27 September 2023

The History of Press Graphics 1819–1921:
The Golden Age of Graphic Journalism


The History of Press Graphics

Alexander Roob’s The History of Press Graphics 1819–1921: The Golden Age of Graphic Journalism, published earlier this year by Taschen, is a stunning 600-page survey of illustrations from nineteenth and early twentieth century newspapers and magazines. The book features hundreds of images, many of which are full-page and double-page reproductions, and includes a comprehensive bibliography.

A prologue outlines the early history of press graphics, from the late sixteenth century onwards, though the book’s starting point is 1819. This was the year of the Peterloo massacre in Manchester, England, and William Hone and George Cruikshank’s pamphlet The Political House That Jack Built, published in response to the tragedy, which “established the era of pictorial journalism”.

Roob examines the technical developments in printing over the period, from wood engraving and lithography in the 1870s to photoxylography a century later. There is also extensive coverage of caricature and political satire, including Charles Philipon’s cartoons of the French King Louis-Philippe.

La Caricature Le Charivari

Philipon was arrested for treason after drawing Louis-Philippe as a plasterer in La Caricature on 30th June 1831. At his trial, he mischievously demonstrated that the King’s likeness could be discerned in almost anything, even a pear, and that fruit became a symbol of Louis-Philippe in subsequent illustrations by Philipon and others. On 27th February 1834, Philipon’s magazine Le Charivari (‘hullabaloo’) published a front-page editorial about the King in the form of a calligram, with the text typeset to resemble a pear.

Philipon’s pear sketches, and a caricature of Louis-Philippe as Gargantua by Honoré Daumier, are reproduced in The Art of Controversy. There is a chapter on press graphics in History of Illustration. The History of Press Graphics 1819–1921 is published in a folio format, the same size as Taschen’s Information Graphics, History of Information Graphics, Understanding the World, and Logo Modernism.

03 September 2023

Letter to Freedom



When most of us say ‘or I’ll eat my hat’, we don’t expect to be literally force-fed our headgear if we’re proven wrong. Architect Duangrit Bunnag, on the other hand, is clearly a man of his word.

Duangrit was a prominent Pheu Thai supporter who firmly believed the party’s categorical assurances that there was no backroom deal with the military. On 27th March, he tweeted: “ถ้าเพื่อไทยจับมือกับ พปชร. ผมจะยอมให้เอาขี้ปาหัว” (‘if Pheu Thai joins forces with Palang Pracharath, I will let people throw poo at my head’).

Pheu Thai broke its pledge, and invited the military parties Palang Pracharath and United Thai Nation to form a coalition government. But unlike Pheu Thai, Duangrit kept his word, releasing a statement titled Letter to Freedom (จดหมายสู่อิสรภาพ) pledging to allow people to fling excrement at him.

Yesterday at exactly 3:14pm, Duangrit sat in a protective suit and mask for precisely eleven minutes, while people flung cow dung at him. The timing had political significance, as Pheu Thai’s coalition consists of 314 parliamentary seats and eleven parties, and the 4kg of dung represented his opinion of the four parties at the heart of the coalition: Pheu Thai, Bhumjaithai, Palang Pracharath, and United Thai Nation.

Duangrit designed the Jam Factory and the original Thailand Creative and Design Center. Yesterday’s event—which was both public self-flagellation and scatological performance art—took place at Mirror Art, part of the Mirror Foundation charity in Bangkok.

29 August 2023

Letter to Freedom


Letter to Freedom

Architect Duangrit Bunnag posted a written statement on X this morning, pledging to honour an earlier ‘I’ll eat my hat’-style comment. Duangrit, prominent a Pheu Thai supporter, had been so confident that the party would never go into coalition with the military that he pledged to allow people to fling excrement at him if he was proved wrong. On 27th March, he tweeted: “ถ้าเพื่อไทยจับมือกับ พปชร. ผมจะยอมให้เอาขี้ปาหัว” (‘if Pheu Thai joins forces with Palang Pracharath, I will let people throw poo at my head’).

