Vipoo Srivilasa is a contemporary ceramic sculptor. His artworks are often playful and whimsical, while exploring complex issues of identity, politics and the environment. Born in Bangkok, Thailand, the artist moved to Australia in 1997 where he studied ceramic art at Monash University and the University of Tasmania.
In 2008 Aaron Seeto, Director of Gallery 4a, invited Srivilasa to exhibit the Roop-Rote-Ruang (Taste-Touch-Tell) project in Sydney, a series of dinner parties where the artist would cook and serve dinner in specially created ceramic artworks. Srivilasa created a 105-piece setting based on a coral reef theme and the work unfolded as the meal was consumed over a 7-course banquet, which he cooked himself. The aim of the project was to engage guests in a complete sensory experience as the ceramic story was progressively revealed.
Srivilasa has exhibited widely around Australia and the world. His ceramic sculptures are highly sought after and his works have been acquired by significant public collections including Art Bank Australia, Art Gallery of South Australia, Shepparton Art Gallery, and Tasmania Museum and Art Gallery. I caught up recently with Srivilasa to talk about his work.
PERIL: I was privileged to experience a small restaging of your Roop-Rote-Ruang (Taste-Touch-Tell) Project earlier this year and was amazed by the sensory and sensual experience of art and immersion. It was a magical experience of food and conversation stimulated by the progression of ceramic artworks and the revelation of imagery and text during the banquet. To me this project was special in the way that it created space for social exchange through art and food. Can tell me how about how the idea for this work began and how participants responded?
VIPOO: The project began with a very casual talk one afternoon between myself and Aaron Seeto, Director of Gallery 4A. The topic was how to show my work in a different way that did not include plinths. The idea came after I told Aaron that I can cook good Thai food. It sounds like the idea suddenly popped up but in fact I’ve always been interested in creating opportunities for sharing and exploring complex ideas of cross-cultural experience through food. I’m also interested in how we interact with handmade objects, how objects impact on us in return, the role of art in the service of community building and interpersonal relationships. The role that ceramics can play in facilitating intimate interactions between people through dining events. It seemed like a perfect time and place to run with these ideas.
The guests enjoyed my fortune teller trick and really liked the pinch pot workshop during the meal. They also enjoyed the dinnerware I made. One of my favorite comments was from a lady who does not eat a lot of things, but for this party she said she would eat everything I cooked – and she did! I do like the “wows” and “ohhhhs” when I serve guests the meals. Dessert in particular because everyone got different desserts served in a covered dish. They had to choose their own dish without knowing what was inside it. They enjoyed seeing what the others got and were able to share their desserts with others to have a tase.
PERIL: In the past you’ve described how, “The works unfold as the meals are consumed. The dinner project emphasises the role of ceramics in sensory experience and embraces the Buddhist philosophy of ayatana.” Can you talk a bit about the notion of awareness and mindfulness in your artwork?
VIPOO: Through each element of Roop-Rote-Ruang, I allow the audience to experience my work on many levels. I embrace the Buddhist concept of ‘ayatana’, or the six channels of awareness. This means that sight (eyes), taste (tongue), smell (nose), hearing (ears), touch (hand) and mindfulness are all engaged. During the meal there are many little secret messages hidden in many acts I did, or hidden in the dinnerware I made. If the audience is not mindful enough they will simply miss the chance to experience all the little messages.
PERIL: I’ve followed your work for some time now and you often use recurring motifs of the sea. During the Roop-Rote-Ruang project you gave visitors a simple clay exercise in which they hand-built coral or fish to add to an underwater sea. How important is the Environment in your work?
VIPOO: Once someone said to me that creative people often have one strong idea throughout their life but they have so many different ways of presenting the idea. I found I relate to this statement very well.
Underwater seems to provide me with endless inspiration. I don’t see the point of stopping while I enjoy working with it. There is more to discover in the ocean!
Most of my works have strong and serious messages behind a bright and colourful look. Sometimes about environmental issues, sexual identity, culture difference or political views, but at the moment about coral reef issues. I hope someone can see the message from time to time.
PERIL: Your art is playful, whimsical and sensitive in its use of imagery and symbolism. I’m intrigued by the appearance of monsters and mermaids in your artwork. Can you talk about some of your favourite symbols and how you use them?
VIPOO: Mermaid is my alter ego. My grandmother used to tell me a story of an epic battle between the human world and the giant world. The mermaid is a daughter of the giants but somehow she becomes a wife of the main solder of the human world. She leads her life in-between the two worlds. Just like me. I live my life between two worlds, the East… and the West.
I also use a lot of monsters when I teach workshops. It is a way to let people release their creativity. When you create a monster, there is no such thing as “wrong proportion” or “it does not look like that”. Monsters can be anything and this gives my students a big permission to create and imagine without limit.
I recently became involved in a big monster project call International Monster Project (IMP). It is an Australian-based collaboration between visual artists from Thailand (myself), Japan and Holland. The three artists first met in China in 2010 where they jointly worked in the manner of “exquisite corpse”.
The resulting “monsters” became the basis for an ongoing collaboration which the aim to produce both individual and joint projects on the theme of the “monstrous”.
The concept of the monster has strong traditional and local connotations, as well as a powerful global contemporary resonance. In the past each member of IMP has drawn on his own cultural vocabulary in order to visualise and express monstrosity. In the future IMP is seen as a vehicle for the artists to extend their explorations across cultural and historical boundaries.
By revitalising the historical ties that connect Holland with both Japan and Thailand IMP aims to investigate new ways to trade ideas between the three cultures. In this sense IMP is a response to the seismic power shift taking place from the developed to the developing world.
PERIL: What are you working on in the future?
VIPOO: Apart from residencies in Hawaii, Canada and China, I am working on 3 different shows. A solo show at Edwina Corlette Gallery, Brisbane in October. A solo show in Shanghai also in October and the International Monster Project (IMP), which will be launched late this year.
I am currently writing a Melbourne guidebook for Thai publication. The book will focus on artists’ studios and where they shop, eat and relax.
Next year I have a residency invitation to go back to China and to Poland. I will also work on a solo show in Bangkok, Sydney and in Seattle.