"Image, Symbol, Prayer": Korakrit Arunanondchai embarks on a personal, political, and universal journey on humanity's essence
Jan 25, 2023
Until the 29th of January, when entering Kukje Gallery K3 space in Seoul, we step into a scraped black floor made of ashes and clay covering the entire gallery perimeter and setting the tone for Korakrit Arunanondchai’s solo show Image, Symbol, Prayer (Dec 15, 2022 - Jan 29, 2023). On every side of the rectangular environment, a sentence whispers messages that could come from heaven or hell, or from a forgotten mythological tale. Together, they compose a prayer, which goes as follows:
“In the beginning, there was discovery / New nightmares, to challenge sleep / The need to impose order unto chaos / We create this world through unanswered prayers. / There’s a splendor beyond the upheaval / A nostalgia for unity / In the landscape of mourning / Give yourself to the air, to what you cannot hold / The ghost possesses Nothing”
Text-based art is an important part of Arunanondchai’s work at large, in this case representing a prayer composed of verses both written by the artist, as well as paraphrased from the American tv series “Heroes”. In Arunanondchai’s own words, “it [the text] embodies the union of sacred and profane, which overall permeates in the entire exhibition”, also adding that “in every card of prayer you are to recognize that it is about an unfulfilled promise, and maybe that promise will never be entirely fulfilled but is neither broken. It is the feeling I have towards my spirituality, and art itself”.
This sets the leitmotif for the entire show, which uses both fire and ashes in their metaphorical potential as symbols of human existential history, from sacred to profane. The persistent dichotomous investigation between the human and the spiritual is embodied by the series of History Paintings, which has been part of the artist's body of work for over 10 years. The History Paintings are the synthesis of a process that sees the artist firstly painting on the ground, to then set such paintings on fire while recording with a camera with a bird’s view angle, a perspective that, according to Arunanondchai, reminds the omnipresence of a God always looking down. Once the fire stops, the remnants of the painting are assembled back as documentation, which is printed on the denim. As a result, the line where the physical paintings end and the documentation begins is completely blurred, connecting metaphorically to the idea of various layers of flesh present in each other, blending in a blurred manner, without any precise border.
The choice of using denim as a canvas is not casual, as - according to the artist - all the paintings are made on bleach denim partly because of its relationship with western globalism, and specifically America. Arunanondchai refers to his identity as Thai when resonating with the idea that, when artists create their very first painting, they enter into a conversation with western globalism: as non-western painters engage with something that is other than them, which is then incorporated in their practice and identity as artists. Born through a history of exploitation (as many textiles do historically), denim carries a tie with western identity, and it is today one of the most popular fabrics globally. Through the use of denim in his paintings, Arunanondchai questions the politics of identity once again in an in-between, playing with the idea of otherness and how one finds a space within the complexity of history and that of the self. Similarly, the use of gold foil is a reminder of Thai temples as a reflection on questions of diaspora and belonging, through anything that is gold, because of the symbolic power it holds, the painting itself goes through a process of destruction, and it is then physically nursed into healing.
The same is done with the constant research on spirituality through the use of fire, its very ubiquitous presence playing historically a pivotal role in the realm of the images and symbols through declinations that vary from life to death, from rebirth to desire, and from destruction to nurturing - especially when thinking about the relationship between fire and ashes. Arunanondchai sees fire embodying both the real, the imagined, and the symbolic propriety of images, which when transferred into the realm of art, enter the endless conversation of the unreplicable properties of the sacred. When learning about this complex process of documentation, painting, and performance, it almost seems that Arunanondchai's practice as a whole responds to an endless search for clarity in the complex sea of dichotomies that molds the essence of our humanity. Not necessarily in a synthetic manner, but rather a seek for understanding the infinite landscape of elements - physical and symbolic - that contribute to our identity.
Once again, the acknowledgment of the ground made by ashes and clay as a space of death, as well as a stage, in a very performative manner, meets the second series of paintings presented: the almost monochrome Void (Sky painting) (2022) narrate the vision of the sky as a space for projection. They create another in-between, where mundanity and spirituality meet halfways. It is contradictory, but humanity has always reflected this tension, which seems to never find a resolution.
Perhaps the question that the exhibition is asking is if there will ever be a resolution, or if it is even needed in the first place. Korakrit Arunanondchai’s first solo presentation at Kukje Gallery is thus a reminder of the continuous individual and political journey that we embark on as humans. It is both extremely personal, in the way the Thai artist investigates the politics of western globalism and capitalism from a South-East Asian perspective, and universal, when once again through the symbol of fire, ashes, prayer, and sky, there is an ongoing quest on the ontology of our existence.
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