Despite categorical assurances to the contrary, Pheu Thai invited the military parties Palang Pracharath and United Thai Nation to form a coalition government. Unlike Pheu Thai, Duangrit has kept his word, in a statement titled Letter to Freedom (จดหมายสู่อิสรภาพ).

In his open letter, Duangrit (who designed the Jam Factory and the original Thailand Creative and Design Center) announced that he will turn excrement-flinging into performance art on 2nd September. At precisely 3:14pm, for exactly eleven minutes, he will subject himself to whatever is thrown at him, in an event at Mirror Art, part of the Mirror Foundation charity in Bangkok. The timing of the event has political significance, as Pheu Thai’s coalition has 314 parliamentary seats and eleven parties. The gallery will supply 4kg of cow dung, representing the four parties at the heart of the coalition: Pheu Thai, Bhumjaithai, Palang Pracharath, and United Thai Nation.

28 August 2023

Artn’t



Two performance artists have each been given suspended sentences, after being found guilty of violating the lèse-majesté law and the Flag Act. Vitthaya Klangnil and Yotsunthon Ruttapradit—both Chiang Mai University students and cofounders of the group Artn’tdisplayed a modified version of the Thai flag at CMU in 2021. The charges against them were filed by Srisuwan Janya, head of the Constitution Protection Association pressure group.

The Flag Act prohibits “any act in an insulting manner to the flag, the replica of the flag or the colour bands of the flag”. The Status in Statu (รัฐพิลึก) exhibition featured a roll of fabric modified in a similar way to Artn’t’s flag, but avoided prosecution. Supamok Silarak’s documentary Red Poetry (ความกวีสีแดง) followed Vitthaya during the police investigation into his protest art.

08 August 2023

Red Poetry



Supamok Silarak’s film Red Poetry (ความกวีสีแดง) will be shown in Chiang Mai this weekend, at a rooftop screening organised by Untitled for Film. The feature-length documentary profiles the activities of performance artist Vitthaya Klangnil, who formed the group Artn’t with fellow student Yotsunthon Ruttapradit. A shorter version—Red Poetry: Verse 1 (เราไป ไหน ได้)—was shown last year at Wildtype 2022.

The documentary, filmed in 2021, shows the level of endurance and commitment Vitthaya invests in his protest art. A durational performance—sitting in front of Chiang Mai’s Tha Pae Gate for nine full days—led to his collapse from exhaustion. In another action, he climbed onto Chiang Mai University’s main entrance, repeatedly slapped himself in the face, and jumped into a pond below. When he reported to the police to answer charges of sedition, he vomited blue paint outside the police station. The film ends with Vitthaya carving “112” into his chest, in protest at the lèse-majesté (article 112) charges he faced after he exhibited a modified version of the Thai flag in 2021.

Red Poetry will be screened on 13th August at Chiang Mai University’s Department of Media Arts and Design, followed by a post-screening discussion with the director. This is its third under-the-radar screening in Chiang Mai, the city in which it was filmed: it was previously shown at Chiang Mai University Art Center and at Suan Anya. There are currently no plans to show it in Bangkok, where it might attract unwanted attention. It would almost certainly be cut or banned if submitted to the censors, not least because in one sequence, during the Tha Pae Gate performance, Vitthaya and a royalist passerby debate the hypothetical scenario of Thailand as a republic.

01 August 2023

Blood Is Blood


Gay Blood Acrylic Paint

In 2018, artist Stuart Semple created screen printing ink with trace elements of blood donated by gay men, which he used to print Blood Is Blood t-shirts with the slogan “THIS SHIRT IS PRINTED WITH THE BLOOD OF GAY MEN.” Last year, Semple began selling tins of the screen print ink itself, along with bottles of pen ink and acrylic paint, and canisters of spray paint, all containing traces of blood.

