SOMETHING IS IN DEEP SLEEP IN THE OWL’S PERSPECTIVE
By Thanavi Chotpradit
The101.world 12 Dec 2021
Francisco de Goya, 1799, The Sleep of Reason Produces Monster, Plate 43 from Los Caprichos, Etching, Plate: 21.2 x 15.1 cm, Sheet: 29.5 x 21 cm, Public Domain
The first time I saw “Star Locket”, a painting in Poetry of Death, we are all alone…how ghosts found us exhibition, my mind drifted to the famous painting: The Sleep of Reason Produces Monster, the 43th etching work in Los Caprichos (1799) from the Spanish artist, Francisco de Goya. This habit is normal for any art historian, collecting the works in our head and having our eyes trained to categorize and compare the differences and the similarities, finding the possibilities to explain, explore, and define (Interpreting an artwork is not only to decode, but also to code.) The processes are done through connection in our head, which is often thin and diluted.
The word I often find, both in textbooks and in general, is inspiration, artist A is inspired by artist B, for example. If this sentence is in a textbook, it means both the artists are part of the art history, either as the old masters or the great artists (It doesn’t matter if they were acclaimed before or after their death.) It means they are the references among those who can continue to inspire as long as the reputation of the work and the creator continue through writing, teaching, museums, art markets, or different media.
But the question is, those that share some similarities —does that mean they are inspired from each other? (Oftentimes, it goes as deep as the meaning.) The possible explanations could be inspiration, influence, plagiarism, or done to honor, or just pure coincidence. These are up to individual instance’s consideration since there is no such thing as a standard checklist (or Spot the Difference game) to tell which is which. Therefore, in many cases, the conclusion ends up to be equivocal and hard to pinpoint.
The subject matter of inspiration and influencing intertwine closely with canon; a standard that has been established. The value and greatness which has been proved to stand over time of the canon are the works of the old masters or great artists. Therefore, to write about art history or any museum exhibition, the process of canonization plays an important role. It consists of the process of branding to establish something to be of standard of beauty (which can be different based on the time and place) and to be part of the art of history, aesthetic, and taste.
To write about art history and canonization is a done-in-circle process because despite the fact that the canonization is something to be challenged through satire or assault from the artists who come after, the challenge itself can be part of the art history through selective curation by art historians. Think about the Mona Lisa painting by Leonardo da Vinci being turned to the Mustache Mona Lisa in L.H.O.O.Q. (1919) by Marcel Duchamp. Both of the works have their own place in art history which explains the done-in-circle process stated earlier.
Leonardo da Vinci, between 1503-1519, Mona Lisa (Portrait of Lisa Gherardini, Wife of Francesco del Giocondo), Oil on wood panel, 79.4 cm x 53.4 cm, Public Domain
Marcel Duchamp, 1919, L.H.O.O.Q., originally published in 391, n. 12, March 1920, Wikipedia (ข้อความใต้ภาพ “Tableau Dada par Marcel Duchamp” เขียนโดย Francis Picabia)
To write the history, despite being part of the canonization itself, is to also question the process. For example, what are the criteria to evaluate the greatness of a piece of artwork? Throughout the path of art history since the 16th centuries, art history is a science started by white people, and thus making the canon, old masters, great artists basically all white people. (On the other hand, the art history connected with the archeology of the east of the world was started by white people as well, in the purpose of seeking advantages to colonize) It has been only until a decade ago that the canon is used on the basis of other races, genders, classes, and geological location of the artist. (The article Why Have There Been No Great Women Artists? Written by Linda Nochlin and published in 1971 is a great example of this matter.)
Back to Patcharapa’s Star Locket where she clearly stated that her work is inspired from Goya’s The Sleep of Reason Produces Monster; a painting of a guy sleeping with his face down to the table surrounded by nocturnal animals such as an owl, a bat and a lynx in the background. The animals are awake knowing the evil energy is also awake in the time that the reason is asleep. The predators are born once the reasons are unconscious. The other elements of the painting, including the meaning, are adjusted, expanded, and transformed to link to the criticism towards the Thai government in Patcharapa’s work. The girl sleeping peacefully in the painting represents the youth under the dictatorship, while the owl staring at the audience represents death and nightmare.
The inspiration from Goya’s small etching has been turned into a 6.5 x 3.05 meters canvas, the size of the prison cell without any window that the young activists are being held for questioning the reason of fear in Thailand.
The reason is sound asleep while the judge orders the sentence. The fear turns into the reason for this senseless sentence. And in the consequence of questioning the reason of fear causing this senseless judgement, the star then gets locked up in a box — Star Locket.
Star Locket is not a copy or an expansion of Goya’s work. Both of the works share the similarity of the artist questioning the particular society they are in and the older work is the origin of the newer one. Due to the status of The Sleep of Reason Produces Monster in the art world, the work itself is one of many ‘art treasures’ which allows the artist from anyplace and any era to work on it. Even though the meaning of the new work has something connected to the original one, it is not direct, meaning the audience of Patcharapa’s work can understand what her painting tries to convey without having to know Goya’s original piece.
In a way, this bond between the two pieces of work is both free yet connected. The great work by the old masters from the west is now being infiltrated by the work of a female artist, who is not from the west, and who has not been taught art from any institution. (Patcharapa, a previous graphic-designer and yoga teacher, told me that she took a 2 months online oil painting on wood course from a website.)
พัชราภา อินทร์ช่างขณะกำลังเขียนภาพ Star Locket ที่ Cartel Artspace,
What the audiences see in the gallery is not a finished work because the artist showcases her work process as one of the exhibition, a performative painting. The painting then gradually changed bit by bit throughout the period of the exhibition. The audience gets to see the body movement in a two-dimensional space, the same size of the prison cell that’s holding the stars that are still moving.
Star Locket is an infiltration and disturbance in a way of aesthetics and politics. It’s a creation under the inspiration from the discourse of art history and Euro-American art. However, what it is not is an act of surrendering. It’s a strength to criticize the predators and the dismal state of Thailand. Therefore, the work’s political message continues both inside and out the aesthetic frame.
The children may be forced to sleep in a cell, but the owl doesn’t just represent death and nightmare —but intelligence as well.