Wednesday, 11 March 2015

"Ghosts and The Imaginary Museum": lecture at Institute of Education

On the 6th November 2014, I was invited to host a lecture at Institute of Education London (IOE). It was a great honour to be invited back by a renouned  published author and one of my favorite professors of all time, Pam Meecham on her module on heritage study.

Drawing from my own personal experience of growing up in Thailand, my presentation revolves around the theme of ghosts and the imaginary museum. I first showed a clip from "Uncle Boonmee recall his past lives".
The film is a part of ‘Primitive’ anthology by Apichatpong Weerasethakul, a project which investigates the memory of a specific place in the northeast of Thailand, village of Nabua where the film was shot. "Beginning with the onset of a famous gun battle between farmer communists and the totalitarian government on August 7, 1965, Nabua was occupied by the Thai Army from the 60s into the 80s to suppress communist agitators. Along with the director remark of how "viewers are ghosts, watching ghosts", the movie was a great example of how technology (such as moving image) could be use to negociate and interwine our intagible heritage with the profound quality of being human, such as our belief, 'dreams' and 'souls'

Furthurmore the class discussed a few reference on surrealist cinema, where technology are used to interpretate dreams. We also looked at contemporary artists auch as recent Tuner prize winner Mark Lecky, on how the museum space is used as platform for to look at our unconcious mind during the process of visual intake. These were then linked to the theory of "Imaginary Museum" by the critical theorist and previous French minister of culture, Andre Malraux

In my previous project, I refferenced Malraux notion of museum as a mental splace where we store and compare images within our memory imaginarium (also echoed in Gaynor Kavanagh's book the "Dream Spaces"). We discussed my projects including Imagining Baby Patricia Milsom and Sri Jareon Shipyard mobile app, where I created an app to document local memory based on a shipyard in Ayuthaya Province, Thailand
Overall, with Unesco recent interest in digital approach within heritage sector, it is perhaps worthwhile to consider digital platform, not only as better access compared to analog, but also as fundamental part of our lives as human.

Monday, 17 November 2014

SouthEast Asian Arts Festival 2014

After exhibiting my work during the festival last year, River Cultures has kindly asked me to be more involved with SouthEast Asian Art Festival 2014, especially in participatory workshops. This year festival was a great interest to me as it was losely linked with British Museum's Pilgrime, healers and wizards: Buddhism and religious practices in Burma and Thailand exhibiton. All my life, I have been surrounded by Thai rituals and spiritual practice. They have greatly influence my identity as an artist and I was very excited to share this little aspect of my heritage through the festival events.

First activity I designed for the festival was a Nang Talong shadow puppet workshop at the V&A Museum of Childhood. During my placement in the museum, I donated a set of Thai Nang Talong puppets to the museum's learning team. As we acquired funding from English National Heritage, I then proposed a family workshop based on the story of these puppets at the museum. I created templates which participants could chose and make/decorate their own shadow puppets. They could also put on a little performance on the screen accompanied by the Thai traditional shadow theatre soundtrack. The event took place on the 25th October and went really well, with over 200 people taking part. You can also watch a little video of me explaining my personal relationship with the puppets, relating to my late grandpa.
Second event was a talk at SOAS about my heritage. I discussed my passion for shadow puppets and Thai spiritual practice due to my great grandfather who was a heroic shaman. The evening marked the launch of online archive, Thai Burmese Charms. It provides a fascinating snapshot of the use of charms in the Thai and Burmese communities in London. You can see my own clip from the archive here

Lastly, on the 2nd of November, the festival finished with a beautiful finale event at the Proud Archivist. I was commissioned to create a Kratong making workshop, linking to the floating lantern ritual during the festival of lights. As this year also marks the 100th anniversary of the World War 1, the kratongs were also used to remember the Southeast Asian soldiers who took part in the war. As we couldn't get permission to float the kratong on the river, I decided to ask the participants to instead write down what they want to 'let go' with their kratong. During a performance, I selected a few of these and read them out. Some were funny, some were very sad, but they were all brilliant. For me, it proved the fact that, art is always more powerful if you let it in the hands of the people. I was very touched.

