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    Thinking through Thailand
       S
    By Simon Lloyd

                                                          contemporary works its influence was felt.              textiles its position becomes somewhat tenuous.
    I remember hearing a fragment of conversation
    on the radio. It was one of those situations                                                                 Ceramics may fare better with a revival of the
    when the radio was on but the room was full of        The textile Artist Jakkai Sikibutr “samples”           local pottery industries to the East of Bangkok
    distractions, my thoughts shifted. Two eminent        his work from both the traditional and the             prompted in part by tourism. I watched a woman
    phycologists were discussing the consciousness        contemporary. Fragments of old textiles (              weaving on a traditional loom, one of the last in
    of vertebrates. As the conversation continued         including the Hill Tribes of Northern Thailand         the area apparently with little interest from the
    one asked the other what he would really like         ) are associated freely with nylon and plastic         younger up-coming generations to continue this
    to achieve within his area of research, the man       “kitsch” bought from the large local markets.          practice. The work of this very skilled woman
    replied,” to experience the consciousness of          Later he adds his own personal layer by painting       ranged from fine patterned silk weavings
    another being”.                                       figuratively on to the assembled ground of              to simple shawls in rich deep colours. One
                                                          textiles and objects. While the work is painted        particular intricate textile caught my attention.
    While such a bodily experience is not possible,       upon it is no simple canvas. The rich textile          While the other similar fabrics worked around
    the experience of another, cultural experience        ground is skilfully fabricated from hundreds of        horizontal and vertical stripes corresponding to
    is. Here the feeling is very physical . The wall      small material fragments, evolving in geometric        the warp and weft, this was patterned with many
    of heat and humidity that hits you as you leave       patterns the large works are backed with heavy         curving organic motives that seemed to suggest
    the plane in Bangkok is quite unexpected. While       white cotton and hand finished.                         very complicated weaving techniques. Clearly
    the airport terminal offers familiar glimpses of      This work is anchored deeply in Thailand’s             a masterly work with strong aesthetic appeal,
    life “back home” driving by car through Bangkok       textile tradition which it both maintains directly     l bought it! Later examining the fabric in more
    reveals a very different world.                       (by utilising old pieces ) and advances through        detail it seemed even more complex, the dark
                                                          its contemporary assembly techniques.                  rich brown background giving way to curving
    Recently l joined with group of ceramic artists       Sikibutr is currently working the village textile      lines of rich pale straw with similar colours on
    as part of an exchange trip to Thailand. We           workers to re generate old skills which may            the warp threads. The pattern however was not
    Australian artists would visit Bangkok and North      later be incorporated into new works. These            visible on the back of the fabric , save for the
    Thailand and later the Six Thai artists would fly      assemblages somehow become a metaphor,                 few forms also in straw. It is at this point that
    into Melbourne to experience Australian culture.      echoing the make up of contemporary Thai               my admiration for the knowledge and skill of
    While ceramics was the common focus and               culture, applying change rather than necessarily       the weaver became complete. In looking for an
    passion for our visit, others , namely food and       accepting change.                                      explanation to a woven technique l searched
    shopping quickly followed. This was my first                                                                  a compatible vocabulary of techniques, the
    visit to Thailand, I had been through Bangkok         The idea of “sampling” is by no means a new            “solution”, l believe is much more common ,
    numbers of times before but only in transit from      concept in Thailand. Historically one can see          household bleach.
    Europe and had no real idea of what lay beyond        evidence of other cultures being added to the
    the terminal building.                                mix while remaining unquestionably Thai. A             As our modern societies rush headlong into
                                                          surprising example of this “ cultural expansion”       seemingly unknown futures the desire to
    As a predominantly visual person working within       can be seen at the Grand Palace in Bangkok.            re connect to re think a way of living and
    the design and visual arts field , l become very       The first experience on viewing the traditional         re establish our links with society and the
    aware of the environments through which I pass.       buildings in the main Palace compound is the           environment become important. To be part of a
    Fragments of such places inevitably become            intensity of the surface decoration. Here the          living culture making a contribution through ones
    in corporated in my work, some appearing              temples and associated buildings are highly            skills. During my brief visit and experience of
    almost without my knowledge. I also collect           decorated, walking amongst the structures the          Thailand and through my friendship with the Thai
    things, photographs, objects, things with which       intensity of the coloured mosaic and gold leaf (to     Artists there would seem to be a rich potential
    I feel some affinity. They sit with me .These          a western eye) becomes almost overpowering.            for this country. A balance, maintaining strong
    environments are very powerful, generating a          This rich coating extends to the glazed roofing         traditional links while embracing and adapting a
    sense of ones identity, zones in which one can        tiles in red and green. The whole effect               culture in balance with its people.
    function.                                             becoming that “of another world.”
                                                          During the late nineteenth century King Rama           Assistance is gratefully acknowledged by The
    If one were to ask five designers or artists           V added a large throne hall to the existing            Australia - Thailand Institute and Thai Airways.
    from differing countries to respond to a simple       buildings. By this time the influence of European
    design brief or place, no one reply would be the      ideas and architectural styles was much in             For more detail of the project visit www.clayalchemy.net
    same. Each would respond with some degree of          evidence and the new building was planned to
    cultural background bringing this awareness to        be in the “classical” style. However the finished       1. Vipoo and Simon at Melbourne airport
    the task at hand.                                     building while recognisably European is roofed         2. Jakkai and his work
                                                          very strikingly in the highly decorated Thai           3. Jakkai’s work
                                                                                                                 4. The Grand palace
    What struck me from our meeting with the Thai         tradition. The mix though improbable co-exists,
    Artists and later with other local Artists we met     the roofline dominating the bulk of the building.
    was the strong influence traditional Thai culture
    plays in contemporary arts practice. While l          The sense of a past, Thailand’s past seems in
    should not be surprised at this, there is it would
    seem a real celebration of Thai heritage. This        many ways not so distant for it exists today as a
    continuum of culture may not be present in an         very tangible entity. Certainly the craft traditions
    overtly historic or crafted way, but even in very     perpetuated through the centuries remain in part
                                                          ,although in relation to the hand production of

				
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