Distant Attunements by Pier Luigi Tazzi
Each time I find myself in front of Nim Kruasaeng's work, it has the effect of making me feel as if I am in an undefinable state for which, right now, I would use the term dispersion. By which I mean a dispersion of consciousness, of critical self-awareness.
Physically I could compare this condition to when drops of oil fall into water: the oil does not mix with it, but more or less lenticular lumps rest on the surface, some dispersing whilst others unite in larger formations, though there is never a proper combining of the two elements. Thus one can say that Nim's shapes float on the surface of our consciousness and create dispersion.
Sometimes in the hours of the early afternoon in Thailand I have been transported by car outside of
town. I have, often if not always, fallen into a kind of watchful torpor: words fall into a pregnant silence, attention to the particular is dimmed. Absorbed in an intense warmth, mind and body drop their guards, their reciprocal rigidity, and render themselves porous and malleable to all that surrounds them on the outside: light becomes fluid, colours melt beyond their borders, and it all ends up agglutinating into a diaphanous softness. And so in those moments I can say that my own consciousness became dispersed in the countryside around Lamphun, or heading south-west from Thonburi.
That alteration of one's state of consciousness is something akin to a trance, as psychologists put it, similar to sleep, but characterized by electrical-brain activity not dissimilar to that of a waking-state. During trance, which the Germans call Verzuückung, psychologists believe that one loses consciousness and contact with reality until returning to a normal condition accompanied by amnesia. For me, during those hot afternoons in the car passing through the Thai countryside, there was no amnesia but, I repeat, a dispersal of awareness, a loss of speech, an inability afterwards to precisely define that state, which I still remember, even though I was incapable of defining its effects.
In his study of shamanism, Mircea Eliade attributes shamans with a capacity for concentration, strength and control, which is exactly the contrary of what I experienced in those moments of altered consciousness, and he speaks of a voyage into disorder with a subsequent and superior return to order. For me it was not disorder that prevailed as much as a diluting, as I have already said, of consciousness.
Just how this state is comparable to the conditions in which I have described the works of Nim is, all considered, somewhat difficult to explain. To better understand this association I wish to compare the work of the other artists in which, this time consciously, I recognise a certain resonance with the work of Nim. In particular, Montien Boonma and Palermo.
Both are strong figures, not so much for the quality of their respective works, and for the 'glory' attributed to that quality, but for their reciprocal belonging to systems which by their very nature, formation and domain of work are strong.
First of all the male sex, which until a few decades ago dominated the art system, originally that of the West and so from this model to the rest of the planet. Thus, the Thai artist Montien was able to bring together in his domain of work two contrasting threads in opposition to one another: that of Western modern art and the aesthetic and spirituality of Thai art inspired by Buddhism and popular arts.
And then, the actual system of Western art of which Palermo was, in the years between the second half of the 60s and the first half of the 70s, one of the most sensitive exponents, given his individualistic position one cannot say that he belonged to any specific trend and which ended up emphasizing one of the characteristic traits of this art: individual solipsism. In fact, his biography should not be forgotten: born Peter Schwarze in Leipzig in the middle of the Second World War, in 1943, adopted with his twin brother Michael they were given the surname Heisterkamp; later, when at the Düsseldorf Academy and already the favourite pupil of Joseph Beuys, the shaman-artist who spearheaded the Germany rebirth, he chose a third name, this time by himself: Palermo.
The name of an Italian-American mafioso, Frank "Blinky" Palermo, a top promoter of boxing matches in 1949 he was manager of Billy Fox in his bout for the World Middleweight Championship against Jack LaMotta, the 'raging bull' celebrated by Martin Scorsese, who was forced by the mafia to let himself be beaten, and when Frank Sinatra, well-advised by his mafia friends, placed his bet on Fox. Under the name Palermo the young German artist began to exhibit in the middle of the 60s, and having fallen in love with New York he opened a studio there in 1973, dying four years later in the Maldives at only just 34 years old.
In Montien's work a fine thread spun from Buddhist spirituality and his domain of work draws on
many diverse elements from western contemporary art, and weaves them into a solid structure, the artwork, even though this is no longer hermetically closed within the monolithic compactness of so much western art, but is open to "the other", englobing it in itself.
