As a performative video artist with powerful messages about labour work, Kawita Vatanajyankur has had produce thrown at her, been hooked up by her mouth like a fish and swept across the floor repeatedly like a mop. For her latest piece “Splashed”, the 30-year-old is attempting even greater tests of physical endurance in three videos highlighting the unimaginable labour that goes into our nice fish dinners. Thailand Tatler speaks with the critically-acclaimed Thai artist on site as she prepares to open her solo exhibition at Nova Contemporary on October 20 at 6pm.
Why is the concept of labour so prominent in your body of work?
At the beginning, I explored the general concept of work. However, then I started to see something interesting in work that was repetitiveness in nature and that’s when I started to dig into labour work. Between 2015 and 2016, I looked at labour work in the factory setting. I saw that humans were working repetitively like machines but how, at the same time, machines were ironically replacing humans in the workforce. So I sort of parodied the two in a series called “Work”, later called “Machinized”, in which I acted as an egg rack in a factory and had eggs thrown into my mouth continuously. In my works, I frequently act as machines or tools related to labour work, such as a beam scale. In this piece that I’m showing, I am also acting as a scale once again.
What’s new about this series? Can you tell us a little about "Splashed"?
This time I’m highlighting what happens before the factory and before the readymade product. My work has a surreal quality to it. The colours and compositions are made to remind you of the attractive product advertisements and packaging typically found in supermarkets and stores. You’ll see a lot of bright blue in this series because it’s about the fishing industry. It’s quite a serious and current problem so I want to discuss it through my art. But the way I want to talk about it is not as negative as you may think. Rather, I would like to bring the labourers to light, make them exist in the eyes of society and get society to value their work. My piece highlights their strength and endurance against the ills of the industry. So audiences will see this beautiful visual but the performance will tell the story of the labour behind it.
What drew you to the fishing industry as the central theme to your work this time?
My family are actually all lawyers and my aunt is the head of the Office of [the] Attorney [General], which is in charge of human trafficking. So it’s just by conversations over dinner, mixed in with what I see in the news, that have put the issue in my mind. It’s also a very serious issue that needs to be addressed.
As a Thai artist who has lived and exhibited more extensively abroad, how do you feel about being back here and exhibiting in Thailand?
I think it’s great because then people at home can see what my work is like in real life versus seeing them through photos or clips. Also, because the context of my work is quite local, it is actually best for it to be exhibited here. But I definitely feel more pressure showing it here than I do abroad where I’m very familiar with my audiences.
Your work involves a lot of physical strains on yourself. Can you describe for us the most painful or physically challenging piece you’ve done?
I think this one is painful actually. There are a few that have been really painful, like “The Scale Of Justice” where vegetables were being thrown into the baskets hanging on my neck and legs. But this one, if you examine closely, you’ll see that it'll get so cold that ice starts to form on my face. So I will actually start to freeze. The weights are heavy as well, so there’s two things going on. I’ve done a piece with ice and a knife before called “The Ice Shaver”. However, that one was just my face and involved fear more than physical endurance. So “Splashed” might be up there on the most painful.
How much practice and planning go into your pieces?
I practice everyday, seeing what my body can do and how it reacts to different elements and conditions. I have to test out what my body is able to carry. If you carry a lot of weight all in one time, it’ll just break you apart. So you need to do bit by bit everyday.
Do you have someone helping you everyday?
Yes, my mum! My mum and my housekeeper.
So is your art quite a family affair? Do you have good support from the family?
Yes, it’s absolutely family-supported. It’s kind of a family production too and a really low budget production. If you look at things closely, you’ll see that it’s made at home.
Going back to the physical challenges, are you trained in any sort of dance or special exercise to be able to perform the feats in your work?
Oh yes, I do yoga fly; yoga fly helps a lot.
What drew you to this artform of performative video? Why has it stuck with you? What do you love about it?
My art is a cross between video and performance. It’s a documentation of a performance. Because of the advertising quality of my work when it's finished—this surreal quality of the visual created by the composition and the colours and everything—I believe that it needs to be a video rather than a raw performance.
Catch Kawita’s latest performative video collection “Splashed” at Nova Contemporary gallery from October 20-December 24, 2017.
Ground Floor, Baan Somthavil, Soi Mahadlek-Luang 3, Rajdamri Road
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