Bloody Art


Numerous artists have used blood as a medium recently, including Kristian von Hornsleth, Tameka Norris, Vincent Castiglia, Elito Circa, Ryan Almighty, Julia Fox, Axel, Ruby Martinez, Vinicius Quesada, and Maxime Taccardi. Andrei Molodkin uses blood to create sculptures and portraits satirising political figures. Pamela Schilderman (Ecology Now) used her blood and other bodily fluids to raise awareness of ecological damage. John O’Shea (Black Market Pudding) made black puddings from blood extracted from live pigs.

Products containing blood have also been commercially released, albeit in limited quantities. Tony Hawk sold Liquid Death skateboards decorated with paint containing his blood, and Nil Nas X sold Satan Shoes, modified Nike trainers containing a drop of his blood. Five albums have been released on blood-filled vinyl: Shout at the Devil (by Mötley Crüe), Maniacult (by Aborted), the Carrion soundtrack (by Cris Velasco), The Flaming Lips and Heady Fwends (by The Flaming Lips) and the Friday the 13th soundtrack (by Harry Manfredini, rereleased by Waxwork Records). Gamnad737’s album Lets Kill [sic] was released on a blood-splattered CD.

Breaking Taboos


The most powerful artistic uses of blood have been attempts to destigmatise the blood of gay men. Semple’s ink and paint project was a protest against the ban on sexually active gay men donating blood in America. R.J. Arkhipov (Visceral) wrote poetry in blood to highlight the UK’s equally discriminatory blood donation restrictions. The magazines Audio Kultur (‘audio culture’) and Vangardist printed issues with blood donated by HIV+ men. Jordan Eagles has created installations (Blood Mirror and Blood Equality) from blood donated by gay men.

Menstrual blood has been tabooed for centuries. Artists including Ingrid Berthon-Moine, Portia Munson, Jen Lewis (Beauty in Blood), Christen Clifford (I Want Your Blood), and Sarah Levy have painted with their menstrual blood to challenge the taboo and normalise menstruation. In Levy’s case, she painted a menstrual blood portrait of Donald Trump, in reference to his sexist comment that journalist Megyn Kelly had “blood coming out of her—wherever”.

Thai Art and Politics


Several Thai artists have painted with blood. Pornprasert Yamazaki has shown his blood paintings at three exhibitions: Suicide Mind, Currency Crisis, and Swallow. Darisa Karnpoj (Vein/Vain) painted portraits in blood diluted with water. Kosit Juntaratip (Allergic Realities) used his blood to reproduce iconic news photographs. Manit Sriwanichpoom (Died on 6th October) soaked autopsy photographs in blood to commemorate the victims of state violence.

Blood has also been used by political protesters in Thailand. Protesters from Thalu Wang sprayed the Pheu Thai headquarters with pig’s blood after the party withdrew from Move Forward’s anti-military coalition. Thalufah splashed pig’s blood onto a sign at the Sino-Thai Engineering and Construction headquarters, in protest at the policies of health minister Anutin Charnvirakul. United Front for Democracy Against Dictatorship protesters painted pro-democracy banners in blood and wrapped them around the Democracy Monument.

31 July 2023

Portrait Gallery


Tanawin Aimla-or Napasin Samkaewcham
Napasin Samkaewcham Nathapong Samarngkay

The upper-left image is a digital portrait by Tanawin Aimla-or from this month, and on the upper-right is a digital portrait by Napasin Samkaewcham from earlier this year. Below these are two older digital portraits: in the lower-left is another picture by Napasin, from last year; and in the lower-right is one by Nathapong Samarngkay from 2021.

22 July 2023

The Colors of October


The Colors of October

The Colors of October: 50 Years of 14th October, 50 Artists (สีสันแห่งเดือนตุลา ห้าสิบปีสิบสี่ตุลา ห้าสิบศิลปิน) opens at g23 in Bangkok on 29th July. The exhibition marks the fiftieth anniversary of the 14th October 1973 protest and massacre, with works by fifty contemporary artists, and runs until 30th August. Surprisingly, the participating artists (with only one exception, Chokchai Tukpoe) do not depict the events of the protest itself, nor do they refer—even symbolically—to the violence of the event. Instead, there are numerous paintings of bucolic landscapes, plants, and clouds.

