Untitled (Pyramid), 2012
6'x6'x4' pyramid composed of 1'x1' woodstuds
I have finally found time to work with Virachai and Preecha on my sculpture for Grandma’s garden. They worked on it more than me. Used to machines, I didn’t have enough strength or skills to use hand tools. They cut everything with a handsaw, making cuts with chisels and two old electric drills screwed the whole thing together. The project, like myself had stretched longer than it should. It started with me, Preecha and Virachai following my instructions to assemble the wood bout a bout. Halfway through, Grandma had the idea to get Amnak involved. Before I woke up the next morning he was undoing what Preecha and Virachai had done, producing more specialized tools from the back of his truck. Seeing his expertise I confided the project with him since I had to leave for Korea in a few days.
However when I came back, he did not exactly do what we agreed and instead of making cuts, he screwed the wood on top of one and another. I told Virachai about it. He shook his head in dismay. More or less we decided to redo the whole thing. Preecha came from a distance and evaluated the process with Virachai. They agreed to do it together on Monday of the following week. It was rather comical since the beginning, the whole affair. Ever since Amnak has dismantled the first sculpture, Virachai can’t but grimace whenever anyone pronounces his name. My sculpture which was meant to be an occasion of communal work had become a source of conflict. But during the two days we worked on it, the three of us, it regained that purpose. Occasionally, on passing, Amnak would try to give me some advice or lend me a tool and Virachai shot him a few snarls but otherwise, I felt I got closer to Preecha and Virachai and they with each other.
The first day, I sat on a stool, watching them all day. Just watching made me learn so much about Virachai, a man I so admired. The first mind-blowing revelation about him was his tattoos. He always wore dark T-shirts, covering his shoulders. But due to the heat he took the outer layer off. Even though underneath was a white T-shirt, the thinness of the fabric revealed gigantic tattoos covering the entirety of his back. There was also one on his shoulder which the sleeve of the T-shirt conveniently covered. I’ve noticed Preecha’s tattoos before and they also excited my curiosity. They were not daft, fashionable tattoos like mine but holy scriptures from Brahmin or Buddhist traditions Tippy told me about. I’ve noticed the same lettering/prayer on Virachai’s back too but he was a Muslim, which startled me. The rest of the tattoos seemed to be either symbols or mythological creatures. Who are these men carrying symbols and prayers, like warriors from time past? Why does this kind of tattoos appeared more favoured in the working class and is nonexistent in the upper class? Countless times, my grandma reprehended me for mine.
Virachai has always appeared a paradoxical figure for me. His reading glasses made him look like an old uncle but the certainty of his control over the stirring wheels and his affinity for police-like accessories associate him to action heroes, the kind that came with a tinted past. His temper can be vile; the way he forced the screws that refused to enter the wood or chopping their heads off with a hammer, or the way he quickly scolds me or Preecha for a blunder ascertain to me that he is the reincarnation of the King of Egypt. Yet with simplicity he talks of his previous works, all rather humble for the man he appears to be- merchant, dock, carpenter, metalsmith, seller of scrap metals in Japan…
It was a strange mood we were in, a lot of work interspersed with joking and teasing, no social boundaries. In a moment of crisis, Virachai actually called me by my name with no titles. It only lasted a moment and it went back to “nong”. I can’t say we got close. I was also reading the 600-paged A Fine Balance, a novel about India, the corruption and the misery of the people. I was propelled into it when Pi Jay came out with water. Two glasses stood erect and tall, dark blue and virile while one is pink and bloomed open like a flower. I hesitated in the automatic act of reaching out for the pink glass when the passage from the book suddenly appeared in my mind’s eyes, Dina Dilal segregating pink tinged cups for her tailors. I rebuked and opted for one of the blue. I cannot begin to describe the intense experience of segregation and discrimination I felt then when the glasses were presented, although Pi Jay meant no harm. The presentation divided us into both social and gender groups, something I’ve always been in battle with. To my relief, the next day, Pi Jay came with three different glasses, understanding the message. But then again, the desire to be one of them, equal with them was smoldered. My pride took many a pang when in an attempt to relieve Preecha from the constant sawing, I was unable even to make the first cut. Or failing at the simple task of measuring out equal pieces of wood. Virachai even reproached me for it, something I took deep at heart. Not only did I reveal myself as incapable but also being a burden for both of them. In the end, I took upon myself the task to bring the tools, run to get more money from Grandma, etc and finally the rickety structure stood up. We didn’t have time to celebrate its completion, chased by the rain as Virachai screwed in the last piece of wood.
With the sculpture done, I thought that I had to resume my role as creator and resolved in finding a place for its installation. However, the drivers were still engaged in the work and keenly listened to my reasoning on possible locations, giving their own perspectives. In a way, I gave them an occasion to reflect on art and the process of art-making while on their work time. This process reminds me of la perruque, a practice studied by Michel de Certeau which consists of workers subverting their work-time into doing something free and apparently useless.
We decided to place the sculpture in the courtyard of my grandmother’s aunt’s house next door. During her time, the house served as a hostel for women. After her death, her daughters sold the place and now it stands ready to be demolished. The sculpture begins to play with the ties within my family which comprises as much blood relatives as the help, each step counting for the hierarchical relationship existent in our microcosmos.