Kawita Vatanajyankur, Work: I love hard work; I could watch it all day

Virginia Baxter

Like much of the work in the Video oediV exhibition Kawita Vatanajyankur’s rewards careful viewing. The vivid digital colour spectrum alone is a workout for the eyes. Acid yellow, dazzling orange, brilliant pink or bright sky blue remind us of the synthetic colours of plastics—or Thai silk. Against each vivid backdrop we observe the artist’s slender body—dark hair pulled back from her face, a slash of bright red lipstick against pale skin—performing one of a number of challenging, often desultory tasks. All in a day’s work for Vatanajyankur includes the following:

  1. While suspended from a rope, balancing a large circular basket on each arm, catch as many grains as you can of two endless streams of rice pouring from above (The Scale 2, 2015)
  2. Hurl yourself soggy from a variety of angles into a plastic laundry basket (The Basket, 2014)
  3. Hold your mouth open and allow water to be funnelled into it (Poured, 2014)
  4. Allow your head to be repeatedly dipped into a plastic bucket as if your body were a mop (Soaked, 2013)
  5. Become a pole for carrying baskets of bananas (The Carrying Pole, 2015)
  6. Repeat

The Scale 2, 2015 – Image courtesy the artist and Stills Gallery, Sydney

To accomplish each of these tasks, Vatanajyankur’s body blends with the tool it mimics. In the sixth and definitely one of the more disturbing tasks the artist has set herself (The Ice Shaver, 2013), we observe her face-down in a solid brick of ice, using her nose, lips and chin to move it like some cruelly designed mandolin. Watch for a while and you’ll feel your own lips freeze.

On first viewing The Basket, you’ll note the artist’s deft landing but stay a while to watch the subtle grimaces on the face of the older woman in hair curlers who’s holding the receptacle and with her, feel the weight of that body.

The question as to who might be responsible for all the off-stage hurling and the dipping and the pouring remains unanswered. More important is the sense of cumulative audience discomfort generated by the subtle modus operandi of this Thai-Australian artist who graduated from RMIT in 2011 and who has exhibited widely across Australia as well as Asia and Europe. Last year, she was a finalist in the Jaguar Asia Tech Art Prize in Taipei and curated into the prestigious Thailand Eye exhibition at Saatchi Gallery, London. Her focus is on creating “works that examine the psychological, social and cultural ways of viewing and valuing the continuing challenges of women’s everyday labour…. undertaking physical experiments that playfully, often painfully, test her own body’s limits.” (Artist’s website)

As well as the often-observed juxtaposition between its seductively glamorous surfaces and the gruelling experience of this work, is the contradiction inherent in its creation—the contrast between gothically exaggerated domestic tasks and the “meditation postures,” as she calls them, which Vatanajyankur adopts to enact them. These “acts of extreme physical endurance,” the artist says, “offer a way to free herself from her mind: a mechanism to lose her sense of being. This deliberate objectification,” she says, “turns her body into sculpture.”

Kawita Vatanajyankur, The Ice Shaver, 2013, from Tools – Image courtesy the artist and Stills Gallery, Sydney

Kawita Vatanajyankur’s work can also be seen at Stills Gallery, which represents her, in Sydney until 13 February. She has posted other work, The Robes and The Dustpan, in Vimeo.

Campbelltown Arts Centre, Video oediV, curator Megan Monte, 16 Jan-20 March

Top image credit: Kawita Vatanajyankur, Poured, 2014 – Image courtesy the artist and Stills Gallery, Sydney

1 March 2016
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