Communicating Science and Belief in the World of Chthulucene

June Cholsiri / MFA 2017

 

Technology has become an indivisible part of everyday life. The fast-paced and seemingly uncontrollable advancement of science and technology has left many of us feeling overwhelmed. Many scholars attempt to define and predict the world we live in, be it for solving the world’s constant problems, or offering people a glimmer of hope that the apocalypse is passable. This has led to the emergence of many theories, which, in my view, are human beings’ survival handbooks. One of the most so-called critical theories in this human-centred era, the Anthropocene, is, of course, Posthumanism. Posthumanism comes in different flavours with the shared fundamental ideas, namely, to re-conceive and to dissolve the boundaries between human and non-human, advancing a person or entity to the state beyond being human. This posthuman world’s depiction has been experimented with by many science fiction writers since the beginning of the 20th century, through narratives about the possible future, to explore the limitation of humanity and its demise. However, given the speed and nature of today's technological advancement, this imaginative depiction could realistically be our near future.

 

High-tech innovations make people more likely to believe in science and things that are based on proof rather than faith or beliefs. There is an assumption that posthumanism will be completely separated from the concerns of religion. Although there is a strong connection between modern technoscience and a broadly secular, rationalist thought in which religion and science, belief and doubt, theism and atheism are considered incompatible, there are significant ways in which religion is present within representation and discourses of posthumanism. However, high technology and scientific progress may not seem enough to comprehensively describe the meanings of being human, and, by extension, posthuman. Robert Pepperell states in The Post-Human Condition (1995) that, ‘many beliefs become redundant’; however, we still see the notion that states belief is necessary in many contemporary narratives. Therefore, this essay aims to investigate the ways that religion and belief manifest within the posthuman world, specifically in Donna Haraway's concept of the Chthulucene (2016), by examining two works of contemporary narratives: Yann Martel’s novel, Life of Pi (2001) and the film, The Man from Earth (2007), written by Jerome Bixby and directed by Richard Schenkman.

 

There are many subset explanations of posthumanism with the shared principle idea of undermining the boundaries between humans and non-humans; in other words, human and any otherness. To enumerate the kinds of otherness, we need to step back and look at the bigger picture. Otherness can be either concrete such as between animals or machines, or abstract such as cultures or languages. Accordingly, the idea that there is no complete form of human comes up in many studies in this field; figures of man must be challenged to re-conceive  human's perception and to be a response to raise public awareness of humans, bumptious beings. Even though the term posthumanism is interchangeably used with transhumanism, some people suggest that they offer different perspectives. That is to say, transhumanism is based on reason and enlightenment, focusing on the way that science and technology interact with humans. Posthuman regards transhumanism as the next stage of human development through the advanced methods such as modification, enhancement, and transition, taking us beyond the point of being human. This operates on the assumption that we are not already posthuman. Alternatively, the posthumanist aim to investigate the integration between humans and morality, cultures and nature, etc. has been a common theme in humanity since time immemorial. As Francesca Ferrando states, ‘envisioning desirable posthuman modes of existence is a path of self-discovery, once the self has been recognized as the others within. In a spiritual sense, humans have always been posthuman’ (Ferrando, 2016). Following this, the occurrence of posthumanism may exist from which the human being emerges.

 

In light of belief or religion, the thirst of moving past the state of being human could be referred to as desire or greed in some circles, for example, the Attachment or Rāga, one of three poisons that cloud the mind and are the very roots of unwholesome actions in Buddhism[1], or the desire in Christianity that helps us find our way, helps us know who we become and what we are to do.[2] As can be seen from these examples, there are two different responses to the desire. The Buddha believes that attachments always come in the form of deadening desire, which should be detached from the things of this world because they certainly lead to suffering, while Jesus invites us into truth through the re-adjusting of our attachments, not their rejection or dismissal. In other words, for the Buddha, desire is the root of suffering, while for Jesus, desire is the source of spirituality. However, whether we try to preserve it or eliminate it, it clearly reveals that this kind of thirst has evolved with humanity over time. We want to be in the state that allows us to have a higher ability, to live longer, to be stronger and intelligent, either for the sake of ourselves or humanity.

