Internationality in contemporary art

Art Academic Seminar of ASEAN Countries:

Roles of Art in ASEAN Contemporary Context

1-3 February 2012
At Chiang Mai University Art Museum

Internationality in contemporary art (difference in similarity and similarity in difference):
First of all, we should establish mutual understanding and common definition of the term ‘Internationality’ and ‘Contemporary art’.

To me, I think there are three definitions for the term ‘Internationality’.

The first definition: Internationality, as the coordinating point among cultural differences, is a type of group-representation as seen from artists being recognized or known at an international level. However, I would like to avoid providing an explanation, at least in this seminar, as it is a matter related to an individual within a structure of several factors in the art world, such as marketing, public relation, personal relationship, and so forth. These, as a result, are involved in politics in the art world. Despite of this, not all successful artists can have the same quality.

The second definition: Internationality, representing natural existence of similarity in difference, which appears in child art like those created by children from all cultures and nations will similarly and naturally be demonstrated in pure, free, and straight forward forms, and not be influenced by any artistic doctrines.

The third definition: Internationality with respect to unique identity existing in cultural diversity – identity of each race, such as Thai arts, Japanese arts, American arts, and African arts, will be demonstrated in different forms in accordance with particular lifestyles and cultural and traditional belief of each society.

The next question is that what is internality as the coordinating point among cultural differences? Also, the second question is whether or not value of unique identity is internationality.

Cultural differences are caused by geographical environment, resulting in development of adjustment to problem solving as for survival, and manifest in a form of an idea and belief, which, hence, have become ways of life of people in each society, and eventually creates cultural difference. These, however, are differences with respect only to external factors, while internal factors still contain similarity, that is, value of human being in ourselves and our society, regardless of races, cultures, religions, and social classes. We all are the same in that we have experienced happiness, suffering, love, compassion, and selfishness. This is nature as they already exist in humans in every society of all ages.

Even though there are cultural differences, we all have the same problem that is environmental pollution as in water and air, and natural disasters, as well as problems on economy, poverty, food shortage, epidemics, and war which have been increasing in their impacts on humans. Presently, people have not yet been able to successfully solve such problems. This is not attributed to a lack of knowledge or insight into these problems nor to a lack of financial funds, but rather to a lack of love and compassion for others.

“The next question: What is contemporary art?”

Again, I would first establish mutual understanding of the term ‘Art’ in my own definition. I believe that art is a learning process which provides the understanding of ourselves and our society, as well as nature. If my definition is employed, contemporary art should, therefore, refer to any contemporary activities occurring in daily life as for the learning process that helps us to establish the understanding of the said. And, if so, can activities conducted by the Volunteering Group for Thailand Recovery (Siamarsa Group), or Architects for communities, or people who went on hunger strike to protest against injustice, or NGOs become contemporary art (ready-made culture)?

(If these activities have been set out for the learning process and establishment of the understanding of nature, culture, and society did not result from instinct) These activities in daily life would not have been different from a toilet created by Marcel Duchamp (a use of a ready-made object as an artwork) or street cleaning and planting of 7,000 oak trees performed by Joseph Beuys (who represented a social issue through his artwork so as to improve society, so called “Social Sculpture”) in modern art world. For the post-modern art world, we have seen love making and cooking becoming an art from a work created by Jeff Koons (Pseudo Event is a simulation of a situation based on an actual one) and by Rirkrit Tiravanija (Rational Aesthetics which is an exploration of experience through an art exhibition space where participants are part of a creation of particular artworks)

What is the difference between activities in the lifestyles and contemporary artworks? For me, there are no physical differences. If there is one, it would exist in a variety of thoughts and senses, which we call intention, process and a purpose of carrying out an activity based on learning process as for stepping across limitation of the past knowledge in order to establish better understanding of nature. Such behavior has long been existed along with humans, from the Stone Age, the Fire Age, and the Iron Age to the Technology Age, to the present.

This is an example that enabled me to have better understanding of the said ideas. Once, I had a chance to visit Niigata in Japan. I have learned an impressive solution, initiated by local people, to geographical problems. Niigata is a coastal prefecture with the area 2.5 meters below the sea level. This prefecture has always faced flooding situations, as well as other natural disasters, as there is a large crooked river flowing into the sea. This river had caused such floods. Around 200 years ago, people constructed a shortcut for the river to flow into the sea by boring through a mountain, and a waterway beneath the river in order to solve the flood problem. Also, around 50 years ago, a small-scaled dam was built and equipped with 40 water pumps operating 24 hours. Now, the prefecture no longer deals with the problem.

To me, such the solution provided me with the understanding of value and meaning hidden in the cultural difference as well as similarity which affect human behavior in several aspects. The learning process employed to establish understanding of the nature of solution is not different from an artwork. This reminds me of the land project (Site-specific art) which was based on a fundamental belief that space has no ownership. This project was created as an experimental area for learning and exchanging of various cultures.

All sciences have not only their own difference, but also similarity in their learning process to establish understanding of ourselves, society, and nature. These already exist in each science. An economic theory proposed by Muhammad Yunus, an economist who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2006 and the founder of a bank for the poor (Grameen Bank), for example, mentioned the Microcredit theory (loans to poor people possessing no collateral), and pointed out flaws of mainstream economic theories in that they have not yet been challenged. For instance, the Macroeconomic Theory, the heart of all economic analysis frameworks is imperfect. The reason is that the theory viewed humans as either consumers and labors, hence ignoring the potential of individuals who are self-employed. A division of humans into entrepreneurs and labors overlooked creativity and initiation of each individual, and is based on a view that self-employment in the Third World is a symptom of underdevelopment. (Bank for the poor, VERS UN MONDE SANS PAUVRETE written by Muhammad Yunus translated by Sarunee Artchavanuntakul page: 170-171)

Furthermore, the concept of microcredit has reminded me of the 31st Century Museum of Contemporary Spirit project. “Our Body, Our Museum. Spirit is Art” (life-specific is an art which has a relation with spirit) with respect to ‘Micro-utopia’ (respect for value existing in humans) which is different from the mainstream belief in which we normally accept value of artworks from recognition of their monetary value and from an institute in the art world, but ignore particular value of individual meaning. An example of this is children’s art which we admit that it has high spiritual value, yet we have not financially appraised and accepted it as same as works created by artists like Picasso.

Human is another best example employed to explain internationality and contemporary art. For instance, we all have similar facial composition such as eyes, ears, nose, and mouth, but our face is completely different from those of others. Even identical twins, and our fingerprints or DNA are, again, have nothing in similar. In similarity, we have difference, and, of course, in difference, we have similarity. This is a good quality of art, that is, it has unique identity. There is nothing better, worst, or equal as this is internationality.

The understanding of unique identity existing in ourselves will teach us to love and respect value of human being, we, at the same time, also begin to learn how to love and respect value of human being which exists in the difference of others. Thus, this is the reason that makes me believe that unique identity is internationality which serves as the coordinating point among cultural differences and is the core value of contemporary art.

Kamin Lertchaiprasert, 22 January 2012

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