Monday, March 19, 2012
Araya Rasdjarmrearnsook is an art teacher and one of Thailand's' foremost female artists. She had her first solo show in New York last month with a video exhibition showing historic art history pieces from western culture to rural and religious people in Thailand in an exhibit titled "Two Planets/ Village and Elsewhere"
However, for me, it is her previous work I wanted to touch on for this post. Araya first made headlines in the US with an group exhibit in 1996. More controversy came in late 1990's and early 2000's when her exhibits began incorporating corpses.
In works such as "The Class II" Araya is seen on video lecturing a classroom of corpses. The topic for this lifeless class? Death. You'll see her ask the dead bodies, "Did you die in autumn?" You can see this video on YouTube here. I was struck by the seriousness of her tone as she interacts with the class on a topic they surely must know.
In "Conversations I, II and III" she meanders through a room of corpses humming. In "This is Our Creations" she actually lies down next to the bodies and is heard saying, "I came here to know you, lying here motionless. Once my father sent me a postcard from very far away. Its sentence: only a still pond can reflect the starts."
My first thought was, what experiences has this woman had with death that has led her to express herself in this way? I had to do much searching to find the answer, but in an interview in 2005 with Oliver Benjamin, she told her story.
Her father was a physician, and at the age of 3, as her mother labored in childbirth with her father as physician, her mother died. A week later the young sister born also died. In the following 3 years she lost a step sister aged 18 months, her grandmother and great grandmother. As she said in her interview, "From this reason, I guess, I have been interested in examining death"
When you look back, even to her etching "The Dream of Mother" in 1990, you can see the processing of her life events.
Sometime in there, her father then died of cancer. In response, new pieces such as "The Dinner with Cancer I" and "Th Dinner with Cancer II" were done.
Araya has used art as a way to deal with death. Specifically in her words, "I choose art as process of thought for the meaning of death". Araya spoke of that meaning in an interview with Brian Curtin in 2007 saying "In reality, life and death should not be understood as opposites. People deal with death by trying to hide it. They hide death behind ritual or hope to prevent it with medicine. I want people to have more imagination and confront reality!"
In the interview with Oliver Benjamin in 2005 she concluded talking about the topic with, "I'm tired of death! May be too much." That's the goal isn't it? To work with our patients and families to process through it? For now the artist does seem done with death, as her art has moved on to exploration of different ideas.
Whether you are repelled or connected to Araya's work with death, it's what I love about art - a vehicle to express ideas which then stimulate the viewers mind.
To see works listed up until 2002 visit this site. For those 2002 and on visit here.
Oliver Benjamin interview published in Citylife magazine Oct. 2005
Brian Curtin interview published in Art Signal Oct. 2007
Works in order of appearance "Conversation I" (2005), "The Dream of Mother" (1990) and "The Dinner with Cancer I" (1993)