 

In the past, to find the way to escape from the prosaic figure of a man, we asked God to give us that power through composing religious activities such as praying, meditating or even sacrificing. Nevertheless, soon after the Scientific Revolution in the 15th century and the Industrial Revolution in the 18th century, people tended to replace their spiritual beliefs with the expectation on answers they sought from science and technology where they can see the more explicit possibility of being beyond a man. Once we understood the basis of genetics from Charles Darwin’s Theory of Evolution (1859), we could see that the variation can be passed intact to new generations. Evolution allows the existence of heritable variability within a species to generate the differences between ancestral and descendant populations; that is to say, the next stage of human development is possible. Another mechanism that triggers the desire for mankind's advancement is information technology, including communication, computation, uploading and, of course, the internet. Information technologies provide access to resources and knowledge on a wide range of topics, which allows us to find rationality to support what we desire. Namely, if we discuss the offerings of science and technology within the framework of posthumanism and look at a human body as a realm of the human being, science allows us to inspect back into the deepest core of a human, while technology seeks to create the advanced products that solve problems and improve human life.

 

In Haraway’s book, Staying with the Trouble: Making Kin in the Chthulucene (2016), she devises Chthulucene as a new idea to describe the post-Anthropocene by challenging the figure of a man. Haraway proposes an era in which humans are harmonising with other species and ecosystems. Although she distances herself from posthumanism, as she states, ‘I am a compost-ist, not a posthuman-ist: we are all compost, not posthuman’ (Haraway, 2016, p.101). Her work is still primarily considered a useful starting point for examining these emphases. In her classic Cyborg Manifesto, she suggests that, ‘we are all chimeras, theorised and fabricated hybrids of machine and organism; in short, we are all cyborgs’ (Haraway, 1991, p.292). The figure of the cyborg threatens the fundamental boundaries that have long structured ways of understanding the world, through the opposition of human and animal, machine and organism, and physical and non-physical. However, the picture of the cyborg inevitably draws us to think about the transhuman, which does not challenge the figure of a man; instead, it is transforming a human into a superhuman. Therefore, in Haraway’s Chthulucene, she remains focused on a relationship between humans and animals to separate this from the frame of human-robot.

 

Chthulucene, the epoch in which refugees from an environmental disaster will come and assemble represents what comes from under as chthonic, especially the animals with tentacles; from spiders, octopuses, squids, corals to bacteria, coupled with underworld inhabited mythological deities such as Pachamama, Gaia, and Gorgons. Haraway refers to Van Dooren’s book, Flight Ways (2014), when she mentions the spider, Pimoa Cthulhu, who lives under stumps in the forest: ‘Nobody lives everywhere; everybody lives somewhere. Nothing is connected to everything; everything is connected to something’ (Haraway, 2016, p.31). The tentacular chthonic stands for the connection as the remaining humans realise that living with nature and being part of the ecosystem is important for our survival. Haraway emphasises, ‘The chthonic ones are not confined to a vanished past. They are a buzzing, stinging, sucking swarm now, and human beings are not in a separate compost pile. We are humus, not Humo, not anthropos; we are compost, not posthuman’ (Haraway, 2016, p.55).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Figure 1: Multispecies Cat's Cradle. Drawing by Nasser Mufti (2011) in the poster for Haraway’s Wellek Lectures in 2011

Taken from http://adanewmedia.org/2013/11/issue3-haraway/

 

The referral to James Lovelock’s hypothesis of Gaia in Haraway’s work supposes that the world that humans see is the world of human autonomy. We consider ourselves to be outside of nature, authorising ourselves to be centred-beings and classify every non-human by giving their names, as evidenced in the well-known quote of Protagoras, ‘man is the measure of all things’. Humanism holds that man is a part of nature and that he has emerged as the result of a continuous process. We firmly believe in the power of our race and self-production makes us neglect the essential roles of others. We are in a long-term symbiotic relationship that makes us no different from lichens. Since we are all lichens, we can be eradicated from the landscape of the earth; otherwise, we can learn to stay among the rocks and critters for living and dying well (Haraway, 2016). Therefore, her purpose in proposing the Chthulucene is to make kin between all living beings to establish new lines of respond-ability on Earth and all its habitants. By kin, she means something other/more than entities tied by ancestry or genealogy (Haraway, 2016). However, if we would go along with Darwin’s theory of evolution, it could be possible that all beings are already kin by genealogy as he suggests that all different species have evolved from simple life forms, developed from the first bacteria to the early modern humans.

