‘The perception of cultural Objects’ was an art project first created for the Stanford-Thai exchange program (STEP) in 2012. The project has been operated at Stanford University, and was continued as a reverse project in Thailand a year later, as an ‘Art and Community’ project.
Stanford University has a student body made up of many racial groups, such as African American, Asian, White, Hispanic, Native American, and a wide variety of international students. In my experience, multicultural experiences can increase creativity, and do so in more than one way. The variety of students’ backgrounds inspired me to create an art project focusing on the interaction among different cultures, using Thai jewelry as a subject. A piece of jewelry in one culture can resemble others in other cultures, but the design of the form, shape, color, and function of jewelry from a certain country, when presented in another country, can cause misunderstanding and curiosity as well as interest. This idea of how Stanford students would interact with Thai jewelry used as part of national dancing costume, and how they would use or wear it, fascinated me. I expected that participants and I would not only learn something about the aesthetics of art, but also come to understand something about culture as a whole. Importantly, I viewed this exchange of art and cultural activity as an opening door, both for Thai culture and for me to connect with real people and their lives.
The Perception of Cultural Objects was divided into two steps. First, I asked the participants to wear Thai jewelry and gave no clues as to how to wear it the correct way. Participants could keep the piece they were given, and had a few days to create new ways of wearing it. I asked them to take a photo of themselves with the jewelry and send it to me, or give me their results in any format. Next, I analyzed the results I received in order to create an artwork. Throughout the whole process, I served as a jewelry introducer, receiver, and creator.
When I came back to Thailand, the Mixed Media majors were assigned to work on a specific subject called Art and Community for a semester. The students had to create an individual art project that could infiltrate into an actual community of their interest. The community choices were an actual village, town, institution, or student club. I saw this as a great challenge to continue my art project I had done at Stanford University. I chose to work on the jewelry-maker village Wat Taypakorn, from where I had brought Thai jewelry to the USA at the beginning of the project.
The purpose of Perception of Cultural Objects in this new incarnation was to provide insight into how change can be positive, and that change is not something that we should fear, but welcome with an open mind. Many traditional Thai arts, crafts, and plays have been developed over a long period of time. However, in this modern time, most of the pieces are protected from outside influences that could have an effect on their original design. On occasion, there has been opposition to any such influences that have tried to affect these symbolic objects. Even when the changes were presented with good intentions, these influences were met with protest and adversity.
The project DVD cover picture. This DVD includes all the documents, both photography and the documentary video from Stanford and Thai participants
I invited the villagers to participate in the project by showing them the results from Stanford and some Thai opposition news I had seen. I created various new jewelry forms that were reduced from Thai traditional dance jewelry design, but retained a traditional shiny gold color. The participants had to interpret what they were and wear them. After that, I asked the participants to discuss and express their opinions on these issues surrounding change in society. The project had expanded to include other people outside of Wat Taypakorn village, but those somehow related to this issue of tradition, like Thai dance teachers and students and Thai art history department faculty members. The reactions of the participants who were given an example of the alternative designs of Thai jewelry were carefully photographed and documented.
The final outcome was a documentary video made to look like a live TV program, but that can also be played as a looped video. I expected that this art project would lend a positive view on creative changes made to Thai traditional arts. However, the video does not have a solid conclusion, and clearly does not indicate what is correct or incorrect, as audiences should consider these issues for themselves.
Stanford Students’ results
Results from Thai participants
[Students and teachers of Thai culture and traditional dance field from various institutions, and the villagers who create the original artifacts]