News at Tipitaka Network
A symphony in wax
Visiting artists create some wonders at Ubon Ratchathani's wax sculpture exhibition and candle festival
Story and photos by ANDREW J. WEST, Bangkok Post, Saturday July 28, 2007
Joining this year's Buddhist "Lent" day procession, and helping the people of Ubon Ratchathani make merit, are contemporary sculptures by artists from around the world who worked with wax throughout July's Candle Festival to take part in Monday's grand parade through the streets of the provincial capital.
The nine sculptures are the product of the International Wax Sculpture Exhibition, organised by the Tourist Authority of Thailand to further promote the annual Isan event, which has been growing in popularity in recent years, and to celebrate His Majesty the King's 80th birthday.
The visiting artists entered a contest to be selected for participation in the procession, which is comprised of eighty carved candle floats depicting Hindu and Buddhist mythological scenes accompanied by a range of traditional dance troupes and musicians.
This is the second year that international artists have taken part in the festival, effectively transforming the city's streets into a contemporary art exhibition. After the event, the sculptures are to be kept on display for one year at Ubon Ratchathani's National Museum, before being melted down for the wax to be reused in next year's event.
"We support this exhibition, not just to attract more international attention to this well-known festival, but because we want to expose the local people, many of whom are talented wax sculptors who use traditional techniques, to modern artistic concepts. We want to raise awareness of the talent of these local Thai artists by bringing international artists here, as well as giving the visitors the opportunity of working with wax," said the director of TAT's North-Eastern Office, Napharat Kokwan.
The visiting artists are Bettino Francini from Italy, Ohel Bezyuk from the Ukraine, Arlindo Arez of Portugal, France's Joseph Visy, Stefanie Krome of Germany, Ilja West from Finland, Kaizawa Toru of Japan, Yang Jiayin from China and from Thailand, Raywat Deekew.
Some of the foreign artists are already known to Thai audiences, particularly Francini, who is the president of the Associazione Internazionale Eventi di Scultura Monumentale (AIESM, or International Association for Monumental Sculpture Events), which has created two steel sculpture parks in Thailand in the last couple of years, one at Samila Beach in Songkhla and the other at Ratchaphruek in Chiang Mai.
Assisted by local students, the sculptors have used multiple blocks of wax measuring 1m3 and weighing 800kg, to produce metaphoric messages to His Majesty the King and the people of Thailand. The sculptures, some of which are up to three metres tall and weigh over three tonnes, varying significantly in the range of their thematic content as well as style of execution.
Bettino's piece, titled Flow, explores the possibilities of this malleable material - rather than the steel he usually works with. "I've tried to synthesise all the cultures of the world using the symbol of the mother, with a shape that flows like waves in the sea," said the artist.
"I want to encourage the students that have been working withme and visiting to expand their mentality to include free forms and expression, not only to follow what they've been taught or what is tradition, but to think more freely when they're making art," he said.
Krome fuses Eastern and Western artistic traditions in Blooming Crown. "I usually work with stone or marble, and enjoyed the chance to work in wax, it's more organic, and you can add parts to it, not just subtract, and it's faster. My concept is really to let the viewer interpret what they're seeing for themselves. The different parts of it could be a woman or an angel, a lotus or a crown for example, whatever the viewer prefers," she said.
Chinese artist Jiayin, who normally works in jade and whose pieces are no larger than 40cm, has also never sculpted in wax before or made such a large piece. Jiayin has managed to produce a powerful work imbued with Eastern spiritualism. "It was a good challenge for me. I made mistakes at first, but a Thai teacher helped me, and now I understand the material much better," said Yang.
"My piece, Mother of Earth, is a portrait of the Chinese god Kuan-Im, who protects the world and brings health and happiness. I selected this subject to bring health and happiness to His Majesty the King and to the people of Thailand."
Bronze sculptor West found inspiration in traditional Thai symbols and Buddhism for his piece, Fountain of Life. "This is my first time working with wax and Asian symbolism, and I like it because I get to carve as well as do casting, which is very familiar for me. I'm proud to have been invited to this event and it's a great privilege for me to do something in honour of the King," he said.
Toru comes from Hokkaido, Japan, where he fashions wooden sculptures in his secluded studio. A member of the Ainu tribe, the aboriginal people of the island, his piece, Kotankoro Kamui, depicts the owl spirit of that name which protects his village, set atop the Earth.
"In ancient times my people couldn't see at night, but as the owl could, we looked to it to protect us in the darkness. I have placed it here, on top of the Earth to protect it, and by etching a map of Thailand and Japan linked by chains, I'm representing the 120 years of official diplomatic relations between our two countries," he said.
Beauty, by Portuguese artist Arez, who attended last year's exhibition, incorporates the fundamental essentials of life in this province, namely fish and water, in differing styles engraved on three wax cubes. "The cubes symbolise perfection, and the fish and water signify life, beauty and riches. I've chosen this form because it permits me to introduce qualities usually associated with other media, with the flat surfaces allowing me to apply different colours of wax, like a painter," Arlindo said.
Visy, from France, typically works with granite and marble in his homeland. "In Eternity, I'm exploring the relationship between the light of the candle, which is lush and golden, and the saffron-coloured wax that produces it, which has translucent and mystical qualities. I've constructed the wax into a pyramid shape to represent the temples of Thailand, wrapped in curves that signify the human spirit," said the artist.
With Naga of Perfection, Ukrainian artist Bezyuk, who normally works in stone, has been experimenting with the material to explore its possibilities, using differing temperatures for melting and pouring, and cooling and ventilating to achieve different effects.
"The concept of my work is simply a semi-abstract expressionist interpretation of the Naga, but though I've never used wax before, I've tried to take the material to its limit, operating on the edge," he said.
The final artist is Thailand's own Raywat, who originates from Chiang Rai and typically carves in wood. His sculpture, Power of Spirit, mixes traditional motifs and contemporary methods to animate supernatural Buddhist beliefs and to pay homage to His Majesty. "I'm symbolically depicting the relationship between Heaven and Earth and the King's role linking the two," he said.
The incorporation of such contemporary elements as these nine sculptures into the grand parade introduces a new dimension to the historic event that compliments its authentic Buddhist aesthetic. As the traditional floats keep the artistic and spiritual tradition of the festival alive, these new works renew it and take it into the future, linking it to the modern world.
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Namo Tassa Bhagavato Arahato Sammāsambuddhassa.
Buddha sāsana.m cira.m ti.t.thatu.