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“WE MAY, THEREFORE, SUGGEST THAT THE AGE OF CONSUMPTION, BEING THE HISTORICAL CULMINATION OF THE WHOLE PROCESS OF ACCELERATED PRODUCTIVITY UNDER THE SIGN OF CAPITAL, IS ALSO THE AGE OF RADICAL ALIENATION. COMMODITY LOGIC HAS BECOME GENERALIZED AND TODAY GOVERNS NOT ONLY LABOUR PROCESSES AND MATERIAL PRODUCTS, BUT THE WHOLE OF CULTURE, SEXUALITY, AND HUMAN RELATIONS, INCLUDING EVEN FANTASIES AND INDIVIDUAL DRIVES. EVERYTHING IS TAKEN OVER BY THAT LOGIC, NOT ONLY IN THE SENSE THAT ALL FUNCTIONS AND NEEDS ARE OBJECTIVIZED AND MANIPULATED IN TERMS OF PROFIT, BUT IN THE DEEPER SENSE IN WHICH EVERYTHING IS SPECTACULARIZED OR, IN OTHER WORDS, EVOKED, PROVOKED AND ORCHESTRATED INTO IMAGES, SIGNS, CONSUMABLE MODELS.”
Baudrillard, Jean. 1970. The Consumer Society: Myths and Structures. p 191.
You may not know her name, but you are for sure familiar with her bright, colourful artworks evoking consumerism or the female condition. Although Thai artist Kawita Vatanajyankur is best known for her video performances shown on television or giant screens all around the world, the current exhibition at the Gallery Seescape also includes two live performances and photographs. Whoever has already encountered her artworks, can ask themselves the question: “Is Consumerism Depicted in Art a Relevant Critique of Contemporary Society and Culture?”
Could Kawita’s name be added to the list of artists from this online article of Widewalls? Can her approach be compared to the well-known works of Spanish artist Santiago Sierra (b. 1966), which involve hiring labourers to complete menial tasks? Having an answer requires to consider some recurring elements of her art. In the background of her videos or photographs, Kawita uses bright colours similar to those marketing utilizes on advertisements to encourage mass consumption, especially in brochures, posters or magazines. Talking about colours alone is not exactly right, as she takes over the monochrome, almost minimalist aesthetic often seen in fashion-related advertising. Not unlike Martial Raysse (b. 1936) or Barbara Kruger (b. 1945), it is Kawita ́s intention to play with the codes of advertising to denounce working conditions inside factories, as well as the methods of media communication. Although Kawita colors the White Cube in a similar fashion to the video Six Colorful Inside Jobs (1977) by John Baldessari (b. 1931), Kawita, in her appropriation of methods and places of advertising, is also looking to get out of the White Cube by occupying the big advertising spot screens near shopping centres. In her own way, she subverts standards of advertisement, not unlike the artists of Brandalism, an anti-advertising movement founded in July 2012 in London. In accordance with her approach in the second performance of this exhibition, which will lead to the creation of a painting, Kawita immerses herself into the matter of the colour, here red, in line with the French Yves Klein (1928-162) (blue) or Singaporean Lee Wen (1957-2019) (yellow). By experiencing the texture of colour with her body on silkscreen, her approach is closer to Gutai Group artist Kazuo Shiraga (1924-2008) who in his battle with the mud, created a work on the ground. Nevertheless, Kawita is committed to an art with social demands, far from the goals of “art for art’s sake.” She does not advocate violence or revolution but dialogue between the various protagonists in the society. Besides the articulation of the symbolic of colours, it is necessary to understand how she reaches her aims through the visuality of her photographs or videos. Kawita’s videos are built on a double repetition highlighting the vicious circle of the world of mass production at the origin of consumerism. First of all, her performances are based on a repetition movement as she re-enacts the same action over and over again. This repetition on screen is amplified by the loop of the video, which incessantly repeats this action. In doing so, Kawita becomes a factory worker, who performs the same everyday gestures over and over again before hurting herself or becoming crazy, as does Charlie Chaplin (1889-1977) in his movie Modern Times (1936), where the latter denounces systems of scientific management such as Taylorism and Fordism.
During live or video performances, Kawita endures pains and suffering highlighting that of people working in the shadows, to remind her audience of them. Some will say that she is naive, others idealistic … but Kawita strongly believes that art can make a difference, can change the society. While her elders – Marina Abramović (b. 1946), Carolee Schneemann (1939-2019), or Ana Mendieta (1948-1985) – used nudity to shock, provoke, or free the woman from the male artist’s model, Kawita made the choice to put on an outfit that is more like a “workwear”, showing here that her objectives differ from them.
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