Haraway’s interest in science fiction and storytelling can be seen in the uses of mythical character as a medium to explore her Chthulucene, which is based on scientific facts about symbiogenesis. Yann Martel uses a similar method of storytelling to narrate his story, Life of Pi (2001). Life of Pi challenges humanism and the value of rationalism by signifying the human-animal relationships between the sixteen-year-old boy, Pi Patel, and other animal survivors in one lifeboat floating on the Pacific Ocean, especially with the Bengal tiger, Richard Parker. Representing Pi, the protagonist, as a practising Hindu, Christian, and Muslim who later studies zoology and religious studies, attempts to bridge the gap between science and religion in this narrative. Thus, Pi already has three distinct survival principles to deal with: science, religion, and storytelling. Pi’s science and rationalist perspective is influenced by Mr Kumar, his biology teacher who is an atheist. Mr Kumar tells him that, ‘there are no grounds for going beyond a scientific explanation of reality and no sound reason for believing anything other than our sense experience’. In addition, he thinks that ‘religion is darkness’ and ‘God never came’ (Martel, 2001, p.17). Rationality in Mr Kumar’s notion somehow is taken too far; it impedes the full experience of joy in life and faith in the divine in Pi’s life, as he adopts three religions with a simple thought: ‘I just want to love God’ (Martel, 2001, p.66). Each of the religions Pi is adopting relies on a distinct narrative, which Pi defines as irrationality, emotion, and faith.

 

The animals in Life of Pi serve primarily as narrative tools rather than as characters within their own right, as Martel comments that, ‘the animals might embody certain traits. We think of tigers as being ferocious, etc. But to my mind, it was the other way around: the humans embodied certain animal traits’. Richard Parker is the manifestation of the identity Pi creates to survive the devastating loss he has endured and the cruel reality of being the only traveller on the ocean. Pi’s humanising of Richard Parker is more a comment on Pi’s own needs as a lonely human being in an extreme situation than on Richard Parker as a sentient individual. In my interpretation, Richard Parker plays a link between science and religion, rationality, and faith. Along Pi’s adventure, many sceptical appear. Although the narrative shows the relationship between human and animal, there is still a clear boundary between Pi’s space and Richard Parker’s space in the lifeboat. This idea is translated further in the film Life of Pi (2012) by Ang Lee, as we can see this opposition reinforces and manifests through physical boundaries in the lifeboat, which is split in half by the white canvas and bright red hull. Each corner alternately belongs to Pi, and Richard Parker represents the uncertainty in God in Pi’s perspective. The tiger’s function is to serve as a bond between the three distinct inter-related principles in which Pi commands his world within the framework of a coming-of-age story to eventually provide Pi with a sense of hope at the end of the novel. In the film Life of Pi, Pi as an adult says about this scepticism: ‘doubt is useful, it keeps faith a living thing’. Consequently, throughout the narrative, the human-animal boundary is maintained and reinforced. The boundary, in a sense, does not act as a barrier; instead, it acts as a relationship.

 

The novel illustrates the potential range of approaches to human-animal relations and to challenge humanism within the context of religion and science. In an interview with Jennie Renton, Martel says, ‘Science and religion don’t have to collide—I see them as complementary, rather than contradictory. Science can be a gateway to the greater mystery’ (Renton, 2005).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Figure 2: Picture from the Film Life of Pi (2012) by Ang Lee

Taken from https://www.vanityfair.com/hollywood/2013/02/life-of-pi-ang-lee-production-design-oscar-nomination

 

 

Similar to this, Haraway mentions in her book the story of Medusa and Perseus, a hero with the magic bag. She compares this bag with Ursula K. Le Guin’s carrier bag theory of fiction and natural-cultural history; Le Guin's theories and stories are capacious bags for collecting, carrying, and telling the stuff of living (Haraway, 2016). It contains stories, histories, theories, adventures, all kind of otherness, and, of course, Medusa’s head. This bag contains everything that is found on the way, except the holder himself. It provides the meaning to the hero’s ongoing life, but, on the other hand, this bag is always ready to explode and destroy the hero himself with the brutal weapons he has collected. However, this bag is disdained by the hero, and the last thing he wants to know is that his beautiful words and weapons will be worthless without a bag (Haraway, 2016).