Thus, in his case this is an enlarging of consciousness, not its dispersion. In Palermo everything unfolds on the surfaces, expanded or partial, of painting, of walls and environments; and there, emerging on the surface, is a kind of suggestive call for attention, of unknowable abysses, profound states of consciousness, in which aesthetics and spirituality, sense and the substance of being and appearance end up creating in the momentum of their materialization incisive, original, almost ancestral unities. And it is in this that the German artist responds to that idea of the absolute which in various forms and epochs has taken shape in the long and glorious history of western art and, together with the concept of Sehnsucht elaborated by the German Romantics, as overpowering desire towards something undefined and unreachable.
Nim Kruasaeng is a woman, from Isan moreover, without any canonical education, that is, self-taught,
and so free of every system. Her work is like an overhang without protection, a bridge without railings spanning an abyss, over the gurgite vasto like the rara avis of the Latin saying.
For the last few months I have had an Isan friend, a young friend. For many years he has lived in Bangkok, but he does not love it, and he constantly wishes to return to live in his village in the province of Kalasin.
With me he demonstrates an assiduousness that moves me, and an attention to things that always surprises me, used as I am to frenetically wandering in the wider world which for a few decades now has been open to everyone, yet nevertheless requires a quickness which discourages every attention which lasts longer than it needs to and so risks losing the right moment, every lengthy pause which implies a waste of energy and time.
He does not nourish himself with animals of his dimensions. Scrupulous to excess in his care for his image he has a reticence, bizarre to me, to "show his own body to everyone" as he puts it. He loves the warmth of the intimacy of human relationships, and the colour of open skies.
Sometimes, rarely at his explicit request, I have shown him the art with which I occupy myself. He looks at it with attention but without curiosity and has never expressed any judgement, as if it comes from a distant universe, and as if he possesses not a single tool to decipher its forms and substance.
When he learned that Nim was an artist, and so belonged to that universe which I occasionally gave him a glimpse of, he asked her one day at Pattaya to show him her works. We surprised them as they looked at them, but we did not intervene.
Later, much later, in one of those long conversations with which we occupy ourselves in the evening, he expressed his surprise and his enthusiasm. There a world opened to him, a happy one. Something similar happened to me in my early teenage years when I first faced the universe of art: for me this was through the direct experience of the sculpture and paintings of 15th century Florence, of French Impressionists, of Gauguin, Van Gogh and Picasso, of Greek sculpture, Papuan carvings, and Japanese art. For me then, as for him now, art did not present itself as a response to the desire for beauty which is lodged in each one of us, as a confrontation with a universe of beauty, but as a practical opening to a world, actually to the world that both he now and I then are aware of inhabiting, and which has, for us, now disclosed its most suggestive entrance.
I believe that each of us has our own key. He found his in the art of Nim. I believe that this, beyond any judgment of worth, indicates something.
There are some paintings by Gauguin, made during both his first and his second more tormented so-
journ on Tahiti (9 June 1891 - 4 June 1893 and 9 September 1895 - 10 September 1901), which have always struck me, so much so that I identify them as the core of his art. They are mostly couples of young women portrayed close-up in that typical composition which the western figurative tradition defines as 'conversation'.
I am thinking of one in particular entitled Femmes de Tahiti of 1891 Gauguin had just arrived on the island now in the Musée d'Orsay, of which we know of a variant dated to the following year which is now found in Dresden's Staatliche Sammlungen and which carries the title Parau api, which means The News of the Day.
At the beginning of this year when I visited Nim for the first time at Pattaya, you could often see her from up high on the balcony of her appartment where I was a guest, sitting at besides a friend for long hours in the shadow of a small tree on that strip of beach which her building faced. And those images of Gauguin's returned powerfully to my memory: parau api, the news of the day.
Some months later, this summer, I returned. The tree had been cut down and Nim and her friend no
longer spent time in that place. The Tahitian image did not come alive again, even though as if indelible? the memory remained. To find its flagrance fragrance again I will have to return to Paris, or go to Dresden, but I will find a sign, and though magnificent, only a sign. In January I had found life in that sign.
The first works of Nim Kruasaeng that I saw were shown to me more than four years ago by Kamin
Lertchaiprasert at Umong Sippadhamma in Chiang Mai.
They were drawings which unsettled me (Unheimlich), and from which I immediately tried to distance
myself, but which remained engraved in my mind.