Apart from my own work, the highlight of the festival for me was to see the Khon masters from Thailand performing the traditional Nang Yai, or the grand shadow puppets. The masters dont usually perform unless it's a grand ceremony in Thailand, so having them over in London (thanks to Tourism Authority of Thailand) and having the chance to witness their amazing ability was such a priviledge. Each and every moment were on point. The beauty and grace of their performance really drove me to tears. Overall, it was a very meanngful series of event this year at SEA Art Fest. Although, it might be small compare to other arts festival, it was a great start for SEA arts to be acknowledged and get the recognition it deserved here in UK.

'It's My Party!' exhibition at V&A Museum of Childhood

As part of my MA in Education in Museums and Galleries, I had my work placement scheme with the V&A Museum of Childhood. Since I have already worked in Education team, I signed up to work with the Community development team to broader my understanding of the museum's programme. The museum has a great legacy in its outreach programmes for the past ten years, it even has a special gallery space dedicated for the community work. Working under Teresa Hare Duke, I had the opportunity to be involved in many projects which celebrate the rich and diverse communities linked to the museum.  From New Voices festival, liasing with local charities such as Praxis well as various refugee communities, to national events like 2014 launch of the Big Draw, it has been an incredible learning curve for me to get such hands-on experience in this vibrant yet very sensitive area, bridging the museum and its communities.
My main involvement during the placement was in "It's My Party" exhibition. For this show, Teresa designed a story based on three
characters from the collection: Wilfred, Pip and Squeak. The trio were popularised as a
newspaper strip cartoon published in the Daily Mirror from 1919 to 1956. The show
revolves around a new spin-off story about Wilfred’s surprise birthday party: as Wilfred
does not want presents, his friends have to come up with alternative ways to treat him on his 95th
birthday. This narrative was used as a platform to discuss the social construction of birthday
parties and the experience of birthdays with members of the community. The main idea was
for the exhibition to be an immersive illustration of this narrative, enhanced with
contributions from the participants. It was divided into three main sections: an animation,
an installation of a party table made by local school children and invited artists, and a glass
showcase display explaining the concept of the show, information on selected objects from
the collection, as well as excerpts from interviews with local community members about
their birthday experiences.

 We started by doing outreach sessions at 2 local primary schools. We interviewed the children about their birthdays and asked them to help constructing the installation of Wilfred's birthday party. As an illustrator, I was also very keen to do drawing activities and create a visual response to the stories we were collecting. Throughout these sessions, the story of Wilfred’s
birthday was told and used as a platform for participants to investigate their own ideas and
perspectives. For instance, we explained Wilfred’s story and asked what else one could give
him? Instead of asking participants to answer verbally, facilitators then distributed drawing
materials and allowed participants to illustrate their ideas on paper. Another challenge
occurred here, as each participant had various levels of confidence and concentration. This
was solved by focusing on the communicative function of their illustration rather than
technical accuracy and by encouragement. As proven in illustration classes, we found that asking exploratory questions, such as ‘What is it?’, ‘Why is it
drawn this way?’ or ‘How do we represent this?’, worked to motivate more meaningful
responses. Furthermore, by contextualising the contribution as illustrations, participants
focused on the message of their work and felt less pressured to work to a presumed
aesthetic of the finished show. At the end, we gathered large amount of paper cakes, sandwiches, doughnuts and great drawings from the sessions.
It then took us about a month to put the exhibition together. In addition to the children's contribution, we also commissioned local artists and designers to create guests for the party, inspired by the museum's collection. I personally selected artist Simon Santhanam (whose work deals with theme of introvert boyhood), and fashion designer Luke Anthoney Rooney (whose work deals with the theme of excess) to participate and contribute their dialogue into the show. I also, very cheekily, create a personal artwork to put in a show myself as well, Can you spot my piece in the installation?
My biggest achievement though, is creating 5 meters table cloth collage. I mixed the children's drawings from the outreach sessions with my own drawings, of the children I met at the sessions, of vintage advertising about birthday since 1920s (Wilfred's era) to the present, and of photographs by Hackney-based photographer Colin O'Brien. By creating this collage, I wanted to bring together all the strands of this exhibition: the historical timeline, social construct of birthday, locality and participation. It was hard work doing it all by hand, but it all worth-while when I saw the children coming in and recognised their pictures on the table cloth, so excited to be part of this vibrant exhibition.
The exhibition finally opened on the 18th of September 2014 and recieved great feedback. The day also marked the finish of my placement with the Community development team at V&A Museum of Childhood. It was such a remarkable experience and I couldn't Thank everyone at the museum, especially Teresa, quite enough for this valuable opportunity. The exhibition will be on till Feb, so I hope you'll have a chance to drop by and check out the show! here are some photos from our opening:

Thursday, 17 July 2014

Piloting Family Trails at Courtauld Gallery

The Courtauld Gallery is one of the finest small museums in the world. They hold a remarkable art collection, including famous Impressionist and Post-Impressionist masterpieces such as Manet's A Bar at the Folies-Bergere, Van gogh's self portrait and Gauguin's nevermore.
 A dear friend of mine was developing their pilot programme Family audience (their primary audience are usually secondary schools or older). With my experience from Museum of Childhood, where I deal with 800+ kids a day, I offered my expertise to creating and evaluating illustrated Family trails! While the whole project happened really fast (I was given the brief on Friday th July and the trail were given out to selected family audience on Sunday the 6th), It was such a priviledge to have the opportunity to work with one of my favorite collections in London. I mean, whats a better way to spend your weekend than drawing Manet's barmaid?!

To experiment with different responses for different levels, we created 3 different trails for the family groups to choose. My favorite one is based on the fact that Anthony Blunt, the gallery's previous director during 1947-1974, was a soviet spy. We created a spy/detective trail which were given in a top secret envelope, with maginfy glasses and make-your-own fake mustache!
Another trail we did was the Animal Safari, where each family got given a scroll with clues to find animals hidden in the galleries. They also got cat masks to wear as they search as well.
At the end of Sunday afternoon, everyone seemed to had a great time, especially the children! Seeing such trail transform the gallery which could be a very intimidating space, into a fun and family friendly experience was really worth all the effort. I hope they will take on the success of this event and develop an ongoing programme for thier Family audience in the future.

Workshops at Chester Beaty Library, Dublin

I was commissioned by the Chester Beaty Library to host a series of workshop based on my work on altered bookart as a part of their Thai week, from 14th - 16th  of June 2013. It was a great deal for me to be invited over as a contemporary Thai artist (They found me through Thai Artist In London network), and I never been to Dublin before so I gladly took the chance!
Not only the library has such an exquisite collection of asian books and scripts (including BEAUTIFUL ancient Thai scrolls and Bai Lan books), they also have an amazing education team who have given me support prior and all through my visit. They have given me a great freedom to plan my own sessions for different groups and so I proposed the following:
1.) Altered Bookart Master class for the adults
2.) Consitina workshop for the creative teen lab (11-16 yrs old) 
3.) Story telling and creating your own mystical crature for their silkworm club (6-11 yrs old)
4.) Public demonstration on Altered bookart 

Overall the whole weekend went splendidly. It was challenging working in a new environment have have to adjust myself to last minute changes (as you do in all workshops). I'm glad I actually came up with tailored workshops for each group as they all were very different and it was nice to see them engaged in each format that were designed for them. Seeing my artworks, driven from own cultural background, inspired people from all walk of life really was the highlight of my trip there. The whole experience was really a dream brief and it was a reminder for myself that this is what I really want to do.
Lastly I was so honoured that the Minister of Royal Thai ambassador in London also came and visit my workshop! It was great to be supported by such institution, gave me lots of courage to continue promoting Thai culture in the UK through my artwork.