In October 1973, a group of students campaigned against military corruption after a decade of dictatorial rule by Thanom Kittikachorn. A dozen campaigners were arrested, prompting a rally at Democracy Monument by 2,000 Thammasat University students calling for their release. Within a week, the number had swelled to 500,000 people, the largest mass protest in Thai history. King Rama IX indicated his support for the movement, and assured protest leader Seksan Prasertkul that their demands would be met. The protest was successful, as Thanom was dismissed as prime minister and sent into exile, though the military shot and killed seventy-seven protesters.

The last exhibition commemorating the massacre, 14 ตุลา ผ่านสายตาศิลปิน (‘14th October through artists’ eyes’), was held on the thirtieth anniversary of the event. That exhibition featured only seven artists, though several of the works on show were produced in the immediate aftermath of the massacre and commented directly on the tragedy that unfolded. These included Tang Chang’s haunting self-portrait of the artist’s bloodstained face and chest; and Pratuang Emjaroen’s Dhama and Adhama (ธรรมะ-อธรรม), which depicts bullet holes on the face of the Buddha.

15 July 2023

Desire


Desire

Ohm Phanphiroj’s new photography exhibition Desire opened today at VS Gallery in Bangkok. The exhibition is split into two parts, on different floors of the gallery, and runs until 1st October (extended from 23rd August). (Desire is also the title of a compilation of Ohm’s erotic short films, available on DVD.) On the ground floor are Ohm’s nude portraits of fashion model Nicholas Mamedia, collectively titled Desejo, para Nico (‘desire, for Nico’), the artist’s visual expressions of desire for his muse.

On the upper floor, the dynamic is reversed, as the photographer—or his feminine alter ego—becomes the object of desire. For this series, Gina’s Journey, Ohm took a self-portrait as a ladyboy, known as Gina. (Almost exactly a century earlier, Marcel Duchamp created his own female persona, Rrose Sélavy.) Posing as Gina online, Ohm solicited nude photos from dozens of bi-curious men, whose selfies are now on display.

Ohm Phanphiroj Rrose Selavy

Ohm’s work has always been controversial—his video Underage was withdrawn from another Bangkok gallery a few years ago—and Desire is no exception. The images submitted by Gina’s unwitting admirers raise privacy issues. Many of them are also incredibly graphic: Desire is one of only a few exhibitions in Bangkok to feature such sexually explicit content, the others being Shotbyly’s Boy x Therapy, Thunska Pansittivorakul’s Life Show (เปลือยชีวิต), and Tada Varich’s Story of the Eye.

24 June 2023

BangLee Everything Everywhere


BangLee Everything Everywhere Horror in Pink No. 2
Hidden Agenda No. 5 Spanky Studio
Sun Rises When Day Breaks By the Time It Gets Dark
Deja vu Selfie Series

BangLee Everything Everywhere, a retrospective of works by Anuwat Apimukmongkon opened at the Head High Second Floor gallery in Chiang Mai on 18th March. The exhibition has since been extended, and now runs until 8th July (significantly later than its original closing date of 29th April). Anuwat paints self-portraits of his alter ego BangLee in a variety of styles—such as Cubism and Impressionism—imitating major modern artists like Picasso and Klimt. He has also copied photographer Manit Sriwanichpoom’s Horror in Pink (ปีศาจสีชมพู) series, by inserting himself into news photographs of the 6th October 1976 and ‘Black May’ 1992 massacres.

