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FLOATING REPLICANTS

Prof. Dr. Apinan Poshyanonda
Co-Founder and Artistic Director of Bangkok Art Biennale

In the space of simulacrum there are many floating replicants. Suspended in midair with tubes pierced in her pink skintight bodysuit, 'Major' played by Scarlett Johansson grasps for air. In Ghost in the Shell directed by Rupert Sanders, she is one-of-the-kind cyborg with human brain. In the futuristic world full of cyborg geishas, replicants and terrorists, cyber enhancement is manipulated to gain control and power. 

Major is more wonderful than Wonder Woman and Super Girl because she is half human, half replicant, she is super strong. Her body ripped open by explosives can be mended instantly. But it is her mind that is vulnerable. Major recalls her memory of the past: trauma of near death and love for her mother. 

Female power culminates in the elegant body of major. Scarlett Johansson took the role of Motoko Kusanagi in manga series was a new challenge in Japanese history of male heroes.

In Ghost in the Shell, Johansson with dyed black hair and slightly slanted eyes is epitome of power and femininity. She is dialectical pole of Hollywood white male super heroes. Her strength and perseverance are symbolic of female resistance as well as seduction. 

The female body as presentation of endurance and sexuality in the history of performance art has been wide ranging. Michel Foucault's History of Sexuality, Kate Millet's Sexual Politics and Germaine Greer's Female Eunuch had considerable impact on feminist theory. Female artists experimented with performance and body that challenged mainstream art as white male dominance. 

Marina Abramovic, Carolee Schneeman, Orlan, Ana Mendieta, Guerrilla Girls and Della Grace have used their body as challenge to rigidity of power status in art and social hierarchy. They searched for alternative ways of expression through body and performance, meditation, self-infliction, surgery, suffering and organ manipulation. 

Asian female artists have also extended the limits of artistic expression in remarkable ways. Yahoo Kusama, Shiego Kubota, Kim Sooja, Lin Tianmiao, Nalini Malini, Amanda Heng, Chiharu Shiota, Melati Suryadarmo, Arahaimai, Pinaree Sanpitak, Araya Rasdjarmreansook are among female artists considered outstanding in Asia. They question the dynamic relation between men and women through female body and art practice that became widely debated. 

Their art has led to shifting to paradigm from male dominance to female resistance. Challenging the stereotypical image of Asian woman as subordinate and vulnerable in male-dominated society, they transformed their body as cultural terrain and gender-related space. No longer the object for the gaze, the female body interpreted as a domain to be confronted and inspected for hidden behavior of repression. 

Kawita Vatanajyankur is a rare breed. At a glimpse of her performative video, she could be mistaken as a freaky, slant-eyed replicant floating in saturated colorful background. Trapped in confined space, she is like a frustrated woman at home immersed in domestic chores. The burden of household responsibility in cooking, cleaning, caring and washing is transformed by Vatanajyankur into performances of passion, strength and endurance. 

Vatanajyankur appears on video in enigmatic postures and actions. Like a super human/cyborg with extraordinary strength, she floats precariously squeezing lemons with her jaws, dusting the floor with her head, snapping on clothes lines, swallowing water from funnel, carrying loaded laundry baskets, and bombarded by watermelons. Vatanajyankur's strong message that recur in her performative video focus on consumerism, labor and voyeurism. 

The viewer peeps like a voyeur at multiple Vatanajyankurs on TV screens. Mundance and menial matters are made to be spectacular happening. Burden of labor is overcome by replicant images of the artist tackling household chores. Full of energy, several morph-like images of Vatanajyankur lure the onlooker's gaze into mesmerizing spectacles. The spectator scrutinizes with fascination the gradual process of transformation and wonders how the performances are captured on video. Who is responsible behind the camera? How is the artist tied in Knots and hung in the air? Is she aware of the viewer's voyeuristic gaze of her body as object of desire? Curiously, there are many versions of Vatanajyankurs and we are not sure which one is real. 

Unlike kimono-clad geishas, uniform maids and school girls in bondage suspended by knotted ropes in photographs by Nobuyoshi Arakai, Vatanajyankur manipulates her own body as a domain where her actions take control. In fact, she is not the subordinate female in submission instead a symbol of dominance and seduction. 

In the era of consumerism and fashion, Vatanajyankur's video art is comparable to fetishistic branding and advertisement of female body as commodification. In Splashed, she introduces frozen fish, trays of ice crystals, red vinyl gloves and fish hooks as her props. Squeamish and macabre, Vatanajyankur like a bait in fleshy costume with spiky hook caught in her mouth is on display. Dead fish are cold stiff on the floor. 

After a moment, the viewer realizes that Vatanajyankur is silently sending cold message of beauty, seduction and death. She is no bait. In fact, the real bait is the one who is hooked to the screen consuming her ostentatious and flamboyant display.