Choice: ceramics by Alice Couttoupes, Somchai Charoen, Maria Chatzinikolaki, Klaus Gutowski, Shin Koyama, Keiko Matsui, Kim-Anh Nguyen, Ramesh Nithiyendran, Avital Sheffer, Vipoo Srivilasa, Kenji Uranishi, Mark Valenzuela, Prue Venables. Beaver Galleries. Until July 28.
It is debatable how much we are influenced by the culture around us and by what we have inherited from our parents and our birth place. The 13 artists participating in the Choice exhibition at the Beaver Galleries have been born overseas in countries as diverse as Thailand, Greece, Israel, Sri Lanka, Japan and Germany. They were selected for the exhibition by Beaver Galleries in collaboration with Thai-born artist Vipoo Srivilasa. Although the works are very different in concept and execution, there are interesting linkages between the artists. Most of the works are in porcelain; none are functional in the craft sense of the word; and much is sculptural. All demonstrate links with the cultural ideas and visual language of the artist's country of origin. Some of these linkages are subtle, while others are more overt. It is as if a new visual language is being developed with its meaning not easily read in either culture but providing new concepts in the creative space that has developed.
The three Japanese artists in the exhibition bring a very Japanese aesthetic to their work. These artists deal with contemporary themes by using traditional ceramic skills. Keiko Matsui's collection of elegant white porcelain bowls ( the Scar series) reference the Japanese tradition of mending old or favourite ceramics with metal (called kintsugi). The sign of this mending becomes part of the story of the ceramic. The artist has cut and altered her wheel-thrown bowls letting the place where they have been re-joined remain visible. The scar on the porcelain is linked by the artist to the fragility of the human body but in another sense it could also be seen as a sign of healing.
Shin Koyama's works deal with the Samurai's connection with death – a prominent theme in the Samurai manifesto Hagakure. His series of tea bowls ornamented with Japanese designs of nature initially appear to be very traditional.
Australian-based Thai ceramist Vipoo Srivilasa returns to Bangkok with a show that explores what Thai and Aussie expats miss most about their hometowns
Vipoo Srivilasa's blue-and-white ceramics are far more than pottery. Always visually informative, they employ plenty of symbolism in humorous yet satirical ways. A favourite image is the mermaid Supanmatcha, wife of the monkey god Hanuman in the Ramayana epic.
"Supanmatcha is a daughter of the demon king Totsakan and a fish goddess but becomes a wife of the opponent monkey god Hanuman. She lives in both the giant and human worlds. She is my alter ego as I'm also a man of two worlds - the East and the West," says Vipoo, 43.
As a Thai living in Melbourne, Vipoo's art inevitably touches upon his identity and the cultures of his two homes. Back in Thailand for his third solo show, this time at Chulalongkorn University' Art Centre, he invites other expats to create sculptural objects for his interactive ceramic art installation to represent what they miss most about their hometowns.
A community project initiated by Sydney's 4A Centre for Contemporary Asian Art, "Thai Na Town: Little Oz" aims to explore the different minority Asian cultures whose vibrant presence is changing the face of the city's original Chinatown. Vipoo went round the area's Thai restaurants, asking Thai expats to create a sculptural memento of their experience migrating to Australia. The question he posed was simple: "What do you miss most about your hometown?"
"I normally work solo in a studio but this time, I worked outside and interacted with people. I found we shared many of same experiences but the participants didn't miss the kind of things I expected. Their answers were not typical," says Vipoo, who earned his master's in ceramic art from the University of Tasmania.
Vipoo first asked the participants to write their answers then helped them to make the objects in blue-and-white clay. They were then requested to write a note to a friend or relative in Thailand, which was included in the box with the statue and mailed. The recipients were requested to send the works back to Bangkok's Art Centre to be part of the exhibition.
"From about 70 pieces, we got just one piece back. It's a clay sculpture of a radio that a participant remembered from his parents' home," he says.
In Bangkok, he held a clay workshop at the art centre with Australian expats, Australian alumni and the general public. They too were asked to create a clay object to reflect what they missed most about Australia.
"Those who had never been to Australia thought about typical symbols like the Opera House or the koala bear, but the expats or alumni surprised me with things like Tim Tam biscuits, eucalyptus, cherries and fish n' chips."
Vipoo's works always have hidden surprises and agendas. Look carefully at the ceramic works on the red display platform and you observe several transparent boxes underneath. Inside each box is a note written by the participants in Vipoo's projects describing what they hate most about their hometowns.
Ask Vipoo what he misses most about Thailand, and he points to a telephone ceramic and the porcelain of human hands with figurines on top of the fingers.
"I miss chatting on phone with friends, their jokes and their hospitality," he says.
Besides addressing the two cultural narratives, Vipoo's works also offer a satirical narrative on contemporary society, political issues and environmental concerns.
In China for a residency programme at the Pottery Workshop, Vipoo demonstrated his sadness at the conflict between red and yellow shirts by inviting 50 Chinese volunteers to help him paint portraits on 125 porcelain spoons then write the word "red" or "yellow" on each spoon.
The spoons are now displayed on lotus stands made by Thai volunteers, each of them representing people who lost their lives in the conflict.
"These spoons are installed like a cemetery. A spoon typically represents making a living for prosperity. Is poverty the reason of conflict? I preferred to ask non-Thai volunteers to take part in the project because they are neutral," says Vipoo, who has given the project the name "The Country I Missed".
He has also created two giant vases titled "Nai Nam Mee Pla" (There's fish in the waterways) and "Nai Na Mee Khao" (There's rice in the fields), reflecting a Thai saying about the country's prosperity. Images of herbs, flora and fauna, rice seeds and fish are juxtaposed with the words "red" and "yellow".
In Buddhism, all things are inherently subject to change and we should not be distracted by outside factors. Vipoo takes a dig at contemporary society by presenting several tiny figurines on lotus stands adorned with the logos of luxury fashion brand names as well as international currency symbols.
In his second solo show here, 2009's "Colonies", Vipoo presented coral-inspired porcelains adorned with quirky images to address global warming and its effect on coral reefs. This time, he has collaborated with his Facebook friends, inviting them to send him blue-and-white discarded objects and has turned these a series of small blue-and-white coral sculptures. In this way, the blue teeth of a comb, the white hair of a doll and a shirt button have become a wild ceramic work that warns us to stop messing up the ocean.