Interview: Thanchanog Mai Chin Ho
Luca Curci talks with Thanchanog Mai Chin Ho during MIXING IDENTITIES, third appointment of CANVAS ART FAIR, at THE LINE Contemporary Art Space in London.
Originally from Thailand, I am a multidisciplinary artist based in Singapore. My citizenship renunciation and migration history have compelled me to work around the theme of identity across traditional and new media involving light as the key concept. Primarily painting, photography, video art, and graphics, I employ these media to recreate my own space beyond the impression of the physical realm. Directly or indirectly, light is manipulated as the constant among these media to explore the notion of time and consciousness traversing autobiography and memories. It precedes visual perception of physical reality, symbolic to spirituality, and its intangibility resonates with my desire to reclaim my sense of self from displacement. I often find the common ground in nature and spirituality to retrieve the intrinsic essence of the self. By interpenetrating the impression of these spaces between the physical and beyond, I ultimately embrace the idea of oneness through an experimental approach with this intangible matter.
Luca Curci – What’s your background? What is the experience that has influenced your work the most?
Thanchanog Mai Chin Ho – I was born in Hatyai, Thailand, and spent my entire childhood growing up in a suburban area before moving to Singapore. My work “Suburbia” is influenced by my formative years growing up in a suburban landscape through the lens of my “personal nostalgia”. With my recent citizenship renunciation and migration history, I seek to recreate a familiar ambiance like a road trip that reverberates with the idea of homecoming while the city is chasing time. Traversing the influences of memory, biography, and culture, I was compelled to explore the notion of temporal displacement and tension between the suburban and the urban space through a socio-cultural narrative structure of light and shadow play happening behind my home window. Growing up in Southern Thailand, I had referenced and incorporated certain aspects of the southern traditional folk shadow puppetry, “Nang Talung”. I then modernised them into video art to narrate my story where my home window acts as a screen.
LC – What are you currently working on?
TMCH – Recently, I have been experimenting around with a much more raw approach. I was drawing an astray trail of light through the motion of the camera lens instead of the conventional approach with a long exposure that captures the motion of the light. All of which took place in between the intervals during work instead of creating it during my studio time. Through this reverse autonomy, I aim to express my attempt to take back control by dissolving the relationship between the subjects and space through a multi-directional velocity. Hence, it creates a possibility of a new dimensional perspective. I like to reimagine the space around me and through this, I work with light. As the subjects within the space remold themselves under the influence of the fluctuating motions, they unveil the possibilities beyond what our eyes perceive to be the limit. This visual perception of physical realities intends to decelerate the pace of our time-chasing momentum. At the same, capturing the desire to lose it momentarily for an interval that challenges its perceived space and time. This premise is derived from my autobiography of giving up my suburban dream and nationality for stability in a fast-moving city where I find an ongoing conflict within myself. From here I intend to continue with my experimentation and perhaps develop a body of work in response to the concept. Aside from my studio practice, I have recently curated Yuwana Zine #4 LOCKDOWN by ASEAN Youth Forum which is scheduled to publish on 28th May. Alongside, I am currently working on an ongoing “Emotions in Digital Data” project with A*STAR which plans to launch its exhibition some time this year in 2021 as well.
LC – Where do you find your inspiration?
TMCH – While schooling, I used to specialise in Western Painting. Since then, I have been influenced by certain techniques such as Tenebrism from the Baroque movement and the idea behind Impressionism which is about capturing moments using light and colours. Hence, over the years of my expedition, I found my fascination for the phenomenon and nature of light itself. However, I don’t particularly limit my source of inspiration to a fixed or a specific figure or form. Each of my projects has its trajectory that would incline me to various and diverse subjects I find resonance with. For “Suburbia” in particular, the tone of the installation is rendered like a traditional painting whereby the technique of tenebrism is adopted, just like how Vermeer’s paintings translate to film through the use of light to model his composition. Tenebrism derived from the Italian word tenebroso-meaning dark, gloomy and mysterious. It is a technique developed by an Italian painter, Caravaggio in the 17th century often used to create a dramatic illusion. With this technique, I intended to heighten the tension further by isolating the subject in a darkened and obscured setting. As the projection illuminates the room in varying levels of luminosity, it subtly renders the form of the surrounding. Eventually, reveals the intermittent transition between the interior and the exterior space of a home setting. This contrast creates an uncanny relationship between the subject and its space in resemblance to the dream state where we are no longer conscious of the real place and time. In addition, I have also referenced Apichatpong Weerasethakul, a renowned Thai contemporary artist, and filmmaker who works across films, installations, and short videos. During my theoretical research for this work, I was looking into temporal form and reflection on time in the works of Thai contemporary artists. “Uncle Boonmee who can recall his past lives” was one of the works by him I had a pleasure analysing. It shared some relevance to my thematic investigation of time and memory. I was inspired by Weerasethakul’s unconventional film structure that is often non-linear. His contemporary approach in manipulating light and time and his way of seeing cinema functions as memory connect with me immediately. I was intrigued by how “Uncle Boonmee” had transported me between reality and myth, and immersed me into the introspective setting of memory.