 

I see similar collective stories in the carrier bag in the film written by Jerome Bixby, The Man from Earth (2005), directed by Richard Schenkman. The film is set in just one location and is still considered a sci-fi film. Additionally, the plot is composed almost entirely of dialogue. In one room with one big conversation, John Oldman, a departing university professor who claims to be a Cro-Magnon and has secretly survived for more than 14,000 years since the palaeolithic age, simply tells the stories of his life to his fellow faculty members. The film answers the basic questions of what it is to be a human in a world divided by boundaries, religion, class, colour, and so on, analysing the concepts of biology, religion, history, and anthropology through intellectual arguments between Oldman and his fellows. Oldman talks about his experiences, travels, discoveries, and when he studied with Buddha. He then claims that he is Jesus, which immediately challenges a many preconceptions that we are comfortable with, to the point that we take them for granted. The religious person grows nervous as his experiences begin to tread on dangerous territories, which shows that people often need an ideology to reinstate their faith in the goodness of being and we feel destroyed beyond the realm of our senses. Finally, Oldman confesses that he made the entire story up, which makes his fellows feel relief that they can stick to their old beliefs. In this film, we can see how we, living in a civilised society, react to change under the ambiguity between science and beliefs. We all live in the sublime confidence that we can somehow elude it and live in our comfort zone; however, the best way to deal with it is to internalise its existence. Science works precisely in this way. Religious and dogmatic fervour aside, the principle reason behind this was a significant, paradigm-shifting change that would have had people revise their existential beliefs, abandon whole new developments in science that were starting to take root and would have otherwise flourished, and find a new set of beliefs that adjust well with the new discoveries. Following Haraway’s statement about the Gorgons that turned men who looked into their eyes into stone, ‘I wonder what might have happened if those men had known how to politely greet the dreadful chthonic ones’ (Haraway, 2016, p.54). We must find the way to open and explore our carrier bag, look into the eyes of Medusa, and not become stone.

 

As A.W. Tozer states, ‘Nothing is complete in itself but requires something outside itself in order to exist’. The human being is somehow incomplete without a technological perspective supplementing their phenomenal biological self. Posthuman distress is predicated on the awareness of an inadequacy and the demand for technological systems themselves. Additionally, posthuman distress is also characterised by faith in the ‘inexhaustibility of the perceivable’ (Lyotard, 1991, p.17), or a general belief that there will always be more information to be translated, learned, or discovered. This information can only be made accessible through the advancement of technology.

 

There is a clear purpose in Haraway’s story, namely, that we should bring back mythology and re-conceive the meaning behind narratives to examine the integration in human and otherness that has been underlying for a very long time to strengthen the meaning of ourselves and the world in which we live. As Jack Hodgins says, ‘myth is closer to reality than history. While history is a collection of the facts, myth is the soul that surrounds those facts’ (Hancock, 1987, p.77).

 

It is easy to notice how religion requires faith. To say that storytelling requires faith is also make sense, as you have to believe that the story-teller is leading you to the right place. Furthermore, it takes as much of a spiritual leap to believe in science as it does to have faith in religion. Haraway’s writing uses a mixture of terms from a variety of cultures and mythologies. It brings up a quasi-spiritual and mythological mantle as she invokes Gaia and Medusa. Likewise, in Martel and Bixby’s stories, they use storytelling to imply the questions: what does it mean to be a human? What makes us human, and what should we do to stay human?

 

Even in a seemingly secular age, expressions of religion still fuel our technological aspirations and our perceptions of the ends to which advanced technologies and science might transport us. Although posthumanism is deeply bound to the spiritual realm, it offers many survival strategies in life. In light of ancient enlightenment, contemporary science, technology, and ecology, posthumanism is developed from an academic theory turned into a philosophy of life, which is a fundamental principle for people living in a shared ecosystem. In our current era, the Anthropocene, posthumanism is required to promote daily post-anthropocentric ethics of living in which spirituality appears as an indispensable resource for this awareness. ‘Envisioning desirable posthuman modes of existence is a path of self-discovery, once the self has been recognized as the others within. In a spiritual sense, humans have always been posthuman’ (Ferrando, 2016).

