Kamol Tassananchalee: Earth, Air, Fire & Water, Thailand Pavilion, Venice Biennale 2015

At the Thai National Pavilion, the Office of Contemporary Art and Culture has invited Kamol Tassananchalee to welcome visitors to reflect upon the theme of the 56th Biennale di Venezia, “All the Worlds Futures”

This is the seventh la Biennale di Venezia in which Thailand has participated as a country. This years representative, National Artist of Thailand, Kamol Tassananchalee, in response to the Biennale theme “All the World’s Futures” has chosen for the theme of his work, the four elements, Earth, Air, Fire & Water. The concept behind this theme, that regardless of how far the world has evolved or what paths “All the World’s Futures” may take, the basic constituent elements of life are eternal.

Kamol Tassananchalee, whose artwork often drew its essence from the philosophy and spirit of Buddhism, is undoubtedly a seminal Thai artist.

The concept of ‘Earth, Air, Fire and Water’ fits well with the theme. These four elements have always been part of life and become Buddhist philosophy and internationalism. My series is composed of perforated and moveable stainless steel sheets that I have adjusted to fit the space we have been given. Because we do not have a permanent venue, I’ve had to carefully study the height and the width of the building.”

Inside the pavilion, visitors will see a perforated sculpture with neon lights shining through, symbolising wind, waves and fire.The ‘Thainess’ comes from its similarity to nang yai [shadow play], in which light passes through the puppets and appears as a shadow on the ground. It demonstrates both Thainess and internationalism. The sculpture consists of a roller, which represents the rotation of the world. Four perforated pieces with a roller in each will lean against the wall of the first hall. A large movable sculpture, which can transform into several shapes and forms, will be at the centre of another hall and the mezzanine will see four connected pieces replacing two windows.

It is symbolic, not realistic, and it has to be sensed through our emotions. Light shines through the perforated symbols of wind, sea waves and fire in the stainless steel and that should make it understandable to all.

As with many ultimately revered things in Thailand, traditional value has been conserved and protected. Many in Thai art, who are supposed to be catalysts for change, still strictly uphold the belief that a good work of art must yield aesthetic values and exhibit excellent craftsmanship. In other places, however, contemporary art has gone past these aesthetics. Medium and skills no longer have to come first and it is more about one’s ideas in conveying or reacting to life. And while it is true that one should be true to one’s roots.

The Internet has opened the world to a new batch of Thai artists whose responses to the contemporary world are different from the old normative view. Gone are the days when a Thai artist must be a servant of Buddhism who draws beautiful lotuses and displays explicit rejections of materialism.

Thai contemporary art are losing touch with the reality, and will soon with the people. And with Thai society becoming more and more globalized, Thai modern art no longer excites or responds to current society as much as it used to. The dilemma Thai contemporary art is facing in defining itself is akin to the Thai society and its rigid definition of Thainess.

The Exhibition
National Artist Dr Kamol Tassananchalee, who will represent Thailand in its seventh participation at the Biennale. The theme this year is “All the World’s Futures” and Kamol is confident that his conceptual series “Earth, Air, Fire and Water” meets the requirements of this project, which is devoted to a fresh appraisal of the relationship of art and artists to the current state of things.

The Pavilion is comprised of three gallery spaces containing 16 pieces of Artwork. Predominately Sculpture, examples of Tassananchalee’s Painting and Printmaking are also included. The large, Aluminium, Stainless Steel and Neon Sculptures, standing like silent sentinels of a future world, are platforms for Hydro and Laser-Cut compositions of Tassananchalee’s symbols of the Elements, which are irradiated, projected and cast into gallery spaces, their interactions creating an etherial, futuristic, ambiance, a Sculptural paradigm elucidating his theme, Earth, Air, fire, & Water.

The concept behind Tassananchalee’s choice of his theme is, that regardless of how far the world has progressed and regardless what paths “All the World’s Futures” may take, the basic constituent elements of life are eternal.

Having developed the imagry of his concept through mixed media paintings, Tassananchalee morphs his symbols for Earth, Air, Fire & Water into large, hydro and Laser-cut, stainless steel, aluminium & neon light sculpture.