What unsettled me was, in fact, two intertwined aspects. It was the time of my first direct contact with Thailand, if not with its art: I had known the art of Rirkrit Tiravanija and Montien Boonma for at least a decade, and there followed Surasi Kusolwong, Navin Rawanchaikul, Manit Sriwanichpoom and so on.
The first aspect was that which is most directly ethnic, and in fact filters through in Montien's work, but which there was translated in modules that my western training enabled me to decipher and so to embrace, to accept. With Nim everything was more direct and without mediation, so that the evidence of alterity assumed a character of deterence and encouraged my distancing, my putting distance like a defence. This was something alien which filled me with fear.
The other aspect, and I repeat, strictly linked to the previous one, was provided by the recognition of forms which presented themselves to me as little spirits which an unknown energy moved to the rhythm of a dance, which I felt, at the same time, to be both objectively apotropaic and subjectively threatening.
Contorted and uncontainable folds, outlines and invasive masses, swarms, ran over the surface of the inscription as if they came from an elsewhere, dense, pregnant with energy, and they crossed it with a movement which both before and so afterwards, being subtracted from any kind of control, was a vector of insecurity: an immediate manifestation, sudden, parcelled and ephemeral, of a power, magic, which transcended apparition, and whose suggested existence had the effect of making me fearful of an obscure threat.
Used to facing threats of the visible and macroscopic kinds, I found myself totally taken aback in front of the invisible and the microscopic. Neither Paul Klee, or even Wassily Kandinsky, who I was tempted to evoke, carried any salvation, because it was not about drawing from the spiritual but becoming enmeshed in magic. This was not falling into an abyss of some psychic dimension, so much as confronting a bodily dimension that was expanded, corpulent, overflowing.
Those works by Nim stimulated me to associate them with that which in medical pathology is called
virulence, that attitude of microrganisms to produce a disease. In fact the penetration of microbes into a larger living organism produces a state of disease when the power of their offensive prevails over the defenses of the organism which they have penetrated. Generally, virulence is due to a complex of factors, of which some are known to pathology, for example a known power to produce substances with an aggressive action, while others can be totally ignored.
There are certain bacterial species which at different moments can present oscillations of virulence with no apparent cause. In front of the first work of Nim's with which I found myself in contact, my immune defences as a cultured western male turned out to be far weaker than the power, the evident one, but above all the hidden one, of which her forms induced one to imagine its existence.
Her most recent work does not have this effect on me. Above all because in the last few years it has changed markedly: the degree of control of the artist herself seems to have grown whilst the uncontrollable urgency of before has been abandoned. And also probably because in the meantime I myself have acquired a greater familiarity with the environmental and cultural context from which her works nevertheless emerge, and so I am less susceptible to attacks of alienness.
An alienness which is still there, but which is now converted into difference, a difference which I presume to be able to face, and which I no longer perceive as a threat. In some way I have become cured of my syndrome of repulsion towards the alien through a treatment somewhat like homeopathy.
But, I insist, the change is in the work. The multiplicity of references, those of the organic world for example, often reach a state of suspended harmony. Or the figures which appear, if only in ever rarer dispositions, present a very wide semantic polyvalence, yet always from a prevalently female domain: they are, together and at the same time, seeds, eyes, breasts, fruits, udders, unicellular organisms, vessels, wombs, sometimes on their own or in sparse groups or thick, tangent or distant from one another, and each one is delimited more often than not by its own profile. They indicate or announce a germination, a proliferation of individuals contemporaneously both autonomous and in relationship, whether this is from reciprocal attraction or from respect for their diverse and differentiated singularity.
They do not reflect a world representing it, as they announce its infinitely variable eventualities in a sort of indistinct and non-imposing harmony. Having acquiesced to every paroxysm, discharged every virulence, ceased every threat, they are autonomous bodies and the ends of relationships both one with one other or one with the others with the surface that hosts them, on which they are spread and which they mark with their very presence. The power that I once felt as threatening has mutated into vital energy. And every life imposes respect and amorous attention, precisely because it constitutes that which weus living beings share more than any other thing.
Today in this exhibition those forms, those bodies have acquired volume. They fill the space which we too share. Their volumetrical materialization lets this distension grow. They are now here among us.
Let us welcome them.
Pier Luigi Tazzi
Capalle, November 2007.