One particular image from 1976, taken by photojournalist Kraipit Phanvut, shows police colonel Watcharin Niamvanichkul aiming his pistol while nonchalantly smoking a cigarette. Anuwat, Manit, and other Thai artists have produced numerous parodies of this photograph. Spanky Studio superimposed a clown’s head over Watcharin’s face. In Déjà vu (เดจาวู), Headache Stencil replaced the pistol with a futuristic ray gun. For his Selfie Series (เซลฟี่ ซีรีย์), Chumpol Kamwanna depicted himself taking a selfie while adopting the same pose as Watcharin. The pose was also restaged in Anocha Suwichakornpong’s film By the Time It Gets Dark (ดาวคะนอง) and View from the Bus Tour’s music video Sun Rises When Day Breaks (ลิ่วล้อ). Pornpimon Pokha’s Hidden Agenda No. 5 (วาระซ่อนเร้น หมายเลข 5) recreated the image in watercolour.

17 June 2023

Boy x Therapy


Boy x Therapy

Shotbyly’s exhibition of male nude photography Boy x Therapy opened on 8th June, though not at a traditional art gallery. Instead, his work is on display at Krubb, one of Bangkok’s gay saunas.

A bathhouse is an appropriate venue for Shotbyly’s homoerotic imagery and, as a semi-private space, it’s able to display his full-frontal photographs. In fact, Boy x Therapy is the most sexually explicit photography exhibition in Bangkok in recent memory, and the only comparable examples are Thunska Pansittivorakul’s Life Show (เปลือยชีวิต) and Tada Varich’s Story of the Eye, both from more than a decade ago.

Shotbyly is a pseudonym for Patthakarn Sadubtham, and his exhibition runs until 14th July. Ten additional photographs have been added since the opening; some postcards are also on display, which are available to buy in a limited edition of eight sets.

14 June 2023

Apocalypse Now:
The Lost Photo Archive


Apoclaypse Now: The Lost Photo Archive

Photojournalist Chas Gerretsen’s picture of Augusto Pinochet, posing in sunglasses after launching a coup in Chile, is one of the most iconic political portraits. Gerretsen is also known for his work as a stills photographer on the set of Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now, and his images of that film appear in Apocalypse Now: The Lost Photo Archive. (The book’s subtitle is a publisher’s embellishment, as Gerretsen’s archive is held at the Nederlands Fotomuseum, as seen in the documentary short Dutch Angle: Chas Gerretsen and Apocalypse Now.)

Peter Cowie’s Apocalypse Now: The Book is the definitive guide to the making of the film, though its illustrations look no better than photocopies. The Lost Photo Archive, with its full-page, colour images, is an excellent visual companion to Cowie’s book. Coppola provided a rather ambivalent blurb for The Lost Photo Archive, disputing some of Gerretsen’s recollections—“I don’t remember many of the things talked about in this text quite in the same way”—but he also praised “Chas’s stunning photos”.

Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker’s Apocalypse, one of the greatest behind-the-scenes films ever made, documents the making of Coppola’s masterpiece. The work of another stills photographer, Steve Schapiro, appears in two books published by Taschen: Taxi Driver and The Godfather Family Album. Hollywood Movie Stills, by Joel W. Finler, is a history of stills photography.

01 June 2023

Who? สุเทพ เทือกสุบรรณ
(‘who is Suthep Thaugsuban?’)


Who?

Who? สุเทพ เทือกสุบรรณ (‘who is Suthep Thaugsuban?’) was published in 2014, at the height of the People’s Democratic Reform Committee protests led by Suthep Thaugsuban. Suthep, a veteran MP, attempted to bring Bangkok to a standstill, laying the groundwork for a military coup. His PDRC also blocked candidates from registering for the 2014 election, and sabotaged the election itself.

The comic book Who? สุเทพ เทือกสุบรรณ is an idealised biography of Suthep, presenting him as a role model for children. If he seems a completely unsuitable subject for such a comic, remember that his anti-democratic protest movement was supported by many middle-class Bangkokians, and their children were presumably the book’s target audience. (Of course, the comic whitewashes Suthep’s reputation for corruption, such as the 1995 land-reform scandal, portraying him as a victim of false accusations.)

