The Journal of Australian Ceramic online November 2012
Karen Weiss considers the migrant experience both ways with Vipoo Srivilasa
Tucked in a corner of the @Bangkok Restaurant in Sydney’s Thainatown, Vipoo Srivilasa sits at a table decorated with flowers and figurines, like a fortune teller awaiting customers. Two young women approach and sit down opposite him. There is some initial nervousness, then laughter. Vipoo leans forward explaining the project in rapid Thai, more laughter as the women relax, now that they understand what the project is about.
Thai-Na-Town – Little Oz is part of an ongoing community project, ‘Mapping Chinatown’, initiated by Sydney’s 4A Centre for Contemporary Asian Art to explore the different minority Asian cultures whose vibrant presence is changing the face of the original Chinatown. Commissioned by 4A, Vipoo has created a project which explores the migrant experience of both Thais and Australians. The question he uses to investigate this is, “What do Thai (and other) people miss most since they moved to Australia?” In Australia, Thai-Na-Town project venues are Thai restaurants. In Thailand, Little Oz will take place in Chulalongkorn Art Centre in Bangkok, asking Australian expats, “What do you miss most?”
Vipoo asks the two women to write briefly about what they are going to make and gives them small squares of paper to draw their object on. Next he gives them a blue piece and a white piece of airdrying clay, to make their objects. This process serves to simplify the design.
Without hesitating, they begin. While they are making, they are immersed in the place and time of their object’s story. Vipoo helps them with the making, asking questions whenever the flow of narrative falters. One woman has made a crab waving its claws, the other holds up a tiny dish filled with food and a miniature spoon for Vipoo to photograph. Both are delighted with what they have made.
Vipoo remarks later, “They don’t miss things that I would expect to hear at all. Missing a cat, a small boat, a particular place that they used to be. Mostly they talk about the object, and slowly then, people come, behind the objects.”
Vipoo asks them to write a note to a recipient to be placed in a box with the object and mailed. Included will be a detailed description explaining the project, requesting the receiver to upload a photograph of the object on Facebook and to send the work to Vipoo in Bangkok to be exhibited in November, together with the objects made there. As Vipoo notes, “The person who receives it is part of the project as well.”
This is not the first interactive project Vipoo has done outside of galleries. As he says, ”I like working with people, I like talking with people ... you can’t expect what’s going to happen – [it’s] exciting. When I realised this aspect of my personality, it changed my world. I’m still making objects, but I want my objects to do other things, [not just be solely] an object.”
My thanks to Vipoo Srivilasa, Toby Chapman of 4ACentre for Contemporary Asian Art and @Bangkok Restaurant