Bangkok Post - - MUSE - Story by Kaona Pongpipat Pho­tos by Jiraporn Kuhakan

Kawita Vatana­jyankur feels like an out­sider wher­ever she is. In Mel­bourne, where the 28-year-old artist spent a decade through high school and univer­sity, it wasn’t re­ally home. Back in Bangkok for four years now, and she doesn’t feel Thai, ei­ther. Who she is as an artist and the per­son she is as she sits down for an in­ter­view are equally in a state of flux.

While in her video works Kawita plays the satir­i­cal per­for­mance artist, throw­ing her­self into a se­ries of tests — from pre­car­i­ously hang­ing from a dry­ing rack as if she were clothes to turn­ing her­self into a broom — the “Kawita” in per­son, how­ever, is el­e­gant in a la­dy­like dress with high heels. She could be eas­ily mis­taken for a khun noo, or a so­cialite.

What’s in­creas­ingly def­i­nite, how­ever, is her pres­ence in Thai­land’s art scene. Af­ter a solo show “Tools” at The Jam Fac­tory Gallery, which ended last week, her video works are still on dis­play as part of a group show “Su­per Na­ture” at Ye­narkART Villa art gallery. Kawita was also among a group of Thai artists se­lected to fea­ture in the “Thai­land Eye” ex­hi­bi­tion at Saatchi Gallery in Lon­don last year be­fore trav­el­ling back to Bangkok Art and Cul­ture Cen­tre (BACC) in March. Her other no­table role is a founder and cu­ra­tor of Ferry Gallery, a ferry at Tha Tien Pier dis­play­ing ro­tat­ing ex­hi­bi­tions to the com­muters cross­ing the Chao Phraya River.

“I never chore­o­graph. I just have some sort of hy­poth­e­sis and start find­ing out what re­ally hap­pens with video record­ing,” said Kawita of her video art. Rem­i­nis­cent of Ma­rina Abramović, but a more play­ful and cheekier ver­sion, she stars as a per­for­mance artist her­self in all of her re­cent video works.

In 2013’s The Ice Shaver, which was shown at The Jam Fac­tory Gallery, Kawita presses her face hard into a block of ice and pushes back and forth against a shaver un­der­neath. In The Scale which is soon to be seen at BACC, she is do­ing a shoul­der stand with a bas­ket bal­anced on her feet, re­ceiv­ing a tor­rent of wa­ter melon slices fall­ing from above.

“With pieces like The Ice Shaver, I was med­i­tat­ing, try­ing to trans­form my­self into some­thing else that’s not me, an ob­ject,” said Kawita. “It came from an idea about sick­ness and pain, I thought per­haps all th­ese feel­ings were all made-up and if we per­se­vere long enough, maybe th­ese pains and feel­ings will be gone.”

Kawita’s artis­tic ca­reer started out with pho­tog­ra­phy and most im­por­tantly, the time spent with her late father. Even as a child, her father, who

was cre­ative, al­ways shared ideas on projects and art­works he was work­ing on with her. He al­ways took her to the movies and they com­mu­ni­cated with one an­other through the films watched to­gether. While in Aus­tralia, her dad would come visit ev­ery week­end and took her trav­el­ling to var­i­ous tourist spots.

“We went to the sea, into the woods, go­ing on long drives and stop­ping at mo­tels along the way,” said Kawita. “I had al­ways painted but I al­ways took my cam­era with me on those trips. I love just the medium, the act of cre­at­ing com­po­si­tion and press­ing the shut­ter but­ton.”

Kawita stud­ied art dur­ing high school and it was around that time when pho­tog­ra­phy was no longer just a tool for doc­u­ment­ing her ex­pe­ri­ences but also as a means to make sense of her life in a for­eign coun­try. Her early video works re­flected that. At one time, she would float her­self in a ship­ping box and had tourists film her while she was be­ing washed ashore. For an­other piece of work, she shut her­self in a box left in the desert be­fore try­ing to break out.

The real sig­nif­i­cant shift in her life was when her father died of can­cer when she was just 18 years old.

“He had al­ways been the per­son I could share ev­ery­thing with,” said Kawita. “With­out him, I was think­ing and do­ing things alone. This was the point where I started watch­ing a lot of movies in the hope that some­how I could meet that friend and have that type of re­la­tion­ship again.”

Grow­ing up alone, it’s films which have raised and taught her what’s right or wrong. Shut­ting her­self in a dark room and watch­ing films alone be­came not just a habit but a turn­ing point in her life.

Kawita is into films that are rather “psy­cho­pathic” like Stan­ley Kubrick’s The Shin­ing or Michael Haneke’s Funny Games, the type of film which she said can help her un­der­stand other peo­ple more. Her fas­ci­na­tion with films in gen­eral is with the fact that this medium has the power to con­trol and play with the au­di­ence.

Kawita’s video works have that power too, but func­tion in a play­ful and at times more med­i­ta­tive ap­proach. In The Dust­pan, we see her head hung up­side down and swept back and forth ob­vi­ously as a broom against the dust­pan. We watch it with mixed emo­tions, alarmed that she might get hurt and at the same time amused by her take on the stereo­typed ex­pec­ta­tion of Thai women when it comes to house­hold chores.

“I’m in­ter­ested in the com­mu­ni­ca­tion be­tween those who make the videos and those who watch them,” said Kawita. “In terms of video art, it’s the sus­pense which the view­ers and I go through to­gether in those cou­ple of min­utes, what’s go­ing to hap­pen and will some­thing fall and hit my face? I know that now but I didn’t know it then. Ev­ery­thing was real and the video is the ev­i­dence.”

Watch­ing Kawita’s video works from afar, thanks to their slow pace and colour­fully com­posed back­ground set-up, many might ini­tially think they’re paint­ings on can­vas. This is ac­tu­ally how Kawita meant her work to be. Her ma­jor at RMIT Univer­sity’s Fine Art Depart­ment was in paint­ing yet dur­ing her univer­sity years she never laid hands on brushes and can­vases like ev­ery­one else. She paints through her per­for­mance, set-up de­sign and com­po­si­tion.

“My video works are very two-di­men­sional,” said Kawita. “I like the colours, the com­po­si­tion as­pect of a paint­ing. The works are just like paint­ings hang­ing on the wall but with a bit of move­ment.”

Kawita Vatana­jyankur and her 2013 work The Ice Shaver.

The Scale.

The Dust­pan.

AboveThe Squeez­ers.

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