MACHINIZED

Stills Gallery, Sydney, Australia

In Machinized, Kawita Vatanajyankur is a tool, a moving part in the machine. She transforms herself into food production equipment in performance videos that restage processes such as boxing eggs and weighing leafy greens. Like her previously celebrated works, this new series is graphic and glorious, sharing the same eye-catching allure that enamors us to ads. The confronting nature of her endurance performances, however, interrupts this seductive surface.
The repetitive and arduous tasks that Vatanajyankur performs parody a pervasive slippage between human and machine, and foreground the forgotten body within a technologically accelerating world. Beyond this literal translation, these gestures also make visible the invisible mechanisms that govern women’s everyday labour in her birthplace of Thailand. In both contexts, paring seduction and confrontation proves a powerful device in Vatanajyankur’s hands—a Trojan horse for tackling entrenched attitudes toward gender, equality and work.

 
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In The Scale of Justice (2016), for instance, the artist becomes a traditional ‘beam scale’, balancing hanging baskets from her arms and feet. Against the jewel-coloured backdrop of sapphire pink, the baskets fill up and overflow with luscious green veg while we watch as her balance and composure are increasingly tested, her corporeal and psychological limits measured. Vatanajyankur’s self-deprecating humour is also seductive.

In Egg Holder (2016) she even invites her face to be egged. Aiming to catch them in her mouth in this ill-fated feat, her yoke-covered face is displayed over half a dozen screens.

These performances are slapstick, colourful and absurd: bells and whistles to disguise careful choreography, extraordinary skill and acute social critique. By maintaining a ‘happy smile’ while pushing herself to extremes, she pays testament to female grace and resilience in the face of injustice and invisibility. Amid the pretty colours of fresh food, however, this feminine fortitude is also presented as poignant and complex. It is an unpalatable reminder of the self-inflicted violence—of body and mind—that comes with our compliance to certain social norms.

 
 

Vatanajyankur’s deliberate self-objectification suggests that our bodies are a medium for submission but also for resistance. This brave, beautiful and playful work frees her from a culture of compliance but also from her mind. As she explains, it turns her body into sculpture.