Arts & Culture

Kamin Lertchaiprasert: We Come from Nothing and We Go to Nothing

From the Studio Series, DISINI Festival 2018

Words by
b-side staff

Running until 23 September, which is this weekend, DISINI festival and Chan + Hori Contemporary presents its second solo exhibition as part of the From the Studio series. This time, the festival features esteemed Thai contemporary artist Kamin Lertchaiprasert and the exhibition holds the title, “                        ”.

It follows on from a series of work called Emptiness that Kamin developed in his studio in Chiang Mai, Thailand, over the last three years. The series spans all sorts of mediums and are presented in various forms such as paintings, sculptures, video installations and works on paper. This particular exhibition is an extension of Kamin’s outdoor installation, The Ground, on exhibit at Malan Road.

The Ground consists of a tree trunk, an elephant and a figure in meditation — three life-sized papier-mâché sculptures in transparent vitrines stacked around 8m high. Kamin took 18 years to produce this work, and it speaks of the relationship between man and nature — their interdependence. In light of global warming and the gradual disintegration of our planet, this work questions the excessive consumption that is disrupting the natural order and is contributing to a hollowed human existence.

To Kamin, art is a ritualistic practice, and it is a form that enables greater understanding of oneself, nature and the world, as a whole. We are all one, with our existence intertwined. Besides this, what other beliefs of Kamin inform his artistic practice?

A lot of your works are made from natural or recycled resources. Share with us why this range of materials are chosen for your works.

I’ve mostly chosen materials that are easily found in my daily life. I think it is about seeing the value in useless things, which common people don’t. It is valuable to me to use those kinds of materials for creation. With this attitude, I believe that whatever you do in your life, it will be creation or art.

With the effects of global warming getting increasingly severe, do you think they may affect the way art is made in the future?

I think the way of making art is about the idea of creation (it depends on each situation/circumstances) and is not about solid materials. It could be time, history, politics, economics, ecology etc. Art in the future should not create more new objects, but it should create new meaning or new understandings of ourselves, society and nature.

One work I remember fondly is Sitting (Money). Given your brief experience as a monk and as a committed Buddhist now, do your religious beliefs play a big role in your art?

The beginning of my works (from Problem-Wisdom, 1995 to Sitting (Money), 2007) were influenced by Buddhist philosophy. But later on, I became more focused and interested in Truth. Of course, Truth appears in Nature and every science such as Philosophy, Religion, Zen, Taoism, Physics, Economics, Ecology etc. Religions are based on beliefs, but my artworks are based on the Truth and my process of creation in the present moment becomes my ultimate goal.

What is it about the concept of emptiness that compels you to make art?

In my opinion, emptiness is the origin of creation. If you create art from knowledge or consciousness, it is from the conditioning that you already have in your attitude. There would be right and wrong opinions (a dualistic state) because you are self-centric. From that, whatever you create from your knowledge or consciousness, it would always create conflict within yourself or society. But if you create art from an empty mind, without being self-centric, the work will be more spontaneous and reflect and become the whole of nature.

What was the process of making The Ground like?

First, it was from the question to myself about how much waste (paper) from the forest does one use in life. I used the paper waste in my house to make three living things, namely a tree, animal and human, because they cannot live without nature. If trees were all destroyed, we can no longer exist. This work seeks to urge people to be aware of how we live in our everyday life.

Share with us the establishment of the land foundation with artist Rirkrit Tiravanija and the philosophy behind the initiative.

The original idea goes back to 1998, during “the economic crisis”. It made me become aware of how to survive without selling my art pieces because I did not want to be dependent on the art market. Also, I was interested in natural farming. When I met Rirkrit in Chiang Mai, we shared our common belief that we wanted to create a platform for self-sustainability and creative sharing among like-minded friends. It was more like a retirement home at the beginning.

After we had more and more people join and share ideas and participate in our activities, in 2004, we decided to convert the land project to a land foundation. From then on, we set up the fundamentals for the foundation, which are:

  1. Self Sustainability: we support natural farming; we can live independently of the art market.
  2. Self Learning: we support Vipassana meditation; by first understanding ourselves, we can then understand others.
  3. Self Communication: we create the platform to work together, art projects are not focused on creating art objects, but the essence of creation is to share personal opinions with others and blending/exchanging different cultures/fields of knowledge, to understand each other and live peacefully in society.

Now with rising sea levels and countries such as Singapore running out of land, will this affect human life? How so?

We come from nothing and we go to nothing. It is nature’s way. In real nature, there is no right or wrong. Only in human minds do the concepts of right and wrong, good and bad, exist. If we set humans as the centre of existence, the whole of nature will go the wrong way. But in nature’s way, it always adapts itself to find a balance in every moment. It is miraculous and beautiful.

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