Former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, against whom Suthep campaigned relentlessly, was also involved in a vanity project similar to Who? สุเทพ เทือกสุบรรณ. Thaksin commissioned a series of seven animated cartoons, ตาดูดาวเท้าติดดิน (‘looking at the stars, feet on the ground’), which gave an equally hagiographic account of his life story.

25 May 2023

ไทยถลอก (ปอกเปิก)
(‘Thailand is badly bruised’)


Somchai Katanyutanan Thai Rath

Yingluck Shinawatra became prime minister after winning the 2011 Thai general election, and was removed from office by the Constitutional Court in 2014. The events of her premiership were fodder for veteran political cartoonist Chai Rachawat (the pen name of Somchai Katanyutanan), whose work appears in the country’s most popular newspaper, Thai Rath (ไทยรัฐ). (Chai also illustrated The Story of Tongdaeng/เรื่อง ทองแดง, King Rama IX’s biography of his pet dog.) Chai’s cartoons from 2011 to 2014 are collected in ไทยถลอก (ปอกเปิก) (‘Thailand is badly bruised’), published in 2014.

Yingluck sued Chai for defamation in 2013, after he called her a “อีโง่” in a Facebook post. (The term roughly translates as ‘stupid bitch’.) A book from the same period by cartoonists Buncha/Kamin describes Yingluck using equally offensive language, though it was the viral nature of Chai’s Facebook comment that prompted the lawsuit. Chai occupies the opposite end of the political spectrum to his fellow Thai Rath cartoonist, Sia, who has also published books of his cartoons.

อรุณตวัดการเมือง
(‘political Arun’)


Arun Watcharasawad

อรุณตวัดการเมือง (‘political Arun’), a collection of political cartoons by Arun Watcharasawad, was published in 2012. Arun is a cartoonist for the liberal Matichon (มติชน) newspaper and Matichon Weekly (มติชนสุดสัปดาห์) magazine, and the book features his work from 2010 to 2012. It also includes การ์ตูน-การเมือง-ไทย (‘cartoons-politics-Thailand’), a fascinating chapter on the history of Thai political cartoons by Parnbua Boonparn.

Matichon Weekly

Typically, Matichon Weekly devotes almost a full page to each of Arun’s cartoons, and it’s easy to see why: these are impressive works of satirical art. Like most political cartoonists, Arun employs recurring visual metaphors—shark-infested waters seem to be one of his favourites—though his work also references classical mythology and artists such as Hokusai.

24 May 2023

รวมการ์ตูนการเมือง แหลเพื่อพี่
(‘cartoon collection for everyone’)


Buncha/Kamin

Buncha and Kamin are political cartoonists for the right-wing Manager (ผู้จัดการรายวัน) newspaper. Their book รวมการ์ตูนการเมือง แหลเพื่อพี่ (‘cartoon collection for everyone’), released in 2013, is an anthology of cartoons satirising former prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra’s government. Manager is published by Sondhi Limthongkul, who has friends and enemies in high places: he narrowly survived an assassination attempt in 2009, and he received a royal pardon in 2019 after being sentenced to a twenty-year jail term for bank fraud.

Sondhi co-founded the People’s Alliance for Democracy movement against Yingluck’s brother, Thaksin. So it comes as no surprise that Buncha and Kamin’s cartoons are scathing in their criticism. In their commentary for the book, they don’t mince words, describing Yingluck as stupid and her administration as evil. Their cartoons also stray beyond satire into downright insult, such as a macabre fantasy sketch showing Thaksin being murdered.

Buncha/Kamin Buncha/Kamin

The cartoons mocking Yingluck’s supporters are even more problematic: they are portrayed as a herd of buffalo. Kwai (‘buffalo’) was a term of abuse adopted by the PAD, who dismissed the red-shirts as an uneducated mob undeserving of the right to vote. (Research in After the Coup confirms the prevalence of this patronising attitude.) Tepwut Buatoom’s picture book Buffaloes Dream of Being Human (ควายอยากเป็นคน) subverts the ‘buffalo’ stereotype, and the term has been reappropriated in a t-shirt design.

