Five Questions with Bundith Phunsombatlert

Name: Bundith Phunsombatlert
Title/Occupation: Artist

1. Where did you grow up and how did you end up where you are now?
I grew up in Bangkok, the capital city of Thailand. I studied art at Silpakorn University, the first fine art university there. My major was printmaking both in B.F.A and M.F.A. In my past work, I explored how the principal qualities of printmaking can cross media from what is typically two dimensional, to three dimensional forms of art, such as sculpture and installation. Starting in 1996, my concern was with how material can have physical and metaphoric meaning in art. My interest soon turned from printed media to installation art, in which space is one of the most important characteristics. From here, I began to explore the field of new media art, which has further pushed my investigation of describing space through both the process of time and through the experiences of people via participation and interactivity.

After finishing my MFA in printmaking in 2000, I decided to return to school to study for a Masters in Digital Media, but it took me ten years before I came to study in the Digital+Media department at Rhode Island School of Design. Before then, I considered myself a self-taught media artist or practical researcher. I started to work in the field of art and technology in 2001 and learned from the direct experiences of participating in art and technology exhibitions abroad. I worked in new media art before I was aware of what it meant, theoretically, and realized that new media art is a new language that would broaden my art. It is because of my interest in art and technology that brings me from my homeland to another land. First, I travel with my work for installation of exhibitions and stay in residency programs abroad. Then, I came to study in the US follow my interest.

2. Which performance, song, play, movie, painting or other work of art had the biggest influence on you and why?
The two works that help me understand cross-cultural experience are Sip My Ocean, 1996 by Pipilotti Rist, and Turbulent, 1998, by Shirin Neshat. Both of these two artworks are in the permanent collections of the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, installed in the different spaces of the museum. The exhibition room in which the two videos are projected creates an interpretative space between two cultures where the audience brings their own interpretation of that contrast. Rist’s video installation uses the wall surface at the corner of the room to represent the mirroring moving images. The effect of this technique provides the three dimensional space under the quality of illusive dimension of video projection. The video shows the colorful life living under the sea, such as shimmering coral, fish, and jellyfish. Rist, who was born in Switzerland, also uses her own body in the swimming suit to represent her work as one of the moving elements under the water. The work combines the visual images with song, which she created her own version of Chris Isaak’s pop song: Wicked Game, in a tone both unpleasant and enjoyable. Sip My Ocean interprets the quality of dream and the sense of place through effects of video production.

While Rist’s work recaptures the cheerful attitude and the dream-like effect to the public, Neshat’s Turbulent represents another position of a woman on the other side of the world. Neshat’s black and white video installation has two large-scale projections on the two opposite sites of the wall. On one wall, a male singer, who turns his back to the audience, delivers a love song to a group of men. He feels comfortable from the position of what he chooses to take. On the opposite wall, a woman in a black chador stands silently on the stage while the male is singing. There is no audience on her side, and she faces an empty auditorium. But, after the male singer finishes his song, the woman sings her song in a sensual way. This impassioned wordless sound from the hidden female singer shows the limitation of expression of women in the social context. Both contradictory behaviors show the cultural privilege of the men to the women under religious and cultural context. The women have no choice to take, but the society has imposed it to her. The woman’s performance is outlawed and exists only as a dream.

3. What skill, talent or attribute do you most wish you had and why?
In art and technology, only the specific skill, knowledge, and aesthetic of technology or art are not enough because it is a combination of both of these forms. It is a combination of technique, materials, and functions, through both the process of time and through the experiences of people via participation and interactivity. As I am from visual art background, I wish I should learn more about both general and specific skill and concept in technology in order to further push my investigation of describing space in my artworks. Also, (new) media art is time and budget consuming. I hope to get better in managing my time.

4. What do you do to make a living? Describe a normal day.
I work as an artist and I have some other works to support my art career. I do not have a routine day. In the past, my schedule is normally depended on the project or the work I do in that time. Also, I just finished my second MFA in Digital Media. I am on the transformative time of where to go and work, so everyday I spend a lot of time planning and researching of what to do next.

5. Have you ever had to make a choice between work and art? What did you choose, why, and what was the outcome?
When I have a chance to choose, I usually choose to spend time for my art more than other works. The reason I spend a lot of my budget and time on my art is because I want to go further on my art direction. Artist life is quite hard. Although I am working in other types of work for living, I still think about my art project all the time. When I spend a lot of time mainly on my art projects, sometimes it is better to do other works for living together with making art, as it is good to look at the art (of what you think by yourself) from other different perspectives.

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