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Orawan Arunrak: Interview with a GeniusThe Chromatic Watch sat...

Orawan Arunrak: Interview with a Genius

The Chromatic Watch sat down with Orawan Arunrak last week, and she was kind enough to take us on a deep dive through her work and process.

How did you develop your style? How do you feel your work has changed over time?

My art is connected to my everyday life. I’ve never considered myself as someone who’s in search of “style.” But my surroundings and the contexts that evolve around them automatically come into play. And because of that, because I’m never in search of the style, nor does my work has its distinctiveness or a very identifiable identity, the audience might think my work is always changing. But in fact it’s only adapting to the context and content, or sometimes the message I’m trying to communicate.

You work in many mediums—which is your favorite, and why?

I usually start with the concept of my work first, then the medium comes later to support the idea. I also think about all the possibilities with that medium, and whether it would fit with my concept. During 2011-2015, I worked with basic art mediums that are easy to find, for example, pencil, pen, drawing, those kinds of small scale works. That’s because I don’t have my own studio, and because I was traveling a lot. The medium points to the temporary-ness.

We see the past’s connection to the present addressed often in your work, the WAR JOURNEY series being one example. What is it about this connection that interests you? How did you develop this fascination?

 As I have mentioned earlier, before I create my work, I usually look back and consider where am I standing, what am I doing. I observe myself first. Then the ‘addresses’ I add to my work are there for the audience to see or to imagine a space that is not just the art space. If one is curious enough, he/she could follow the address. My idea was that I want to share a space, and I was hinting so that the audience can go places and see multi-layers of new perspectives.

WAR JOURNEY was a series that emerged in between the period of when I got back from Cambodia, my life in Vietnam, and my traveling to Okinawa. “War Journey” is a part of my other working series MY GODFATHER. So in total, all of these series relate to both my personal life and my family history, to the history of warfare and politics and diplomatic relations between Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, and Okinawa, Japan.


You have worked across South East Asia, everywhere from Sri Lanka to Vietnam. How does place affect your work? Is there one place that you find provides a more fertile working ground than any other?

My journey in Sri Lanka was the beginning. From getting to know Sri Lankan arts and culture, then moving forward to Phnom Penh, Cambodia and living in the “White Building,” were good opportunities that allowed me to see the dialogues connecting between Thailand, Cambodia, to even Vietnam. Yes, living in Vietnam also helped…living with the locals for six months opened my eyes to new aspects. Especially Phnom Penh and Ho Chi Minh City, both locations had such an impact on my work. I have learned from peers of artists and creatives, specifically the Sasa Art Project, Phnom Penh, and San Art, Ho Chi Minh. Despite the warmest friendship we shared, these art spaces were like a big classroom that had me interested in the dialogues and the geo-political and historical overlaps of our nations. I have become more invested in the history of my neighboring countries as well as my own. After the residencies, I came back to Vietnam and Cambodia several times. I believe the journey me, my friends, my communities share is a really generous mutually beneficial relationship.


You yourself are often featured in or are part of your works, the series MY GODFATHER and Print It, Prove It being two examples. What have you learned about yourself from being present in your pieces this way?

As I previously discussed, most of my works start from myself. The series MY GODFATHER was a dialogue in my family, the cross-bordered relationship between Thailand and Cambodia. Print It, Prove It was about the relationship of me with my ex, the business, printing techniques, and visual dialogues. I am like the film producer and the story-teller. I created ‘role playing’ out of real situations and at the right moment. I learned a lot during that period.


In your series What Are They Doing Inside, you drew detailed living spaces smaller than the average cell phone, making viewers bend and come very close to each piece in order to see the image contained. In Where Are You, you created wall-mounted flip books gallery visitors had to flip through. Follow Me saw you fill a drawer with things for visitors to take out and examine. What is it about engaging your audience this way that interests you?

Smart phones and the virtual world are probably everyone’s norm right now. I myself am super addicted to my phone. But at the same time I’m still a very ‘analogue’ person and am very conservative about certain issues. About the series you mentioned, I wanted my audience to see the beauty of the art space as well as the reality that is outside of an art space. There’s the search, the time management, the journey both to the space and outside of the space; I put the real addresses of the places in the art so the audience could see the real place through my drawing if they chose to. Also important are the relationships between other human beings, the dispersion of all these art spaces, in a gallery, with Google Maps, walking around the real life forms, to the dialogues with the public in space—all of these influenced the map I created. I hope that it would be an alternative choice for the audience. Actually, all of them are choices, and I was giving away hints so the audience could follow my curated ‘aesthetic’ path. They can also spend more time considering things, I was trying to add and make more time for them to do so to their lives.


What do you do when you find yourself stuck or when you find that your work is not turning out as you hoped?

I masturbate first, then I take a nap, then I take a stroll.

You were a curator at the Bangkok Arts and Cultural Center. What was your approach to curation while you were there? What advice do you have for those that would like to improve their own curation abilities?

I was never a curator! I started as a volunteer at BACC, giving tours and give explanations of the artwork to audience. After that I was an Curatorial Assistant It was a great opportunity to learn many things. Every details I have learned from BACC curator Pichaya Suphavanij. The job made me see the overall picture of exhibition making, the role of the artists, the exhibition structure, the interaction with space and the public, all of these have influenced me greatly in how I create my art.


What do you do to improve as an artist? What advice do you have for others looking to improve their artistic skills?

I’m trying to improve myself on every aspect every day. Well, I think others are doing the same.


A big thank you to Orawan Arunrak for talking with us, and for all her excellent work! Be sure to keep an eye out for her new projects on her site.

And don’t forget to stop by our Facebook page to tell us who you want to see interviewed next!

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