 

 

[1] En.wikipedia.org (2017). Kleshas (Buddhism). [online] Available at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kleshas_(Buddhism)#Three_poisons

[Accessed 17 Dec. 2017].

[2] Desire and the Spiritual Life: An Advent Reflection (2011). [Blog] Rev. James Martin, S.J. Author of Jesus: A Pilgrimage. Available at:

https://www.huffingtonpost.com/rev-james-martin-sj/desire-and-the-spiritual-_b_790488.html [Accessed 14 Dec. 2017].

 

 

References

 

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and M. Paranjape, eds., Critical Posthumanism and Planetary Futures. [online] Springer. Available at: https://link.springer.com/content/pdf/10.1007%2F978-81-322-3637-5.pdf [Accessed 17 Dec. 2017].

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http://criticalposthumanism.net/genealogy/religion/ [Accessed 17 Dec. 2017].

Hancock, G. (1987). Canadian Writers at Work: Interviews. Toronto: Oxford University Press.

Haraway, D. (1991). A Cyborg Manifesto: Science, Technology, and Socialist-Feminism in the Late Twentieth Century.

In: D. Haraway, ed., In Simians, Cyborgs and Women: The Reinvention of Nature. [online] Available at: http://faculty.georgetown.edu/irvinem/theory/Haraway-CyborgManifesto-1.pdf [Accessed 17 Dec. 2017].

Haraway, D. (2016). Staying with the Trouble. 1st ed. Durham and London: Duke University Press.

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http://scalar.usc.edu/works/posthumanism-essay-2017/index [Accessed 30 Nov. 2017].

Life of Pi (2012). [film] Directed by A. Lee. United States: Fox 2000 Pictures.

Martel, Y. (2001). Life of Pi. Canada: Knopf Canada.

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Pepperell, R. (1997). The Post-Human Condition. 2nd edn. Exeter, England: Intellect Books.

Schwalm, T. (2009). Animal Writing: Magical Realism and the Posthuman Other. PhD University of Canterbury.

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Virilio, P. (2000). The Information Bomb. 1st edn. London, England: Verso.

 

 

 

How Participatory Art Enabled Collaboration Between Contemporary Artists and the General Public in Thai Society

June Cholsiri/ MFA 2017

 

Since contemporary art emerged, one thing we notice that distinguishes it from the past is that there has been an expansion in the accessibility of art and art is therefore no longer limited to academic circles or in the form of ‘luxury goods’ that only the elite can possess. The blurred boundaries between social classes have led to more people interpreting art and less intellective restriction of the traditionally advantaged groups or institutions who can partake. Especially after the role of artist-curator was brought to light by the group of ‘Young British Artists’, arts have been moved out of the white cube or government-provided space of museums or galleries into alternative spaces and have strengthened a bridge between artist-art-audience-space. Consequently, it resulted in the participation of people in art not only as an audience but also as participants or sometimes co-artists. In other words, participatory art has created many kinds of role. Participatory art exists under a variety of overlapping headings, including interactive, relational, cooperative, activist, dialogical, and community-based art. As I am a Thai person, this essay aims to study the conception, processes, presentation and dissemination of participatory art and how it affects Thai society on a small scale to a large scale and the possibilities of this kind of art in the future. 

 

My composition rests on three case studies of Thai contemporary artists. Firstly, Rirkrit Tiravanija is a contemporary installation artist whose work explores the social role of artists and has been regularly cited by French curator Nicolas Bourriaud as exemplary of his conception of relational art. Secondly, I will discuss Wasinburee Supanichvoraparch’s annual Art Normal project, which is about creating a critical dialogue in the community in Ratchaburi province and finally, I will outline Sutee Kunavichayanont’s ‘The Truth to Turn It Over’ exhibition which considered the inclusion of condemning the political movement in Thailand which led to the contradiction of the group of cultural activists. These provided artists can be thematically examined following Michael Kelly’s writing in Encyclopedia of Aesthetics which states that ‘in broad strokes, participatory art can be considered to fall into three categories: relational, activist, and antagonistic. But while the motivations in the three cases are quite different as are the means, all depend on participation’.

