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Feature: In conversation with Michael Yammanee Shaowanasai

In conversation with Michael Yammanee Shaowanasai.

Continue with Alistair Rupert Scott and Corbin Orwell Kent.

ARS: Let’s move on, Michael, you said earlier that you are “using” the languages as materials of choice even though they are not yours native tongue. Am I correct?

COK: Please elaborate.

MYS: I am doing it right now, naturally and shamelessly! I use the languages those I am familiarizing such as English……What is “native tongue” anyway? Who owns the right of languages those we are assigned to speak, spoke or spoken? Yes, there are set of rules and traditions of how to speak each language. And those rules were set up by any each of us! We would do our utmost to communicate to get the point across even though we have to learn new codes. We observed, imitate, memorize and repeat until we got it down. I enjoy the process tremendously. Like I said I do it naturally so don’t feel the pressure. Sometimes it’s a bit difficult, but not that difficult.

COK: So you have a gift.

MYS: It is more of a curse, really. I remember I was in Budapest, I was walking behind a woman talking on the phone quite loudly, my auto pilot kicked in and I began to repeat anything that she said. Then she turned around and gave me dead stare. It did not go well.

ARS: Awkward! You understood what she was saying?

MYS: Not a word! But I got the accent down! (laughs) Hungarian is not easy to pick up, language I mean (audiences laugh). It is not Latin based. It related to Finnish which is another story!

What I would like to say is, after a while living among “your own people”, things will start to stale, comfy but stale. We also can see that the homogenous society does not produce the kind result in the long run. It will thrive for a while and then it will go downhill fastly! ...I believe that things need to be evolving. Things need to be mixing up. You all know 1982 “Blade Runner”, the original one? (some audiences nod) The role of detective Gaff, portrayed by Edward James Olmos, his dialect is the mixture of English, Spanish, Japanese, Korean and Hungarian. We can look at it as the “mixed up” or we can see it as the process of how we are moving forward.

COK: But, things can go sideways: it can be misuse, mispronounced or misunderstood and shift away from original context.

MYS: Isn’t that a beautiful things to be? Isn’t that how OUR CULTURES are created? Right can be wrong and vice versa! As a Thai: I am proud of being so…Thai. As an American I am so grateful as a part of the largest mixed breed group of people in the last 200+ years. American –English is the most mixed up language, like ever! Yes, we might have given you the Kadashians but we also gave you MLK! (audiences laughs) You kids know who is MLK right? The good and the bad make the picture complete OR incomplete, that depends on your preferences, standpoint, age and your consumption of information. To me, it is charming, it is humanized and it is what we are……When we are talking about original context, in my opinion, it is all depends on WHOSE ORIGINAL CONTEXT we are referring to? We might say words or phrases in different accents or pitches but we (at least some of us) are trying to comprehend it by acting it out, guessing it or use the translator apps. A little bit of observing, practicing and a dash of unprejudiced will take you a long way.

ARS: So, what is your keys to “understood” or absorb the languages those you want to, let’s say mastering?

MYS: Besides what I already said? Get boyfriends or girlfriends: (audiences laugh) younger or older get them all. They….sorry guys…they can’t wait to correct yr speeches. It is like they have God given rights or something? (audiences laughs) No, they can be the best or the worst teacher. OH, one crucial tip: do not correct yr BF or GF’s speeches during sex. It never goes down well. (audiences laugh)

ARS: Interesting point indeed, Michael. Let’s say, in art context, can you share with us how NOT TO make mistake in term of misrepresenting or misuse of “the material”, according to you?

MYS: I would suggest going ahead and making mistake! Hopefully you will learn from it (laughs). Nha…RESEARCH and RESEARCH and RESEARCH! Asking around, have yr ears/eyes opened, observe and lower your pride. As an artist, you ought to have solid reasons to backing up your creations. I do not buy that “it’s art, it can be anything!” crap. When you wake up one morning and realized that you are an artist, you are stepping on raised platform, you became an inspirer, whether you like it or not: you can make people happy or angry, content or discontent, smiles, laughs or cries. It is quite a taxing responsibility indeed. And as a self-proclaim Omnivert: I hated it but I am kind-a like it. Know what I mean? (audiences clapping, nodding and laugh)

COK: Whew! It sounds a bit exhausting, don’t you agree? (COK turns to ARS)

ARS: In deed, in deed. Tell us Michael, how much the influence of Buddhism or Zen plays the part in yr works?

MYS: Love the question! First of all, for me Zen is one thing and Buddhism is another, we clear? I would say: there are a lot but I do not want my works to be labeled as Zen or Buddhist works. I treat my beliefs as the way I conduct myself or what I am trying to conduct myself in many aspects. Whatever I do, there will be hints of Zen and/or Buddhism in it. Like a bottle of good Merlot or Tempranillo, you can taste the earthy taste along with the wine when you drink it.

ARS: Good comparison.

MYS: I create works for myself, I am the first audience…basically I am a stylish selfish bastard artist! (audiences laugh) I used to care deeply of how others will “see” and understood my works. After years of worrying, I realized that what so called experts: art historians, curators, collectors, gallerists: you know the one who wears expensive funny glasses frames… Haven’t anyone told them that they look funny in those frames? (audiences clap and laugh) Not you Alistair, you and yr frame look fabulous together!

