Saturday, September 21, 2019

Releasing the beast within

Apr 24. 2019
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Special to The Nation

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Every evening, a different co-performer is asked to let down their guard

In conventional performances, directors often set certain goals for their works, and the performers are evaluated accordingly, either by the bosses themselves or, for long-running shows, their assistants, who may call a cast meeting or simply send notes to concerned individuals. Contemporary performance artists, though, highlight the fact that many works are created live in front of the audience and like incidents in real life, can never be recreated. Certain goals may not be reached, as a performance one evening may be very different from the next and, for the audience, that’s a joy.


That’s exactly what audiences are enjoying now at 100 Tonson Gallery where multi-award-winning performance artist Dujdao Vadhanapakorn’s new work “Humanimal” (in Thai “Sat manut”) is part of Maha Sarakhambased visual artist Prateep Suthathongthai’s exhibition “A Little Rich Country” (“Prathet lek thi sombun”). Dujdao was also inspired by her late grandfather’s highly acclaimed novel of the same name published in 1976, which addresses how capitalism was spreading into rural Thailand and explores how locals were starting to show their true inner selves that had been long suppressed by the norms of that era. 

Dujdao and her coset designer Jetsada Naruchit have deftly turned the white box gallery into a traverse stage. At the far end is a white room with a small table, with some food and drinks, and a chair; at the other is Dujdao as the psychotherapist, and behind her two crew members, or lab technicians, who take care of surtitles, sound, light and a video camera. On the side facing the audience, the room has a semitransparent wall that allows the audience to see what’s inside, but not the other way around. Above this are two TV screens – one for the English surtitles and the other for closeup video images of her “co-performer”, or patient, who changes every evening and ranges from double SEA Write Award recipient Veeraporn Nitiprapha, visual artist Dusadee “Pang” Huntrakul and Dujdao’s BFloor colleagues Ornanong Thaisriwong and Sasapin Siriwanij. I purposely chose a nonactor and an artist who’s known for his paintings as well as his novels – SEAWrite laureate and Silpathorn Award recipient Uthis Haemamool – who seemed excited, if not nervous, before stepping into the spotlight. 


During the long list of questions – for some of these Dujdao specifically requested the opposite answer to what Uthis had in mind – only she could hear his replies through an earphone. Meanwhile the audience was carefully watching his body language and movements, on some of which she made an observation. It was even more intriguing when she asked him never to blink while answering and later to find alternative ways to answer, instead of verbally. The true highlight was in the latter part, when she asked him to let his guard down. 


Throughout each of these stages, the light and sound changed occasionally. While they had a considerable effect on Uthis, the sound could have been less generic and more powerful had the sound designer been present and performing live in response to his words and actions.


After an hour, the audience realised that we knew more about Uthis from his novels and paintings than his “performance” here, although we had a chance to see plenty behind his favourite sunglasses. More importantly, we had a unique opportunity to observe certain body language and movements which were stripped of the coherent verbal language, supposedly one of the elements that make humans better than other species. Some of us were probably also wondering if, had we been in that room instead, we would have let our guard down and let the beast within come out. It’s too late to find out though, as those who’ve seen how this experiment works wouldn’t be allowed inside that room. Of course, we can come back to the same gallery the next evening and witness another “co-performer” who will always be different, despite the same set of questions.

Four more sessions

- “Humanimal” continues tonight to Sunday at 8pm, at 100 Tonson Gallery at the corner of Soi Tonson and Langsuan Soi 1, a 10minute walk from BTS Chit Lom station. 

- It’s in Thai with English surtitles. 

- Tickets cost Bt650, at (081) 207 7723 and 098 792 2954. For more info,

- The first Silpathorn theatre artist Pradit Prasartthong will be the lab rat today; Prateep Suthathongthai himself tomorrow; TV actress and pop singer Rhatha “Yayaying” Phongam on Saturday and YouTuber and social influencer Prisa “Bon” Jakobsen rounding up this experiment on Sunday.  


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