People see interesting exhibitions by Thai artists in foreign countries but don’t see that in Thailand. The infrastructure for art in Thailand is weak. You don’t know where to go to see art. People rely on their personal network to know what’s going on in the art. There are only a few art critics and very limited effort and resources have been invested in the study of art history. I don’t feel myself a member of that circle. I’m more active in the international art circle because I found it more exciting and intriguing.

 

 

Surasi Kusolwong - Portrait lr

About Surasi Kusolwong

Born in Ayutthaya in 1965, Surasi received his graduate education at Silpakorn University and then studied in Germany for many years before returning to live in Bangkok. His works and installations have featured at leading galleries around the world including London’s Tate Gallery.

Surasi Kusolwong has exhibited internationally with solo shows in Kunsthalle Wien (Vienna, Austria), Palais de Tokyo (Paris, France), Baltic (Gateshead, England), Tate Modern (London, England) and ArtPace (San Antonio, USA). He has also participated in 8th Lyon Biennial (France), Gwangju Biennial (Korea), 50th Venice Biennale (Italy), 2nd Guangzhou Triennial (China), Berlin Biennale (Germany), Taipei Biennial (Taiwan) and 11th Biennale of Sydney (Australia), among others.

 


Yidi Tsao is a Hong Kong based curator and art writer. She is currently involved with the International Symposium on Electronic Arts 2016 as Chair of Artist Residency Programme. At the same time, she is also working on a master’s program in Curating Art and Media at City University of Hong Kong. She regularly contributes to regional art publications, including but not limited to, The Art Newspaper, Leap, radian-online, etc.

 
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