When Pratchaya Uthayanin was a third-year student at the Faculty of Painting, Sculpture and Graphic Arts at Silpakorn University, his father was diagnosed with cancer. Pratchaya was in and out of the hospital with her father who underwent chemotherapy and other treatments for two years until his death. This experience inspired him to create a thesis entitled “Meaning and representation of death”.
Pratchaya Uthayanin and Impermanent, a transparent installation on a human scale. (Photo: Varuth Hirunyatheb)
“While I was in the hospital it was a life or death moment. As a student it was a burden because I am an only child and my mother suffered from paralysis. I had to plan my future. When I was working on the thesis, my supervisor and I decided that the thesis should not focus on my personal experience but should involve the meaning of death in multiple cultures,” explained Pratchaya.
“Water is a symbol of death in many cultures. For example, Hindus believe that the Ganges can bring spirits to heaven. Additionally, Buddhists believe that floating ashes of the deceased in a river will wash away their sins and they will go to heaven. My first exhibition titled ‘Meaning and Representation of Death’ represented a dimension that connects life and death,” he added.
After Pratchaya completed his art thesis and exhibited his work at the Eria exhibition last May, he created another exhibition called “Vital Signs”, which is currently on display at the People’s Gallery, Bangkok Art & Culture Center ( BACC). “Vital Signs” consists of six installation pieces that create a cemetery and hospital atmosphere. Three facilities — Image without title, Unseen phenomenon and Look at me — are presented in a dark room that gives visitors the impression of being in a cemetery. The other three facilities — Still together, Untitled and transient — feature a red color and machinery that reminds visitors of medical equipment used in hospitals.
“When I accompanied my father to the hospital, I was interested in medical electronic devices that had movement, so I created this atmosphere in this exhibition. At ‘Vital Signs’, I want visitors to feel an atmosphere like that of a hospital or a place linked to death”, explains the artist.
In a dark room, Image without title represents many portraits of deceased people made from the technique of engraving. Some portraits look brand new while others are cracked, damaged and faded.
“Image without title was inspired by portraits of the deceased that people can see in temples where cremated ashes are kept. Some portraits are old and damaged because abandoned. I used my own photo to depict dead people, so there is no copyright issue,” he said.
Unseen phenomenon depicts a large transparent container filled with cremation ashes that sits in the middle of a bonfire. There are ashes under the firewood and many mirrors are placed around the bonfire.
Untitled Image represents portraits of deceased people made using the technique of engraving. (Photo: facebook.com/baccpage)
“This installation was inspired by a monument and a crematory to question whether our identities are important or not. Unseen phenomenon embodies an incinerated or destroyed object. The mirrors reflect the visitors in order to make them question their identity,” Pratchaya explained.
Still together is a transparent square container filled with a blood-red liquid topped with aluminum foil. Beneath the containers is a messy pile of long IV tubes coated in blood red fluid. The artist explained that the installation embodies either a hospital laboratory or an intensive care unit.
“I used food coloring to look like blood. Underneath the foil is an airbag that can inflate up and down like breathing moves, but the foil puts pressure on the air bag. airbag. It describes the condition between life and death,” he said.
Pratchaya explained that transient combined his ideas regarding hospitals and the display cases that feature skeletons at the Siriraj Medical Museum.
“transient represents a human-sized transparent cabinet that has a screen to reflect visitors’ reflections. I read books about the last light people see before they die, so I used fluorescent lights to signify the last light,” Pratchaya said.
Coping with the loss of a loved one is not easy. Pratchaya said he got away with it by following what he read in philosophy books.
Untitled to ‘Vital Signs’. (Photo: Varuth Hirunyatheb)
“I have read many philosophy books on life and death. I particularly like the books by Jiddu Krishnamurti, an Indian philosopher, and Pramuan Pengchan, a Thai author. I learned from Jiddu that one should to be observant and non-judgmental. When I learned about my father’s condition, I first denied the truth, but then tried to be less emotional and more rational,” said Pratchaya.
Death remains a sensitive and taboo subject for many Thais. Thus, this stigma can cause artists who wish to create death-related artwork to have difficulty attracting collectors. However, Pratchaya said this is not a problem since renowned Thai artists such as Kamin Lertchaiprasert and Nino Sarabutra also create death-related artwork.
“I think the concept of death is not an obstacle to attract collectors, but it is more a question of the form of work. However, I do not create art to sell but I create to learn and I realize that I need a budget to create more art pieces, so I formed a team and we produce sculptures and installations for other artists and interior companies. suits me because it allows me to use my artistic skills,” Pratchaya said.
Pratchaya hopes her exhibit will encourage people to talk more about death.
“Death should not be viewed as a bad or evil topic. People should be open to discussing it because there is no denying that everyone will eventually face it. We need to understand the issue and plan for our future” , concluded Pratchaya.
Invisible Phenomenon was inspired by a monument and a crematorium to ask whether our identities are important or not. (Photo: Suwitcha Chaiyong)
Still Together depicts the condition between life and death. (Photo: Varuth Hirunyatheb)
Impermanent is a transparent firm on a human scale. (Photo: Varuth Hirunyatheb)