Imagining Patricia Milsom

This is a personal project I developed as part of my 2nd MA in Education in Museum. The whole idea came from the debate about the use of technology and virtual experience within the museum space. As an illustrator, I see a potential to enhance the museum experience (especially its intagible narrative) using digital tools. I demonstrate this idea by creating an animation projection for a baby cot, telling the imagined stories beyond the object itself.

This is a cot from the early 20th century that once belonged to a baby named Patricia Milsom, now displayed in the Childhood gallery of the museum. She was a
first child of a British family stationed in Dagshai, India. She was born in 1916 with the
condition spina bifida, and died aged 5 days old. Instead of keeping them for another child,
her parents put all the clothes and the cot in storage and had them shipped back to England.
They were rediscovered in the 1980s and were donated to the museum by another member
of the Milsom family; Emeritus Professor Stroud Francis Charles Milsom. The cot was
donated with several other objects also belonging to baby Patricia, such as baby shawls,
cardigans, sets of boots, cotton shoes and several delicately embroidered white cotton
gowns. From this set, only one night gown is displayed with the cot in the Babies Gallery
of the museum, the other objects are in storage. The cot is shown in a glass case of similar
fashion to the rest of the displays; cluttered with at least 4 other objects, accompanied by
minimal texts (only in English), and assembled under a theme. Patricia’s cot exceptionally
has an additional small text panel, placed way below eyelevel on the floor, explaining the
object’s origin briefly. From this display, I see the opportunity to use an animated narrative
to highlight the object, canvass its memory and engage the viewers’ imagination.

Following the DECHO, guideline for digital exploration of cultural objects (Aliaga et al,
2011) , I approached my interpretation in steps as follow; Firstly, working with the
museum’s collection team, I gained access to the original hand-written catalogue from the
1980s the recorded the 40 objects that came with the cot. From the list, I selected 7 objects
which were brought out from storage to be photographed for my reference. From them, I
then started drawing the animation by hand with colour graphite. I chose this technique
because it gives a personal and fragile feel to the piece, as well as representing the nostalgia
of early animation technique. I studied babies movements from Youtube then created
sequences of a baby wearing the various items. The sequences are short and faded in and
out to represent the fragile nature of the baby Patricia. The delicate pattern of the dresses
became the focus as they are drawn growing organically like a forest around the baby. This
link with nature links to natural reserve that covered majority of land in Dagshai.
Transparent elephant and butterflies were also added to trigger the idea of tropical climate
and the ephemerality of life. While these visual interpretations are subjective, they could
act as visual trigger for the viewers to make meaning of the story in relation of the object.
In addition to the visual elements, I also added sound to heighten the poetic quality of the
piece. The fragment used to accompany the animation came from a World War 1 song
called “Goodbye Good luck God bless you” by Henry Blurr, which was released and
topped the US Billboard chart for 10 weeks in 1916, the year that baby Patricia was born
and died.

Finally the animation was projected on to the cot on an ealry Tuesday morning. The whole installation was surreal. Seeing the ghostly digital image on the actual cot really provoke a sensitive view on the object's story. I hope to expand this into a proper workshop in the future, where each visitor could pick an object and tell their own personal imagined stories.

V&A Museum of Childhood, from volunteer to OPA

Since September 2013 I have been volunteering at the V&A Museum of Childhood in Bethnal Green. It has been a massive learning curve for me to get an insight as a museum staff, learning about the museum operation from the inside out.
While being a part of the V&A, the museum itself runs with its very own quirky system. The main audience is family with children under 10 years old, this has a great effect in the way which their education programmes were designed. In addition to the usual volunteer responsibilities (meet and greet visitors, managing the lunch room, observing learning sessions, patrol the gallery, etc), I have had the priviledge to work closely with the previous education manager Carolyn Chin, who was resposible for most of the current education platform within the museum. Carolyn was a great mentor for me and have offered me the opportunity to develop activities for the gallery, allowed me to train new volunteers, and hired me as part of the education team's Occasional Professional Assistant (OPA). Getting a paid job in museums under the current cut is a big deal and I am so grateful for this. I will keep posting about the programmes that I am currently develop for the museum on here, so watch this space!