LC – Do you use art to express something in particular? Is it like your medium of expression?
TMCH – In my artistic practice, light is my constant medium. I see it as the fundamental key to visual art. I intend to employ light not merely as the main form of expression, but also as a vehicle for other forms of expression which is evident in my work, “Suburbia”. In this case, it is an indirect form of expression of light. Throughout the video, the viewer will catch a glimpse of silhouettes and sound layered on top of the original footage. These visual and sound elements signify the has-beens that stem from recurring dreams and memories during my childhood projected onto the current reality. The tension here is dire as the generic is gradually succeeding in what was perceived as authentic to me. Thus, “Suburbia” is drawing the parallel to my experience of perpetual loss for both circumstances while also eliciting the preciousness for the diminishing sense of identity. The video footage of my hometown is also framed and projected onto my home window in Singapore. Therefore, a home within a home and a window within a window. The concept of framing plays a significant role in this work. From the video to the site-specific projection to the screen which we view from. It is used as a buffer that aims to create distance and suggest dimensions belonging to a different time and place. All of which are parallel and visible yet inaccessible just like the concept of nostalgia. The longing desire to relive the moments of the past that now merely exists in the stream of our consciousness. At the same, it also reiterates the temporal displacement experienced from my history of renunciation and migration. Ultimately, “Suburbia” is not a physical place, rather a place that exists in the realm of my consciousness. Hence, this work intends to transport the viewer through a landscape of poetic visual and sound that hopes to trigger their reminiscence or bittersweet nostalgia they long to reunite.
LC – How is being an artist nowadays?
TMCH – Pursuing art is undoubtedly full of challenges especially living in a city that favours academy over creativity. The pandemic also has further jeopardised many creative businesses and job opportunities. However, everything has a way out. In this day and age, turning and adapting to technology would be an inevitable option to sustain and grow one’s artistic career. There has also been a rise of collectives and initiatives that support the arts and cultural sectors more as well. In the current city that I am living in, art has been more alive and celebrated by the public and the government than a decade ago. I am privileged to rejoice the progress of the pioneers who have paved the way for young artists like me today.
LC – What do you think about the concept of this festival? How did it inspire you?
TMCH – The concept of the festival resonated very well with me and my current areas of exploration of identity. The vagueness of the theme had given the room for diverse interpretations as reflected in each artwork featured in the exhibition. Not to mention, being able to witness different stories from different artists offers me very insightful and fresh perspectives. I have been especially very inspired by the artists that shared the same screen as me such as Time Specific and Lal Batman to name a few. I am intrigued by their artwork and their creativity has inspired me to keep creating as well. It was a dynamic and empowering space to be in with artists from different backgrounds.
LC – In which way the artwork presented in our exhibition is connected with the festival’s theme?
TMCH – “Mixing Identities” immediately connects me to my story in “Suburbia”. The video portrays the tension of the coexisting rural and the urban landscape that creates an odd dynamism. It is about the ever-evolving landscape of my hometown identity in analogy to my own after renouncing my Thai citizenship which I had truly connected with. Similarly to what is mentioned in the write-up of the exhibition: “the transformation of our identities is essential to face the changes of the contemporary world. The process of building ourselves passes through the continuous relations with other people’s identities and the identities of communities, cultures and societies.”
LC – Did you enjoy cooperating with us?
TMCH – Absolutely, I am very grateful for the opportunity to showcase my art with ITSLIQUID Group. With the Covid-19 situation around the world, traveling is almost impossible currently. Being able to see my artwork traveling instead, all the way to the other side of the world to be appreciated makes it extra special. Thank you for featuring me and my artwork!