Finding the Art in Phuket
The Art of The Moment
by Anthony S. Cameron
Art is a slippery little beast at the best of times and I must admit, it is hard to get a good handhold, especially in the narcissistic paradise known as Phuket. Sure, there is plenty of stuff masquerading as art, and just as many atavistic animals masquerading as people. Even the elephants aren’t sure of their lines anymore, uncertain as to whether to tug at the chains that hold them or make music out of the dull clang of steel on concrete. Art here is an empty gesture most of the time, hanging on walls and sitting astride tables not knowing what to do, not knowing whether it is saying anything at all and not even sure if it cares. And that is why I try to stay as far away as possible from capital A Art, the stuff people surround themselves with to reassure themselves they have some culture, or worse, taste.
A while back I had a short stint as an art installer in a fancy hotel that was being built for the Beckhams, Kardashians, and the like, to stay in. I was hanging three of Andy Warhol’s ‘Muhammad Ali’ prints next to a private boxing ring in a personal gym loaded with mirrors, and apart from being distracted by my own reflection repeated ad nauseam into eternity, I had cause to reflect on the way Art gets used by those who are wealthy enough to employ curators to tell them what to buy, what is a good investment and, most importantly, what the work says about them. The kind of people who could afford to buy Warhol’s work, I realised, were playing right into the artist’s large, pale hands. He was holding a mirror up to them and they didn’t even know it. And for the first time I became aware of Warhol’s particular genius.
Suffice to say, the Art hung itself that day.
The art of the everyday is what interests me, and to my eye, is far more poignant and beautiful, far more likely to arrest me with its intention, far more likely to make me want to smile. It can rush past you in a moment of pure brilliance as you try to avoid being sideswiped by the mad minivan drivers, themselves an everlasting moving sculpture fuelled by crystal meth and red bull. It can be slumped in a dirty corner of a forgotten slum at the end of a road topped with pool villas and take the form of children playing gleefully despite their circumstances, their broken, recycled toys picked out of a foreigner’s rubbish bin and turned into a moment of pure joy. It can be in the mad dash into the jungle with all the other illegal workers when the immigration authorities turn up for their weekly kickback. Even though I had spent the day hanging great art, it turned out that the most poignant and sublime moment was to be found in this unexpected, shared camaraderie; in the dissolution of colour and race; in the smiles that transcended language and circumstance altogether. It was a mad, vaguely hilarious dash to save our skins, running from the same authorities that had brought most of them here in the first place. Now that’s what I call third world irony, in itself an art form here.
Charles Bukowski once said that the difference between an intellectual and an artist is that an intellectual says a simple thing in a difficult way, whereas an artist says a difficult thing in a simple way. And that is where I think Art has lost its way. There’s too many well educated artists who are way too aware of their ‘process’, too aware of their audience, too aware of their own brilliance. What is wrong with letting your art speak for itself? Like needy children desperate for acknowledgment, we try to dazzle you with complex interpretations, attempt to impress upon you the significant context of our work, or the beguiling human emotions at play. Bollocks. Sometimes, sadly, the artist’s statement is the best work of art at the whole exhibition.
The artists I love didn’t get a nice education. They didn’t have the luxury to ponder the significance of one brushstroke over another. They spray it on a wall and get the fuck outta there before they get busted. What they do is often political, and often falls on deaf ears, or at best catches the distracted eye of another commuter perpetually stupefied by the latest status update. The art I love might not exist for more than a few moments, but wow, what an amazing few moments that can be.
One of the most powerful sculptures I have seen was at Afrikaburn 2016. It stood 20 metres tall against a fading desert sky and was set alight as the first stars made their presence felt, to an audience of over ten thousand people. The sculpture, called ‘Clan’, comprised of three wooden people dancing together, holding each other’s plywood hands and laughing in pure joy, their heads held high reflecting a rare moment of human ecstasy. The orange and blue flashes lit up the night sky as the flames engulfed the three dancing figures. Spontaneously people started stripping their clothes off and started running around its flaming perimeter as others, like myself, just stared up in wonder and felt the tears collecting in the corners of our eyes, giving a silent thanks for the small moments of beauty that were still available to us amongst the mayhem that was human existence in the 21st century. All we had to do was open our eyes, look away from the phones that were capturing the moment and reducing it to byte sized captions and heavily pixelated pale versions of something that didn’t ask for any of this shit. It just was, for its brief life, one of the few great messages sent out into the universe and it made me feel proud to be human, proud to be still screaming, proud to be fighting the good fight, one that doesn’t use weapons or corporations, one that doesn’t drag our humanity to its knees. One that just is, because that is all it has to be. A beacon of hope from another lost generation.
Watch Afrika Burn 2016 San Clan Burn on Youtube
Anthony S. Cameron is an Australian ex-pat living in Phuket, Thailand, and the author of two novels, Driftwood (2014) and Butterfly on Bangla (2015). Born in Melbourne, he escaped in his early twenties to central Victoria, where he designed and built a sustainable house and raised two sustainable children. His books are available on Amazon here.