(Subconscious Sewing: Thai painter Narissara Pianwimungsa’s Threadwork – in conversation)
Art Radar interviews Thai artist Narissara Pianwimungsa about her oeuvre’s shift from painting to embroidery.
After a notable break from making art, Narissara Pianwimungsa returns to the art scene with a gallery show that explores her transition from painting to embroidery, the parallels between the two art forms, and how this new foray serves as a way to address the artist’s long time preoccupations.
In her latest solo exhibit entitled “A New Interpretation of the Paradoxical World” at NOVA Contemporary in Bangkok, Thai artist Narissara Pianwimungsa resorts to the craft of embroidery to reflect on questions that still plague mankind, despite living in the era of information technology. Examples of these questions are: “What’s the meaning of life?” and “Why do we feel lonely?”
Philosophical by nature, these inquiries are hardly discussed in public, but as the artist points out, they are inevitably imprinted on people’s faces. In this exhibition, Narissara Pianwimungsa translates such expressions to stitched animal forms that range from mammals to various creatures of flight.
Running at Nova Contemporary until 31 May 2017, “A New Interpretation of the Paradoxical World” is the first solo that Pianwimungsa has mounted after many years of not producing art due to a personal tragedy. And since Pianwimungsa is a skilled painter, this exhibition is seen as a break from the discipline she has long engaged in. The artist, however, argues embroidery to be an expansion of her painting practice. Casually working with thread and calico as if it were just pen and paper, Pianwimungsa is able to express her thoughts and feelings with much sincerity.
Born in 1974, Narissara Pianwimungsa has been exhibiting her art since 2000. She received her BFA in Painting from Silpakorn University in 1996, and chose to pursue further studies, receiving her MFA in Painting from the same university in 2004. Her awards include the 15th Silpa Bhirasri Creativity Grants (2016) and the Purchase Prize Award of the International Print and Drawing Exhibition (2003). Prior to “A New Interpretation of the Paradoxical World”, she mounted solo exhibitions in Bangkok’s Galerie N and Art Republic galleries.
“A New Interpretation of the Paradoxical World” also demonstrates how craft continuously lends itself to contemporary art, and how contemporary art is concerned with nostalgia. Moreover, this solo show reveals the varied interests of the artist’s, such as Japanese anime and psychoanalysis, which are manifested in unexpected ways in her art. She expounds on the influence of her personal interests in her chat with Art Radar.
Art Radar is curious about your transition from painting to embroidery. What factors contributed to your change in media? Did you have any formal training in embroidery or is this activity something you have engaged in recent years?
First of all, I would like to thank you for your good question. I believe that attitude is more important than the media I use. Art (for me) is borderless; painting can be anything. Embroidery has a longstanding connection with everyday life: (just take a look) back to the simple ways in the roles of human activity. (And, then in) the 1970s, feminist artists turned to embroidery to make a statement, which transformed it from being considered as craft to being art.
Although I had no formal training in embroidery, I have always been interested (in it), (but) I only became passionate about embroidery after my father’s death. There is a belief that all pockets of the deceased must be sewn closed, a task which I undertook myself. After this, I realised that sewing can help me express my feelings.
Could you talk about the process behind your embroidered works? How has your training and education in painting influenced your thread work?
The process behind my work is straightforward, I prepare the calico, apply a rough sketch, paint some body parts and then start sewing spontaneously. Coming from a contemporary painting background, I consider this medium not to be different from sewing. Instead of a brush, I use a needle; and instead of paint, I use thread.
Your past solo exhibitions “Mellon Colle” and “Heart Core” have been dominated by the image of the human body – often depicted by circular shapes with big and expressive eyes. In your current exhibition, viewers see animals – animals that represent the feelings of man. Why did you choose to depict animals in “A New Interpretation of the Paradoxical World” instead of actual people?
I have been interested in psychoanalysis for a long time. Sigmund Freud explains in The Interpretation of Dreams that dreams are a way of expressing what the conscious mind has the inability to deal with and are often portrayed in animal form.
Humans and animals have had a long history and they are embedded in our subconscious. I believe everyone has dreamed of animals, whether tamed or untamed, being associated with people, which is why I use the animal form. (Animals) are easily relatable and I do not want to represent any specific individual (in this exhibition).
The pairs of eyes depicted in your works, whether belonging to humans or animals, are always bold and direct. Why so? Does this have anything to do with the traditional saying that it is only the eyes that speak the truth?
I think there are many sayings regarding the eyes and their importance spiritually; however, none of these have had a great influence on me. As a young girl, I was always interested in Japanese manga and anime. Its characters are often illustrated having vivid and striking eyes. Maybe this has had the most substantial effect on my work.
Another commonality between your embroidered works and paintings are the dominant black and red hues. What do these colours mean to you?
There is a lot of research of about the use of black, white and red being the first colours we recognise when we are born. This is ever-apparent in advertising, playing on people’s deep-set instincts.
When I am working on my art, I never think about the colours I use. I express myself through my subconscious. Your question has really made me analyse why! Perhaps black comes from being in the womb, in darkness, red from the blood surrounding my feotus and white, the first vision, as I opened my eyes to the world.
Embroidery has long been associated with ideas of healing, renewal and fate. What lost ideas and thoughts would you like to revive in “A New Interpretation of the Paradoxical World”?
Nostalgia is what I am aiming for. [I’m] transporting [audiences] back to a time where the clock ran slower, giving people a chance to slow down, breathe and once again know themselves.
As an artist who has been exhibiting since 2000, where do you think embroidery fits in the Thai contemporary art scene?
I think, due to the rise in popularity of the Thai contemporary art scene and its ever-expanding borders, embroidery is perfectly placed to make a bold impact.
~ Javelyn Ramos