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The sum of all fears

The language of suppression is translated into two and three-dimensional works by Thasnai Sethaseree

Two rows of glass cubes containing sculptures made of plastic and coiled wires confront you upon entering the new commercial-art gallery 338 Oida. Colourful prints line the back walls and a moving light installation hangs from the ceiling.
The works in “Trans-structurity” may seem to be some kind of aesthetic prism but in fact they represent our fears. Through them, Chiang Mai artist Thasnai Sethaseree examines the current mindsets caused by the political and economic crises around the globe.
“Fear isn’t permanent,” he declares in the show’s printed notes, “but a figment of the imagination comprised of social, political and ideological conditions in crisis.”
The political malaise has made fear part of daily life, Thasnai says, and yet it’s not always noticeable “because it stays too close to people.
“Moreover, the fear becomes a form of culture, where an individual surrenders to the culture of fear. Thus fear is considered another type of political discourse and has no essence in itself.”
Thasnai explores the different forms of fear in the modern world and suggests alternative perspectives and choices.
“To my mind, the world is made up of structures – political, cultural and institutional,” he says.
“That is in itself problematic, at least to me, as these structures have a kind of handcuff effect. I wanted to find out what out how fear has become a culture, so I organised a survey and asked people how they dealt with institutional structure.”
Called “Structure of Fear”, this project was launched two years ago from Stockholm, where Thasnai lived for two months, and coincided with the Arab Spring uprisings and the revelations of corruption in Europe as well as the 2010’s red-shirt anti-government protests in Bangkok.
“What I sensed during that time was that people were living in an environment of fear and suppression, whether their fears were personal or caused by past political agendas,” says the 45-year-old artist who earned his PhD in Social Sciences from Chiang Mai University and his master’s in visual art from Chicago University.
“During my time in Stockholm, I started doing sociological research, launching an online survey that asked people the world over the describe their fears.
“We had a very good response with people in the Yemen, Indonesia and elsewhere documenting their political fears while others shared their fears about life. From the cyber path-form I was able to get a clear idea of the structure of fear. The next question was to see what the fear looked like, what we were going to do with it and how we were going to overcome it.
“At this point I discussed with my team in Chiang Mai how we could document the data. They created software programs that were able to take a source code and render the data in mathematical, two-dimensional patterns. One program turned the information into coloured patterns while another put them in structural lines.
“This sowed the ideas for this exhibition and my team in Bangkok set about translating the patterns into three dimensional forms that show how fear is constructed and revolves around itself.”
The highlight of the exhibition is a candelabra-like prism light hanging from the ceiling. Thasnai uses remote control to make his installation move and as it turns, it splashes the colourful prisms all over the room. It is a metaphor for power in control.
“While the sculptures representing fear in the glass cubes stay still, their shapes and form change as you walk round them. The centrepiece reflects the idea that a soft thing can move in time. Look at it and you will notice a lamp winking. Stare at it long enough and you can release what is in your mind. Don’t have fear in your life,” he says.
However, since we’re all living in a society of fear, Thasnai’s vivid art pieces are not the end. His on-going “The Structure of Fear” project continues to record the different fears faced by people the world over and transforms them into pieces of art.

“Trans-structurity” runs through August 31 at 338 Oida Gallery on Rama IV Road in Bangkok.
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Published : August 23, 2013

By : Phatarawadee Phataranawik The