07 May 2023

Election Through Poster


Election Through Poster Wasin Pathomyok

Thailand will hold a general election on 14th May, and advanced voting took place today. (More than a million voters have signed a petition calling for the resignation of the Election Commission, following various administrative errors.) The election looks set to be a de facto referendum on the royalist military establishment, with coup leader Prayut Chan-o-cha’s United Thai Nation party facing challenges from the progressive Move Forward and the populist Pheu Thai.

To encourage people to vote and make their voice count, iLaw and Bangkok Through Poster organised the Election Through Poster exhibition at the Kinjai Contemporary gallery in Bangkok. The exhibition featured pro-democracy posters by artists such as Uninspired by Current Events alongside submissions from design students. One of the highlights was a poster by Wasin Pathomyok, which summarises the last fifteen years of Thai politics in a single comic strip.

Two weeks before the 2019 election, the Thai Raksa Chart party was dissolved by the Constitutional Court, following its nomination of Princess Ubolratana as a candidate for prime minister. No such bombshells have occurred in the run-up to this year’s election (at least not yet), though the military sent an ominous signal on 4th May with a Facebook video of an army band playing หนักแผ่นดิน. This hateful propaganda song denounces anyone not pledging loyalty to the nation, religion, and monarchy as traitorous ‘scum of the earth’, and the army also played it before the 2019 election.

Election Through Poster opened on 23rd April and closed at the end of the month. Graphic design has always played a key role in Thailand’s pro-democracy movement, from the United Artists’ Front of Thailand (แนวร่วมศิลปินแห่งประเทศไทย) billboards in 1975 to the ‘vote no’ campaign posters from the constitutional referendums of 2007 and 2016.

03 May 2023

Life and Death:
Art and the Body in Contemporary China


Life and Death: Art and the Body in Contemporary China

Think of a shocking or scandalous work of art. An artwork that’s provocative, controversial, or offensive. Whichever painting, photograph, or installation you have in mind, its shock value almost certainly pales in comparison with the art in Life and Death: Art and the Body in Contemporary China. Silvia Fuk’s book, published in 2013, is the first to examine the use of human remains, ashes, and blood by contemporary Chinese artists who “challenge the boundaries of art, morality and law to the extreme.” The book features rare photographs of some of these artworks, though they’re all black-and-white.

Yang Zhichao used a mould to create dice made from his own congealed blood, in a performance titled Macao (澳門). Sun Yuang and Peng Yu collected unclaimed ashes from crematoria, and mixed them with plaster to sculpt One or All (一個或所有), an architectural column. They also transfused some of their own blood into the bodies of Siamese twins, for a performance titled Link of the Body (連體). For Ruan, Xiao Yu grafted a baby’s head onto a bird’s body. (Ruan, which also appears in The Museum of Scandals, is a Chinese neologism that the artist coined to represent this chimera.)

Ruan

Zhu Yu is China’s most extreme contemporary artist. He suspended a human arm from the ceiling for his installation Pocket Theology (袖珍神学 图片; not included in Life and Death). For Intellectual Brain (全部知識學的基礎), he puréed six human brains and sold the resulting paste in jam jars labelled ‘do not eat’. Infamously, he ignored his own advice with Eating People (吃⼈), photographs of him apparently eating a foetus. Even more offensive was Sacrifice (献祭), for which he artificially inseminated a surrogate mother and seemingly fed their aborted foetus to a dog. (Did Zhu Yu use real foetuses in his work, as he claimed in the Channel 4 documentary Beijing Swings? This is difficult to verify, though Fuk takes him at face value.)

Art such as this, transgressive to the point of illegality, has very few equivalents. Perhaps the only comparative example is Rick Gibson, who was convicted of outraging public decency after exhibiting two tiny foetuses as earrings at a London gallery. Fuk doesn’t cite Gibson in Life and Death, though she does discuss other less extreme artists in relation to the Chinese works in question. Araya Rasdjarmrearnsook’s morgue videos are examined in detail, and she suggests Marc Quinn’s Self (a cast of the artist’s head made from his frozen blood) as an inspiration for Macao. Ruangsak Anuwatwimon’s sculpture Transformations, made—like One or All—from human ashes, is not included.