 

 

Over the last decade, understanding in participatory moments has become commonplace and acknowledged as art and critical interest since the early 1990s (Bishop, 2014). From the simple public art events which are easy to get involved in, to the participation of audiences who were encouraged to volunteer to be a part of the art piece or to co-artist. The gallery-goer experience has shifted from passively viewing to touching, smelling, hearing, tasting and even taking part, moving from the exclusion to inclusion. Especially after this kind of art took place in established institutions such as public museums and galleries where there is still a consensus view that it is the main dominant influence on people and also the global art market. While at first, the participatory projects seem to operate and work against dominant market imperatives by diffusing single authorship into collaborative activities, questions have also been raised around how participants are framed and understood in participatory projects, or around how the artist can just nominate themselves for themselves as ‘the new tyranny’ describes who own the tools, chooses the topics and ultimately "shape and direct the processes”.

 

 

The tensions that exist in thinking around politicised art have been concerned with questions of control, power, choice and leadership since the beginning of the community arts movement in the 1970s. The practice of participatory art is also referred to as social practice, according to Claire Bishop’s Artificial Hells. Bishop declared that contemporary artists who work in a relational field are more focused on creating or repairing social bonds than creating a particular aesthetic, with the artists occupying the role of collaborator instead of the individual producer of objects. In contrast, Grant Kester criticises the terms of participatory art project in The One and the Many, by saying that it is about the use of spectacle and shock tactics in order to discomfort participants and viewers involved in public art projects, making them “viscerally aware of their own complicity in an oppressive specular economy” (Kester, 2011). These kinds of projects only maintain problematic assumptions and generalisations relating to the background or experiences already held by the viewer (Kester, 2011), and disclose through extensive interaction and shared labour, in which ‘the process of participatory interaction itself is treated as a form of creative praxis’. Therefore, there are many different ways of negotiating the relationships within the act of making art, but the core of them is to create something new and original, involving some degrees of authorial control of the artists and supportive contribution from the participants rather than the production of an extant work.

 

According to Nicolas Bourriaud’s Relational Aesthetic (1998), relational art encompasses "a set of artistic practices which take as their theoretical and practical point of departure the whole of human relations and their social context, rather than an independent and private space". This kind of artwork builds a social environment in which people come together to participate in a shared activity. Bourriaud claims “the role of artworks is no longer to form imaginary and utopian realities, but to be ways of living and models of action within the existing real, whatever scale chosen by the artist”.

 

 

The strong emphasis on social relationships in Thai culture have encouraged the growth of relational or interactional art as well, cited to the works of Thai artist Rirkrit Tiravanija, who was included by Bourriaud under the rubric of Relational Aesthetics. Tiravanija’s performance and installation seek to explore the connection between art and life, concentrating on the very act of eating; food preparation and distribution, and re-shaping conventional gallery spaces into makeshift kitchens. He was responding to the question of how to reconstitute works that were time-based, how to re-stage performative events and how to include the collaborative nature of the work in an exhibition. His installations attempted to create spaces for socialising and interaction—the public were able to experience art through pleasure and conversation. He offered the food to gallery visitors, so the work can be considered as activities rather than object-making, attempting to dissolve the institutional barriers of inert gallery spaces. The spectator’s role ceases to exist as Tiravanija’s performative art diminishes the boundaries of art viewing over passive spectatorship.

 

Kester takes resentment at Bourriaud’s assertion that artists such as Tiravanija, who he sees as emblematic of relational art, are establishing new and different ways of establishing intersubjective relations (Kester, 2011). That is to say, Bourriaud’s argument for this work seeks to reorient practice away from technical expertise or object production toward processes of intersubjective exchange. This work attempts to establish a boundary between “new” relational artists and a “long tradition of performance art and socially engaged collaborative practice” and thus “fails to convey the complexity and diversity of socially engaged art. (Kester, 2011)

 

Bishop is also critical of Bourriaud’s theory. She argues that these relational aesthetics are less concerned with intersubjective relationships than with “scenarios” and systems of a display (Bishop, 2014). These “scenarios” are considered inherently political because they have the capacity to produce positive human relationships (Bishop, 2004), although the actual quality, effect, or actual existence of these relationships is never examined or called into question (Bishop, 2004). Agreeing with Kester’s argument, she claims that space or events are programmed ahead of time and then set in place before the viewer (Wilson, 2007).

