Watermark 2013: Review by Sebastien Tayac
The ubiquity of resistance
“Water has no taste, no color, no odor; it cannot be defined, art relished while ever mysterious. Not necessary to life, but rather life itself. It fills us with a gratification that exceeds the delight of the senses.”
ANTOINE DE SAINT-EXUPERY (1900-1944), Wind, Sand, and Stars, 1939.
Water, one of the four elements, was chosen as main theme by Malaysian Australian artist Sasi Victoire for her exhibition entitled “Watermark” at the Art Gallery of the Faculty of Fine Arts:The power of water is immense, its symbol ambivalent…
By pushing the doors and entering this gallery, the visitor falls instantaneously into a deep quietude brought by the sound of flowing water diffused in this space. This environment allows us to consider more serenely the diversity of artifacts presented. The journey of this exhibition was born in Australia, has grown in Thailand and will return to its origins for her final show. Several grouping are recognizable. A first set made in Australia, where we can find amongst other pieces three circular minimalist artifacts entitled “Watermark”. Ouroboros for some, Ensōfor the others, the title alludes also to the reliance on mark making, a process extensively used in printmaking. It also refers to the physical and the psychological marks left by the effect of the abundance or scarcity of water on humanity.
In recent years both, Chiang Mai, Thailand, and North Queensland, Australia, have been subjected to heavy flooding. Both countries have been impacted by water. Sasi lives in close proximity to water at the edge of the Barron River in Cairns on the edge of the Barron River Conservation Park. Throughout the visit, Sasi will constantly put us in a cultural and geographical in-between situation. In Cairns, one day while doing her usual morning walk along the river, she found a right shoe on a mound of branches. Unspoiled by the mud, Sasi decided to take it and keep it with her. Who is the owner? Where does this shoe come from? Where is the left one? Of course, it is impossible to answer these questions... however Sasi will tell us a story during this exhibition… In the manner of "once upon a time", in “Debris” she brings us back to the moment of the meeting in a way to allow us to see the scene through her eyes. If the lexical field of water is found in various forms in this exhibition, the “surviving shoe” is always in filigree enabling us not to lose the thread of Sasi’s thoughts. As travelling companions, we embark on“Sasi’s Noah’s arch shoe” to confront this deluge of water. It is precisely the title of one of the works that seems the most interesting. A child, an old man with a white beard and a woman in the background, try to protect themselves from the rain under a damaged umbrella. In spite of the technological evolution, humans are completely vulnerable facing the natural elements. However, the three protagonists are pulling against each other both for warmth and protection from the rain under what remains of the umbrella. The old man puts his hand on the shoulder of the child to comfort him. The man in the background who is taller seems to help the old man carry the umbrella. He is surrounded by a halo of white light as a Christ in mandorla. The scene takes place in a very dark ambience... the sun is obscured by clouds... but the light remains present as long as mutual aid is alive... this is the metaphor of hope that Sasi seems to send us through this artifact. While it is obvious ... it is good to remember such values in these troubled times...
If Sasi appropriates Buddhism, the city of Chiang Mai (“Spirit Sentinel” and “Sriphum Corner”) in some of the artifacts, she also incorporates Thai language using words linked to water (in English: “Drip”, “Drench”, “Drizzle”, “Splash”, “Pour I and II”).
To make the message universally understandable, Sasi combines these words with the signs at the entrance of the toilet (Man / Woman) adding a child in the middle to show the importance she gives to the family unit. If the meaning of this used symbol is in the eyes of the beholder, maybe some could question Sasi’s vision of family and couple structure. This is not the case, but Sasi, in her desire to universalize, seems to undermine that nowadays different possibilities are relevant and the issue is subject of increasing attention. These symbols are not only found in the etching artworks but also in an installation “Baskets stupa” on saa paper and on sand bags.
That Thailand is a Buddhist country is a truism. Fairly classic, continuing her theme of water, Sasi incorporates necessarily Buddhist festivals of Loi Krathong and Songkran in her work. Water is symbolically used to purify the faithful and allow them to forget their sins. Incorporating lotus flowers in “Arid Lotus Fields”, “Resilience”, “Parched” or “Lotus eaters I to III”, Sasi uses also a very significant symbol of Buddhism. Everyone understands the meaning and symbolic significance of the lotus flower. However, using the title of “Lotus Eaters”, she refers also to the lotophages met by Odysseus in the Greek epic poems attributed to Homer “The Odyssey”. The lotophages were eating lotus fruits and flowers causing the people to sleep in a peaceful apathy. When she looks around her, Sasi sometimes feel that we are all lotus eaters. We need to stop been indifferent and accepting injustices around us. For years now, Sasi, through her art, vehicles feminist claims, fight against racism and addresses ecological issues. Sasi is not an advocate of art for art's sake quite the contrary. Her roots, her place in society as an emancipated woman and her views on the art scene makes her a worthy representative of committed art. In the manner of Stéphane Hessel (1917 - ) in his two essay “Time for Outrage!”and “Get involved!”, Sasi want us to wake up... but she is not advocating an armed class struggle. As an idealist, she hopes in a non-violent attitude to solve the problems… We need to become more responsible and more active in our daily lives... In this exhibition, as in her life, ecology is at the center of her concerns. The artifact “Plastic Water” is an example of one of her actual fights. The “Great Pacific Garbage Patch” is not a nightmare, it’s something real. Maybe we cannot change the world alone, but each in its own way can contribute to a better world… and as French philosopher Henri Bergson (1859 - 1941) used to say, "Think like a man of action. Act like a man of thought."
Visiting Lecturer Chiangmai University