30 April 2023

Red, Yellow and Beyond


Red, Yellow and BeyondRed, Yellow and Beyond

Photojournalist Vinai Dithajohn’s exhibition Red, Yellow and Beyond is on show at two adjacent Bangkok galleries: Red and Yellow at VS Gallery and Beyond at Cartel Artspace. Vinai’s photographs cover more than fifteen years of political polarisation in Thailand, from 2005 to the present day. Red, Yellow and Beyond opened on 22nd April, and runs until 2nd July.

At Red and Yellow, which visitors enter through red and yellow curtains, photos of yellow-shirt and red-shirt rallies are hung on opposite walls of a corridor, so that the two opposing groups face each other. This echoes Vinai’s exhibition last year—ทางราษฎร์กิโลเมตรที่ 0 (‘the people’s road, 0km’)—which featured images of student protesters opposite a photo of a soldier. Beyond is dominated by a portrait of a student protester at twilight, which occupies an entire wall of the gallery. One of the most striking photos shows Panusaya Sithjirawattanakul delivering her taboo-breaking speech calling for reform of the monarchy.

Another photojournalist, Nick Nostitz, also covered the red-shirt and yellow-shirt movements, and the red-shirt protests were documented in two books published by Same Sky and Read Journal. The recent student protests are the subject of a handful of photobooks: No God No King Only Human, End in This Generation, There’s Always Spring (เมื่อถึงเวลาดอกไม้จะบาน), EBB, and #WhatsHappeningInThailand.

29 April 2023

Shit:
An Investigation


Shit: An Investigation Piero Manzoni

Andres Serrano’s Shit exhibition, held in 2007, featured mural-sized images of feces excreted by various animal species (and the artist himself, titled Self-Portrait Shit). The feces in question appears in close-up, photographed against brightly coloured backdrops. The exhibition catalogue, Shit: An Investigation, reproduces all sixty-six shits.

This is not the only controversial and potentially offensive subject tackled by Serrano. In fact, his work has broken all kinds of artistic taboos, with self-explanatory photo series such as A History of Sex, The Morgue, and Bodily Fluids. He is arguably the world’s most provocative photographer, and an image from his Immersions series—Piss Christ, a crucifix submerged in urine—is the most famous artwork to be accused of blasphemy. His subject matter may evoke shock or disgust, though his glossy, vibrant images are also visually appealing; in fact—as is the case with Piss Christ, for example—their transgressive nature is often not apparent until the title is revealed.

The use or depiction of shit is rare in modern art, though there are a few examples besides Serrano. Piero Manzoni sold cans apparently containing 30g of his own feces, Artist’s Shit (Merda d’artista). Chris Ofili affixed balls of elephant dung to his Upper Room paintings (and, controversially, The Holy Virgin Mary). Gilbert and George photographed their feces for The Fundamental Pictures and The Naked Shit Pictures. Santiago Sierra’s Anthropometric Modules installations were blocks of dried human excrement, collected and moulded by scavengers in India.

A handful of artists have also used excrement as a paint medium. In 2015, New York artist KATSU painted a portrait of Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg using his own excrement. This year, British artist Dominic Murphy painted a portrait of Vladimir Putin with a dog turd. Werner Härtl has been painting with cow dung in Germany for more than a decade. Pablo Picasso’s granddaughter Diana Widmaier has claimed that he used his daughter Maya’s feces to paint an apple for a 1938 still life.

The work that’s most similar to Serrano’s Shit catalogue is Cacas: The Encyclopedia of Poo, a photobook credited to Oliviero Toscani though in fact photographed by his sister, Mariosa Toscani Ballo. Like Shit, Cacas also features close-up images of the excrements of various species, though they are photographed against clinical white backgrounds.