Bangkok Post - Outlook, July 08, 2010
In December last year, Thai artist Vipoo Srivilasa, who arrived in Australia in 1997, presented a stunningly visual display of ceramic sculptures entitled, ``Indigo Kingdom'', at the Anna Pappas Gallery in Melbourne.
His exhibition turned ceramic sculptures into a theatrical story, which dramatically illustrated the impact of human activity on coral reefs and the oceans in general.
He also used ceramic sculpture to write his own biography. To guide us through the play of references in this complex commentary, Vipoo called upon the help of his mermaid alter ego. The mermaid, like the coral, is the canary in a mine; an indicator of imminent threat. ``Indigo Kingdom'' was a sober reminder of the environmental crisis confronting us today. The world's reefs and oceans are in dire peril as a result of global warming, oil spills, and overfishing to feed the planet's burgeoning human population.
At the end of last month Vipoo finished yet another successful group exhibition in Sydney. However, this exhibition, while being quite different to his usual work, was equally brilliant, consisting of a series of incredibly flamboyant and colourful teapots.
``I started making teapots as a way of learning how to fit in to Australia's lifestyle and culture,'' he explains.
``Australians are among the most enthusiastic tea drinkers in the world, so this is a good country to learn about the culture of tea drinking. I started making teapots while studying for my master's degree at Hobart University. Most of my fellow students were making teapots so I joined in. I think it helped me to fit in with everyone else. And once I made my first teapot, I just couldn't stop.
``Every year, I participate in an international teapot exhibition in Shanghai. The theme each year is based on the 12 symbolic animals in the Chinese zodiac. As you know, this is the Year of the Tiger, so I've entered a tiger teapot. I am now making rabbit teapots for next year's show.''
Last year he did a residency in Chiang Mai at the Thai Celadon Factory, which was established in 1960. ``It utilised traditional craftsmanship that has been handed down through generations from father to son. It was a rare privilege to be given an insight into the techniques used at the factory,'' he says.
During his residency he experimented with new glaze materials and collaborated with the factory's staff to exchange ideas and knowledge.
``One of the end results of my residency was the `Pee Bear Teapot' range. Pee Bear comes with five different hats [lids], including a Thai hat [in gold], a Chinese hat, an Indian hat and more. The idea is you change the hat to suit the tea in the pot; the Chinese hat for Chinese tea, the Japanese hat for Japanese tea, and so on. The five hats are part of the teapot package.''
He advised people in his email invitations to the opening night of his Sydney exhibition: ``I am delighted to let you know that my new `Pee Bear Teapots' are now available in Australia. As I have only five sets available, please let me know as soon as possible if you want one.''
To his amazement they sold out within minutes of sending out the emails, and he is now working frantically to produce more to satisfy the many people who missed out. There were obviously a large number of teapot enthusiasts out there, which gave him an idea.
``My original idea was to manufacture it jlcommercially and make it available worldwide. However, the owner has decided to close down the Thai Celadon Factory due to the economic downturn and political situation in Thailand. So now I now plan to make the Pee Bear range in Australia and offer it to a niche market, maybe even selling it through such organisations as the Marine Conservation Society [marineconservation.org.au]. This way some of the money raised from the sales will go towards saving the marine environment.''
In between churning out teapots he is working on three new major pieces illustrating the recent catastrophic street riots in Thailand entitled, ``Bloody Bangkok'', which will be on show at the Melbourne Contemporary Art Fair in August.
However, his enduring love is teapots.
``It is a whole new world when you start making and collecting teapots ... trust me,'' he says.