ARS: adjusting his glasses: Thank you kindly! (they all laugh)

MYS: I don’t know! I love my works to look non art like as possible. I’d like my works to blend in and be overlooked and yet it would somehow stay in your mind. Like one guy at the party that does not talk to anyone, he is a bit weird but not crazy weird, you know who I mean? What I’d like to say is I am not going to thrust my ideas in you but I’d like you to come up with your own answers. Artists’ job is to entice viewers to something that they don’t yet know they need. It can be something that you already aware of but need affirmation. It can be something totally foreign and new or it can be some little insignificant thing that needs to be re-addressed.

I am NOT the kind of artist that makes weird images just for the sake of standing out. In a nutshell, my works are like the fart that silent but semi-deadly. (audiences claps and laughs) And kids, don’t let any funny glasses frames people tell you what you are doing, you know damn well what you are doing!

COK: That sums up pretty well, don’t you agree?

ARS: Totally, totally. We have a bit of time; let’s take questions from the audiences. Let’s see, you sir, the one in cerulean jumper.

A man in cerulean jumper: Me? Thank you, my jumper is blue. Hi, Michael my question to you is……

ARS: Well it cerulean, it…….

COK to ARS: OH, don’t go Miranda Priestley’s on us pls. Yr jumper is nice shade of blue or cerulean, it is very smart sir! Pls proceed.

MYS and audiences laugh: Yes, your name pls…..

A man in cerulean jumper: Thank you, my name is Kush Uziel MacGregor, I am an artist.

MYS: Are you?

KUM: (smiles and touches his earlobe) I am studying to be an artist, actually.

MYS: You sure you can do that? (audiences laugh)….. I’m just joking with you! Question SVP?

KUM: Uhmm…You seem to have unique way in approaching arts making and seeing things, can you give an artist-in-making like me any good artist tips?

MYS: NO FREAKING WAY! (laughs) You guys did not pay me enough DUH! (audiences laugh) I am already told you a lot, just think about it, it is not that complicate! Do not think too much, it’s just art and IT IS ART…do your own the calculation, make up your own recipe, screwing up! And when opportunity comes along, have affairs with curators, art historians or gallerists, it always works! (audiences laugh and clap)

COK: Young lady in purple scarf pls. You name first.

Young lady in purple scarf: Hello Michael, my name is Tallulah Imogen Troy, my question is, as a native English speaking artist, I also works with words/language as well, how can I go about my practice and usage of English language in the ever changing world?

MYS: There are couples of ways Tallulah: get yr guard up and stay resist or embrace the changes and use yr base knowledge in “language” to plough through and standing out. English will be the main tongue for the next 100+ years but in order to do that, the old bard must learn how to TIK TOK. In the near future, there will be political refugees, climate refugees, I-can-not-express-myself-in-my-country refugees and other reasons refugees moving around. Yes, we are having this throughout our history but not in this scale. ESOL program will be jam packed! And everybody will not come out speaking like the casts of The Crown! (audiences clap and laugh). They are also not traveling lite, I am not talking about ottoman and boudoir sets but they will come with very big baggage, something that they will use to ID who they are: their cultures.

Changes do not make us any less, in contrary, it can make us whole: like I said, adjusting your pride knob a bit but not too much, stand firm with will to share the space. Nothing really belonged to us, we just using it until the next new thing come along… Just like IPhones, we were all shocked and awe at first with IPhone 1 and when IPhone 64 comes out we know exactly how to go about it. Pls do not forget that we are the mammal that can think and solve problems. Act like one!

TIT: Thank you Michael, thank you! (audiences clap)

ARS: Well guys, how about that! Pls give the big round of applause to our guest artist/speaker Michael Shaowanasai.


Michael Shaowanasai is one of the leading multi-disciplinary artists to emerge in South East Asian art scene over the last two decades. After attended the prestigious Law school at Chulalongkorn University, Bangkok Thailand, he went on to received BFA from San Francisco Art institute in 1994 and MFA from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago in 1996. Shaowansai’s repertoire is quite vast: all of them can be called the productions of his “performances”. The video works such as "The Adventures of Iron Pussy", “EXOTIC 10” and "The Artist of the moments" have developed the cult status as well as international distinction in major exhibition such as 2003 Venice Biennale, 2004 Berlin Film Festival, 2009 Venice Biennale and 2011 Busan International Film festival. His works highlighted the area of history, social, cultural as well as gender issues.

He was the guest’s lecturer in areas range from Fine and Applied arts, Gender study, Philosophy & Religious and Anthropology with numbers of institutions from Chulalongkorn University: Bangkok, Thailand. The school of The Arts institute of Chicago: Chicago, Illinois. USA. Emory University: Atlanta, Georgia. UAS, Rijkes Academie: Amsterdam, the Netherlands. Monash University: Melbourne. Australia. Elam School of the Arts at University of Auckland, Auckland, New Zealand and University of California at Santa Cruz. California, USA.

The exclusive list of the curators those he had cooperated with led with Dr. Apinan Poshyananda, Gridthiya Gaweewong, Hu Han Ru, Melissa Chiu, Pi Li, Toshio Shimitzu, Giancarlo Politi, Cecile Bourne, Sarah Tutton, Tessa Dwyer, Wayne Bearwald, Sylvie Fortin, Michael Petry , Iola Lenzi , Dr. Shahidul Alam, Brian Curtin and Jose Ng.

Shaowanasai was born in 1964. He resides in Bangkok Thailand since 2001.

In Our Own Words is an ongoing feature where artists and writers are asked to speak about their new work, ideas or projects, or works that they have been thinking about in their own words. It is also part of invert/extant Transmissions for the Artist Writings series. If you would like to be kept up to date on this or other projects, please sign up for our newsletter.

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