By Annesha Sengupta
Located a handful of subway stops into Queens, the SculptureCenter is an old warehouse converted into an art gallery. Looking up, the skylight is framed by spindly, rusting rafters. It’s an open, quirky place, and the perfect place for Thai artist Araya Rasdjarmrearnsook’s US exhibition.
The exhibitions here are cheerful sometimes, macabre other time, a strange mingling of emotions. On one wall, there’s a projection of a dog running around the yard and playing. It takes minutes to realize that there’s something wrong with the dog: it’s walking funny, and its hind legs collapse with every step.
On a tiny, blurry television, a woman is giving a lecture to a group of corpses, spread-eagled on giant dissecting dishes. “Today we are going to talk about D-E-A-T-H,” she says writing it on the board. “Does anyone have anything to say on today’s topic?” Of course, the corpses do not reply. “Well, I can see you need more time,” the professor says, and begins her lecture.
Watching seems to be another motif of the gallery. There’s a wall with framed pictures of Thai men peering into framed pictures of European and Asian masterpieces. In these, the viewer becomes part of the art, adding to the voyeuristic chain.
Rasdjarmrearnsook’s pieces all have an underlying story, and there’s the sense that every exhibit has an answer, a firm and unflinching narrative running behind it. An example: in the middle of the gallery are various sized bottles of hair, each matched with the face of a dog. It doesn’t make sense at first, but when dogs are injured, the area of the injury is shaved. Rasdjarmrearnsook hides these little glimpses inside her art, small facts that completely change the light and the angle.
The gallery also has a sense of withdrawal and secrecy; Rasdjarmrearnsook refuses to tell us the whole story. Her viewers can do nothing more than guess. There are no explanations, most of her pieces don’t even have titles. On one ledge, a few mummified, bandaged lumps lie together, which look suspiciously like dog paws. On another ledge there are broken glasses and twisted phone cases which look like artifacts from a car crash— but the artist doesn’t admit to anything.
Rasdjarmrearnsook does something spectacular in her 10-year exploration of art: she makes art, and she makes the observation of art an intellectual experience.
Rasdjarmrearnsook’s exhibition will run at the SculptureCenter until March 31.
Annesha Sengupta is a contributing writer. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.