 

Kester and Bishop are both involved with the intention to find a set of criteria to assess participatory art. They acknowledged that participatory art exists on a continuative term, with a socially engaged community through the activity. Kester describes successful community arts projects as exemplifying a “pragmatic openness to site and situation, a willingness to engage with particular cultures and communities in a creative and improvisational manner, a concern with non-hierarchical and participatory art processes, and a critical and self-reflexive relationship to practice itself” (Kester, 2011). 

 

From participatory art that attempts to re-shape the role of the gallery by Tiravanija to the reversed effort of Wasinburee Supanichvoraparch, who pioneered the community-based ‘Art Normal’ project in the small city of Ratchaburi province in Thailand, in order to break down a conventional gallery’s boundaries and make art more accessible to locals by displaying various artworks in every area as part of their daily life. A citywide exhibition was created and shown to the public in December 2011, with Supanichvaraparch’s notion, ‘Being surrounded by art doesn’t automatically make someone an artist, but living in beautiful surroundings can stimulate imagination and creativity’, he attempted to solve the problem of visiting art galleries and museums in Thailand that is not a traditional activity among ordinary Thai people. As visual arts are generally perceived as high culture and exclusively for the wealthy, educated and those with a high social status, as a response, the Art Normal project has endeavoured to introduce that there is no need for artworks to only be placed in a frame in the gallery space. This project reduces the complication of understanding art by encouraging local residents to understand and become aware that art is part of their daily life. Due to socio-economic inequalities in Thailand, disadvantaged communities often have a weak social network with which to access information on job opportunities and community activities. Working on a project with the Office of Contemporary Art and Culture, Supanichvoraparch attempts to transform Ratchaburi into a contemporary art destination where art is everywhere to be seen in the city where the locals are familiar. This project presented the possibility for community members to create their artistic imagination in all sorts of places. Meanwhile, they can exhibit their artworks in their everyday environment, a place of familiarity and routine.

 

This project included a series of artworks of 124 artists, which were placed in 75 random locations with the concept that ‘Every house is a gallery and every place is an art museum’. The exhibition venues included coffee shops, restaurants, food stalls, beauty salons, grocery stores, butchers, on a local bus, on the rooftop of a ferry, on the walls of local grocery and Ratchaburi’s first hotel. The set of works consisted of sculpture, painting, photography, poetry and public graffiti, and local residents were also trained in painting, photography, and short films by artists and displayed the artworks in their homes or businesses. Therefore, many voluntary organisations are comprising of contemporary artists, community members of both the younger and older generations, and a network of professional artists.

 

Since the first edition of the community-based art project in 2010, writer and national artist in literature Prabhassorn Sevikul wrote a short story and the text was published by being painted along the bank of Mae Khlong river. Audiences had to walk the total of 3 kilometres to read the story. To the work of Sakarin Krue-on, Koi Kee Line Dance (2016), the video art-based documentary was made by the artist together with an Aerobic Dance club. It was made by these dancers and their affiliation to the outdoors as the space for the community. A shed structure with benches for the community members to come and sit and rest was also built, and Krue-on’s video was installed inside. The area has become like a public garden with potted plants donated by residents in the area.

 

After examining the Art Normal project, this public art event has contributed to community development which is the priority of the event. The trained locals have improved their potential for their creative skills, which has led to an increase in self-esteem and a strong sense of community pride. For the social dimension, the public art event has enhanced the relationship, social capital and a sense of collective identity through getting locals, professional artists, amateurs, arts organisations, and local government agencies engaged in this project.

 

Although the Art Normal project has created a distinctive identity for Ratchaburi, Wasinburee admits that the project has not always been received positively. Some locals who disliked the idea of displaying a collection of photos on the Mae Klong River said that Ratchaburi deserves to be a peaceful and clean city and that no fancy artwork was needed. It is noted that history and preservation of a legacy are often used as the foundation of most cities, but in times of inevitable change, art is often used as a means to preserve the old or find a way to update it and make it more relevant.

 

From the aspect of Supanichvoraparch, the role of art can be seen as a driver, motivating people in the city and revealing the strong social bonds in society. In contradiction, this kind of solidarity can drive the group of people in the political movement into protesting as well. As in Kester’s argument, the artists can use their position to instigate a participatory planning process, which eventually leads to blurring the lines between artistic practice, planning, education and political activism; and must be judged according to cautious, contingent criteria that blur aesthetics with ethics. While Claire Bishop argues that participatory art should function as a means for exploring discomfort, dissensus and antagonism.

