(Main photo) ‘Thought No.1’ by Narissara Pianwimungsa; (Above) the artist.
The eyes speak to Narissara Pianwimungsa. On many levels. She is drawn to the mysteries they hold, eyes that watch, eyes that are being watched. “I have always been fascinated by eyes. It’s how we express our emotions,” she explains. “I wonder what would happen if the eye was not just on the face but on other things, what would happen. On a book, a pillow, on a cup…” Narissara trails off, but one gets the feeling she is not referring to just a two-dimensional depiction of an eye but an all-seeing one: ‘One that watches and knows it is being watched back’. She references the Eye of Providence, a sign of God’s benevolence in early Christianity that transformed into a mystical symbol of a secretive cult, the Illuminati.
As the Artist in Residence at The Peninsula Bangkok, Narissara has once again made the eye her focus. Titled ‘Gravity of Thoughts’, it is a continuation of the hotel’s Art in Resonance series in support of Thai artists. In this oeuvre, Narissara explores the power of nature, delves into her chaotic state of mind thanks to the rampaging coronavirus, and contemplates the fragility of life.
The eyes see it all: her struggles, her triumphs – all reflected in embroidery. ‘Thought No.1’ has a room with a mirrored ceiling all to itself. Twelve white bedsheets from the hotel’s inventory are Narissara’s canvas. Her brushstrokes in black thread – both machine and hand embroidered; black represents the ‘fear and chaos of the past year’. The eyes painted in acrylic black in rows. The sheets hang from the ceiling on tenuous, barely visible nylon strings – rising in peaks, crashing down into waves, ending as ripples. The eyes look at you from all directions; no matter where in the room you stand, there’s always an eye looking straight at you. The string is fragile; the shadow of its breaking looms over the artwork – a metaphor for life. The embroidered web is like a giant lace net cast out, pulling up her thoughts from the depths of her being. The perfect balancing and weighing of the sheets turn them into sculptural art as the web of black threads rises in waves. That the installation is on the banks of the Chao Phraya River adds another layer; the Maenam (or Mother River in Thai), a life-giving force whose waters underwrite the history of the city it cuts through; their destinies entwined forever.
Adds Narissara, “This has two of my signatures – lace embroidery and eyes. It is about balance and the rules of gravity. The idea came to me when the pandemic first appeared. There was panic and sadness. And during my self-isolation, I went into a spiral of negative thinking. I realised I needed balance to organise my life, my emotions and my thoughts. So I applied the principles of balance and gravity to my art. I used the rules of gravity to control its shape and form as it hangs from the ceiling.”
The artwork is a metaphor for life – perfectly balanced at the end of a fine thread. When a spiral of negativity and fear take over, finding your balance again means hanging on by that thread until the shockwaves have receded.
Why bed sheets? “The objects in the hotel have a story to tell, people come and go, and they use these objects. Beds are very close to humans; we are born in a bed; when we want to isolate ourselves, we lock ourselves up in our bedrooms. When we are tired, we lie down in bed. Beds have a story to tell.”
Embroidery and black thread carry into her next work a big calico – Unparalleled World: a black wolf outlined on basic white calico with a red moth for a head. The piece created for her 2019 residency in Japan: ‘New menagerie’. The work is symbolic – the wolf, an animal that stalks the night, staying in the shadows and the moth that changes colour to hide from danger. The eyes on its wings scare off predators. Together they live in an ‘unparalleled world’, the outcast and the unseen. The rendition in embroidery adds another layer to the story: from a distance, it is perfection, but up close, you see the imperfections – a reflection of life. She adds, “I wanted the audience to understand that art is not only about looking. Sometimes, it is also about being seen – that piece is also looking back.”
‘Thought No.2’ is a soft sculpture of coloured pillows suspended in the main lobby from the ceiling low enough to touch. Her answer to the question: ‘if thoughts had physical form and weight, what would they look like?’ “This is supposed to comfort and envelop us as pillows would. It also resembles our thoughts, which are like waves on a river and not fixed.” She encourages the viewer to touch the pillows, to interact with her art: “I want people to be unafraid of art.”
For The Peninsula Bangkok, ‘Art in Resonance’ is about supporting the community and providing local artists with a stage. Explains Khemwanta Tangon, Director of Brand Marketing and Communications, “We want to create awareness for the art community, to support the artists. We want people to understand how art helps in daily life, how it heals, the bridges it builds and how it can inspire and create conversations. The art should be thought-provoking; that is our brief to the artist; you create a conversation, and you open the minds of people to the views of others.”
How do these varying interpretations sit with the artist is the question, though? Narissara is unperturbed, “Art is not a decoration. I like it when people see things differently from what I see. I like hearing about how they respond to my work. If they have an opinion about my work, that is already good because we are making a connection. What people say inspires me. The personal connections the viewer makes is what my art is all about.”
Narissara Pianwimungsa is showing at The Peninsula, Bangkok, until March 31, 2021. (Photos: The Peninsula Bangkok)