HEIDI MORTIMER HICKS
Sometimes you encounter a work of art that you fall in love with, art that resonates in a deep and subconscious way.
That’s how I felt when I saw Kawita Vatanajyankur’s art for the first time in a hangar during the Venice Biennale; I was fascinated by the explicit paradox, the colours, but above all by the interesting elements that I perceived only in the moment. Kawita’s compositions are decisively physical, while at the same time they’re conceptual.
I was forgetting, we’re talking about video art.
Before anything else, I’d like you to explain the creative input/incipit of your work.
In what way does the socio-political context become a part of your art?
I have been focusing on several issues ever since I started making experimental and performative video works. I was interested in how society and belief has shaped who we are and what we do today within the materialistic world of consumerism, the world where the industries rule. For example, by using a female body (myself) to transform entirely and perfectly into everyday objects, I was exploring how the media including social media, magazines, advertisement, etc. is influencing females to look in a certain way, to objectify themselves, to believe that physical appearance is important as it would bring respect, power and wealth while intelligence is not so much mentioned in the media. I question if the society’s idea of ‘beauty’ is one of the main cause for sexual objectification and I wonder if females are like sculptures moulded by the society’s mould.
As females are trying very hard to fit in that specific category of ‘beauty’ by plastic surgery, chemical beauty products and medicine, for example, they will eventually look the same and eventually lose their uniqueness and identities. If gender equality has to start with how females identify and see themselves, respect themselves thoroughly of who they really are as a person, then it will be much more difficult if they lose sight of their identity.
Looking at my work, I enhance female’s strength and power and I would reassure that the strength comes from within ourselves. By holding on less tightly to the society’s perception of who we are as a person, we would realise who we truly are and understand that each individual female shall value themselves by their strength and power within, we shall develop ourselves psychologically and emotionally as a person. Once we understand and appreciate ourselves of who we are, we will respect ourselves, be respected by others as well as respecting other human beings by their inner quality.
While I was focusing on food and fruits that we consume every day, I was questioning how food has been selected for us because they have the ‘perfect shape’. Cows, chicken and pork are injected with hormones to grow faster while bananas that aren’t bent enough, small chicks that are not in perfect shape will automatically go to waste. As the industries need to produce more food, the hard, continuing and never-ending job will go to the poor labourers’ hands. Because the industries need more, these labourers are forced to be physically exhausted and are often not being treated right. Problems like labour exploitation and human trafficking on the fishing boats are Thailand’s primary concerns at the moment yet we all seem to disregard the cause of the problem. In this materialistic world we live, people often value another by their role in work, position and career and they often ignore the existence of the labourers working in factories or fishing boats. The fact that they are often ignored, we are pushing them away outside of our circle and disregard them as a whole person, allowing them to be untreated. I wonder, if our actions are responsible for such harmful treatment to these people if we ourselves and our consumer behaviours are the cause of labour exploitation?
My work is focusing on valuing labourers and bringing their hard work to light. I believe in all equality and that it needs to start by respecting ourselves as well as others.
Your body is inserted into daily gestures. You become a medium.
A fruit juicer, an ice crusher, some scales.
Repetitive movement is founded upon a persuasively chromatic foundation.
How does your body’s muscular tension become an expressive force while simultaneously a social critique?
I believe that in today’s world, where we are governed by money and money is a tool for our survival, we ourselves are slowly becoming a tool to gain money. Because of this, we are working continuously every day like machines while in this technological world, the machines are replacing our jobs. My work parody a slippage between human and machines.
When it comes to the performative act, our bodies have amazing abilities to adjust and transform, just like we are slowly transforming into a never-ending and repetitive machine in our everyday working life. My body was practised to become a particular tool or machine within 3-4 weeks period until it could be transformed into a specific tool within 3-4 minutes. I used repetition as a way to convince my physical body and my mind that I am truly a part of the object until I can’t separate myself from it until my body is eventually merged within the object and acting as a perfect working tool or machine.
Repetition is also a meditative stage for my performance. Meditation is aimed for us all to lose negativities, pain and anxiety and be at present. I used meditation as a way to let go of my old self, disappear completely and transformed myself into a newer and stronger version of myself. I was at that present moment, where my physical body and my mind became more powerful as I found the strength within. I found that this is in fact, a key for us all to value and respect ourselves and a key for us all to be at present and not constantly running for the society’s concept of happiness.
The role of colour. Is there a psychology of colour in your art?
As I mentioned earlier about how we are all bombarded by advertisement in TV commercials, social media, magazines and billboards every day. My vibrant colours represent how advertisement of products are alluring and candy-coated. Going to supermarket and stores, we often buy these products without acknowledging the hard work, exploitation and violence behind their beautiful packages. We are fooled by the products’ colours and shapes and ignored the amount of chemical that is slowly poisoning us.
What’s the adjective that best describes your art?
The mind is made up of memories and experiences that give you a history. What’s an event from your past that, in some way, can be connected to what you are or what you do now?
My father who was a famous celebrity and CEO of a large company in Thailand died when I was only a teenager. He was very well-known by his creativity. I believe that the pressure of his hard work, lack of sleep and lack of healthy diet caused his death. Ever since I was a child, my father worked 20 hours a day while the society expected him to produce the best and most creative work. His death was known as a ‘wake-up call’ to everybody who is only working without any life balance and his book that focused on the ‘true importance of life’ which he wrote a few months before his death was only popular for a while. When he died, I could hardly cope and asked a lot of questions about ‘work’. I questioned why we are all valued by our positions, our career and our work which is leading us to keep working non-stop to gain more money and respect. Many people wish to be rich and famous and are running non-stop to achieve it. It is not a bad thing, but have you ever wondered what this is all about? Is this a true meaning of life? Why do we think that by gaining more and having more will lead us to happiness? I question if whether we are a form of slavery craving for the manufactures’ food and all other kind products, craving for the society’s concept of a ‘good life’ which keeps us busy making money in order to afford all of those.
Making video works about ‘work’ is a way for me to heal myself from my father’s death and I want to continue my father’s wish, to be a reminder to keep balanced, appreciate and value ourselves of who we are today and be happy now. At the moment, I believe that life is about inner self-development, how we grow as a person and how we contribute to the world and society starting by respecting others and believe in all equalities.
If you had the famous “magic wand”, what would you do or what would you change?
Have you ever wonder that if we were living to another world, will the system be the same as our world? The world’s system today has been developed from our history while some belief and system has been changed over the period of time by revolutionists, social movement activists and groups of people that wanted to change the system of the world. I truly value those activists who believed in human rights and who would die so the society could change for the better.
However, there is one thing that I wish to change if I can and that is to change the society’s concept of human conditions in which nowadays, comprised with action, work, and labour. Currently, we all believe that our own quality and value is a result from our hard and never-ending work routine, a result of how much money we could gain. We are all attracted by the concept of having and owning materialistic items, of consuming more and more.
I want to start by convincing that the materialistic world of consumerism is shaping our everyday actions and shaping our lives. It is a reason that we are all running in a never-ending hamster wheel trying to reach the society’s ideology of happiness and success. It is a reason that ‘work’ and ‘money’ is most important, that our positions are important which then leads us to disrespect others with lower status and positions. If we all could somehow escape this delusional system by wanting less, consuming less and live our lives sufficiently, simply but full, perhaps this is the key for everyone to be truly happy, to respect and be respected as well as help restoring the world’s environments.