Stainless Steel, Aluminium & Neon Lights are the materials supporting the images representing Earth, Air, Fire & Watter. These large Sculptures, presented in the Thai National Pavilion are metaphors for Time and the World.

In many classical world views four basic elements are believed to constitute the essential components of which everything consists. Earth, Air, Fire & Water.

Usually these classical elements relate to ancient philosophical concepts which today are generally compared to the contemporary “states of matter”. The solid state, gaseous state, plasma and liquid state.

Progressive manifestations of the world evolve through the interactions of its fundamental elements. In Buddhist philosophy the four elements are viewed not as substances but rather as categories of sensory experience.

Light and shadow play a central roll in these works. Illuminated with ambient and tinted, shaped, neon lights, the laser and hydro-cut compositions of elemental symbols are irradiated in the metal plates projected and cast.

The use of hi-tech processes, such as Hydro and Laser-Cutting the Aluminium and Stainless Steel in producing these images, is representative of technology and its developmental role in the world’s futures.

The lightning-bolt shaped, tinted, neon lights represent fire and technology and also symbolize the world’s futures. The ink roller, a recurring motif in the art of Tassananchalee, who has a graduate degree in Printmaking, symbolizes in the current context cyclical time and the world. The Triangular shaped rollers are abstractions created for compositional variation and contrast. Printmaking was also employed in the development of imagery for the sculpture as exemplified by the two Woodcuts in Gallery 2.

During the installation several sculptures were reconfigured to accommodate the gallery environment. An example, Series #10, the rollers handle was repositioned and the lighting was changed.

Gallery 3 includes a variety of compositional variations and materials, including Series #13 which extends the length of the gallery and Series #4 & #11 made of hydro-cut copper.

The large, four panel, acrylic painting in Gallery 3, Series # 16 was done in one 4 hour session, after the completion of the sculpture, in response to the totality of the imagery of the sculptures. Laser-cut stencil compositions in the sculptures cast images, representing the Four elements, in the manner of the ancient Thai Shadow Puppet, another recurring motif in the artists oeuvre.

Another reference to his Printmaking background, Copper, a traditional material used in Etching and Engraving, has been used in two of the sculptures.

Venice Biennale 2015
The 2015 Art Biennale closes a sort of trilogy that began with the exhibition curated by Bice Curiger in 2011, Illuminations, and continued with the Encyclopedic Palace of Massimiliano Gioni (2013). With All The World’s Futures, La Biennale continues its research on useful references for making aesthetic judgments on contemporary art, a “critical” issue after the end of the avant-garde and “non-art” art.

Through the exhibition curated by Okwui Enwezor, La Biennale returns to observe the relationship between art and the development of human, social and political reality, in the pressing of external forces and phenomena: the ways in which, that is, the tensions of the external world solicit the sensitivities, the vital and expressive energies of the artists, their desires, the motions of the soul (their inner song ).

La Biennale di Venezia was founded in 1895. Paolo Baratta has been its President since 2008, and before that from 1998 to 2001. La Biennale, who stands at the forefront of research and promotion of new contemporary art trends, organizes exhibitions, festivals and researches in all its specific sectors: Arts (1895), Architecture (1980), Cinema (1932), Dance (1999), Music (1930), and Theatre (1934). Its activities are documented at the Historical Archives of Contemporary Arts (ASAC) that recently has been completely renovated.

The relationship with the local community has been strengthened through Educational activities and guided visits, with the participation of a growing number of schools from the Veneto region and beyond. This spreads the creativity on the new generation (3,000 teachers and 30,000 pupils involved in 2014). These activities have been supported by the Venice Chamber of Commerce. A cooperation with Universities and research institutes making special tours and stays at the exhibitions has also been established. In the three years from 2012-2014, 227 universities (79 Italian and 148 international) have joined the Biennale Sessions project.

In all sectors there have been more research and production opportunities addressed to the younger generation of artists, directly in contact with renowned teachers; this has become more systematic and continuous through the international project Biennale College, now running in the Dance, Theatre, Music, and Cinema sections.