 

From the positive outcome of participatory art to the negative, Sutee Kunavichayanont’s Thai Uprising, which was selected to be exhibited in the exhibition entitled "The Truth to Turn It Over” at Kwangju Museum of Art in South Korea by the curator Jong-young Lim. The show was organised as a tribute to the thirty-sixth anniversary of the Gwangju Uprising—a rebellion in 1980 which involved South Koreans taking up arms against government troops after they fired upon students at a protest.

 

Kunavichayanont’s work was one of the most controversial in this show and it broadly affected not only Thai artist society, but also international art society. ‘Thai Uprising’, featuring protest-themed posters and T-shirts based on those distributed during the 2013-14 rallies, has provoked the Thai social media sphere to light up with debates. Kunavichayanont's critics contend that his support for the People’s Democratic Reform Committee (PDRC) movement that disputed elections, handed down an elected government and helped create the conditions for military intervention, so it is hardly the symbol of a champion of democracy. Because of this protest, the government of Yingluck Shinawatra, prime minister at that time, was replaced by a junta in the ensuing coup in May 2014. 

 

Kunavichayanont addresses social and political issues through his interactional art installations, which invite people to partake in the making of the artwork itself. With the joining of literally more than a million of people including students, citizens, activists, educationists and those who believe in the same goal as the protest, Kunavichayanont provided the stencil paper blocks, and colour spray painted on T-shirts and posters for fundraising. These protest signs were deliberately carried and held up with pride in the form of the parade by protesters. In consideration of this matter, the works of Kunavichayanont can be considered as the manifestation of power that transformed to a sign of support and solidarity from people who held them. The arrogance and inclusive power that was raised up and disseminated by being able to touch the work that once belonged to the artist created the social bond in the group of supporters. Incidentally, if this series of work were framed and displayed in the conventional gallery, it would probably be a passive work in a mundane space. Therefore, we can consider that the process is more important than the product, this project works because of the relationship between like-minded rebels, through the same time and place.

 

After this, Kunavichayanont’s works were selected and exhibited in ‘The Truth to Turn It Over’ when the PDRC movement has stopped. A group of artists and academics sent an open letter to Gwangju Museum of Art to protest against the participation of ‘Thai Uprising’, in which they said this work is “anti-democratic” and opposed to human rights and free spirit. This letter is endorsed on behalf of the Cultural Activists for Democracy (CAD) group compromising of 118 people. It states: “Rather than promoting democracy and civilian rule, his project at [the museum] recites his contribution to the recession of Thai democracy such as posters using stencil techniques, T-shirts for PDRC supporters, and so on. Following this, the curator of this exhibition, Jong-young Lim had to publish the declaration letter, in regard to the political situation behind, along with the ‘Thai Uprising’ pieces of Kunavichayanont.

 

Critics are used to writing about a body of work by an artist. Audiences are interested in who a work is “by.” So, making art through participation and ascribing authorship to a group—especially a group of nonprofessional artists—has created difficult issues of authorship and interpretation. Artists and critics invested in this art form often contend that a social and aesthetic value exists in creating a participatory process that moves away from the individualistic model to a more socially horizontal structure. This Thai art scene can also remind people when they could express themselves more freely over time. The debate about the selection of Kunavuchayanont’s work added a useful discussion and much-needed criticism in Thai art, although it heightens the tension between groups of people. 

 

In conclusion, art can be active in the development of tangible networks and interpersonal links not only in the form of art events or activities but participation in art is also seen in seminars, workshop and art exhibitions where the dialogue can be exchanged. The space around participatory art provides opportunities to interact, socialise and develop a relationship through discussions among audiences. Much of the creative work make an increasingly significant contribution towards a transformation in our society’s thinking towards arts and vitality for all of us. Therefore, to encompass all that art can be, it should not be limited to any specific impact measures or outcomes. There is much practice to be done to unpack the effective complexity and political efficacy of collaborative art. However, it may be necessary to perceive and take these adjustments into life, the possibilities and accessibility will expand for creative and expressive lives for all ages and stages of life. As we can see above from the three projects of three Thai artists, that the works all encourage the public to question the ‘water they live in’ through artists' repurposing of social and cultural objects and symbols that are part of everyday life.

 

 

 

 

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