A Man on A Bridge_Bangkok is an artistic project which presents the activity of a man who lives in the street, and owns little more than the clothes he wears, but makes intriguing assemblages with fragments of discarded objects that he picks up in the streets, and transforms into enticing artefacts, which he discards as soon as completed.
For Songkran, it is in the act and process of making them that the objects acquire their significance; not from any material interests that he may gain from exhibiting or selling them to collectors.
For us, however, it is through their FORM that they acquire significance.
The other side of the project consists of a series of encounters with Songkran, on the bridge; in an attempt to bridge the insuperable gap that separates us.
Exchanging the methodology of anthropology — including that of visual anthrology — and its search for 'scientific' meanings and facts, for an experiment in DIALOGUE, I opted to explore possibilities of communication without words: using objects and play in a spirit of conviviality.
This part of the project is documented in section 2 of this blog: Encounters.
Displaying Songkran's objects in an Art Gallery may be misleading; for the intention is not to promote them as art objects (under the heading of 'Art Brut'), but to present them as a form of VISUAL EXPRESSION taking place OUTSIDE of 'ART'.
The sympathetic domestic architecture of H Project Space, at H Gallery, lends itself to 'revealing' this secret practice: to celebrate human creativity in the margins, on a par with the work of professional artists, situating it discretely in relation to the history of art.
I thank curator Brian Curtin and H for giving hospitality to this project, that celebrates human creativity and resilience outside of 'Art'; and the Arts Council, England for funding the project.
ANTICHAMBER: SYMBOLS OF 'ART'
References to the History of Art are made through the inclusion of symbols of 'Art': a frame, a palette, a still-life painting, a typographic case… presented either as objects or as photographs of these objects.
At the top of the stairs PHOTOGRAPHS of
a still life by 19th century Florentine painter Michelangelo Meucci:
an antique oval frame similar to that used on the Meucci's still-life [the actual frame is used in the next room to 'frame' one kuhn Song-Kran's assemblages]:
the same frame as it was wrapped by the seller [with a newspaper motif reminiscent of Cubism]:
and two compositions that are displayed in the next room:
provide a deliberately enigmatic INTRODUCTION in what may be described as an ANTCHAMBER, where themes are discretely alluded to: Languages of 'Art', the 'frame' as valorizing factor, 'painting' as priviledged artistic medium and the assumptions that such conventions induce us to make when looking at 'works' of 'Art'.
A miniature portrait of Song-Kran and one of his collages announce the Man and his works:
Installation view Thursday 3.10.2013
Two framed photographs act as a focal point as one enters the room:
as if in a MEMORIAL:
All the other elements gravitate around them.
Initially, the exhibition was going to present four constructions or assemblages made by Song-Kran, the 'Man on the Bridge'. There are now five; for an extra one was collected when the exhibition was being set up. More may be added during the residency; presented as archaeological find rather than staged like the other four.
The staging of these assemblages is intended to act as non-reductive INTERPRETATION (in the form of 'open' visual heuristic fictions, which recall either
precious artefacts (jewels in a casket):
a modernist painting, inspired by the tradition of still-life, as re-interpreted by Cubism and Dada:
but also talismans, amulets and the cult of relics:
A fifth one retrieved at the time the exhibition was being set up is simply laid down on a low plinth, as itself; offered for what it is:
Interpretation is provided by visual means: photographs, photomontages and actual objects (a typographic case, an artist palette, a modern acrylic storage box and an antique oval frame).
These rather than words are used to contextualize and interpret the objects in the form of visual hypotheses which invite creative extrapolations rather than proclaim authorial or curatorial meanings.
In a series of photomontages each of Songkran's assemblage is shown overlaid on a still-life by Michelangelo Meucci.
The intention, here, is to explore formal analogies and to suggest convergence, in the absence of influence and of any intentionality.
It is as if the History of Art had been caught up from the margins, by chance:
These superimpositions are surprisingly non-disruptive as lines, colors and forms blend harmoniously…
An acrylic box used by collectors to store their amulets and other miniature collectables is included; with samples of fragments collected in the UK as parting gifts for Song-Kran, the Man on the Bridge:
OBJECT . IMAGE . TEXT
PHOTOGRAPHY is not used here merely to document, but rather to interpret and to help us engage with the works by making them more legible.
The photographs are no so much representations 'of' the objects themselves [conjuring up, as if by magic, their presence] but rather materialisations of discrete acts of looking by 'receptive beholder'*...
* See the three quotations by Buber at the start of the blog.
Four short framed texts by Martin Buber highlight some propositions with which the exhibition and the project converge.
The first warns us against the constant danger of objectifying the 'other':
The others pose the problem of form in different aesthetic terms from those of often over-intellectualized post Post-Modern theories, advocating a form of empathy described by Buber as a 'bodying forth':
and warns us against letting rational conceptualisations quantify form (and in the process reduce it to mere data); advocating, instead, more intimate ways of implicating ourselves in our engagement with FORM:
A comment left yesterday in the gallery by a Thai artist reads:
'I 'm not sure if the object is a necessity for that man or that man is a necessity for that object'.
Today, a visitor from Scothand noted
'if you look closely at the detail of any man's life it is beautiful'.
Visitors seems to be moved by the story and by the 'works'.
STAGING THE OBJECTS
The staging of the objects, in the exhibition, deliberately make them look precious: to valorize them as human expression, but without turning them into luxury art objects for sale.
One visitor (mathematician, I am told) remarks upon seeing the objects: 'this is not my taste'; as if taste was relevant.
Must taste and arbitrary opinions over-ride our responses to form?
I point out that taste is irrelevant here, but this observation does not seem to help the person to reconsider
the 'works' from other perspectives (as the expression of an incontrovertible 'thou')…
Being around when visitors come to the gallery makes me aware of the difficulties in using a gallery (and the expectations that people bring with them) to present these objects.
Looking at 'art' through personal taste encourages indulging narcissistic impulses rather than critical exploration of differences .
At least being in the gallery enables me to outline the context, to prevent visitors taking the objects is to their 'face value': in the light of their taste; reducing them to mere ORNAMENT.
I wonder whether visitors can be expected to suspend taste when looking at these objects, or whether taste will always over-ride perception.
There is a limit to what the curator can do to faciliate engagement with the works.
Especially in the light of Buber's remark:
'But this is the melancholy of our fate, that every Thou in our world must become an It'.
TASTE is irrelevant here, for the 'WORKS' are presented as expressions of HUMANITY, from a perspective which situates AESTHETICS within ETHICS.
Seeing implies a silent DIALOGUE.
One visitor's comment senses it:
On my way to the gallery, yesterday, I retrieved another assemblage.
It now lay on a plinth: still-life of URBAN FRAGMENTS
I wonder if photographing it will make it more legible, as happened with the others. I refrain…
For this exhibition, it will not be 'framed'/interpreted; but just left there, on a plinth, like a fish out of water…
The exhibition proposes that photographs are not so much representation 'of' an object or event, but rather a phenomenological trace of a way of looking at the object/event. Its function is essentially heuristic.
Looking at a photograph presupposes enough humility and generosity to acknowledge the hospitality of a welcoming act that enables us to see the world through another person's eyes, sensibility and mind.
By enhancing the visibility, readibility and legibility of Songkran's assemblages, photography, here, mediates between Songkran and the beholder, via the object.
Students from Bangkok University:
A wall of blank cards invites comments from visitors: