Finding the Art in Phuket
by Anthony S. Cameron
The last few weeks here in Phuket have been nothing short of intense, and even though the tourists may complain, I am loving it. Even though the tourists may not see the beauty scattered all around them on the beaches as they flounder in the turbulent ocean currents, it’s ok, because I do. Even though they may have trouble extracting a pleasant beach moment as the wind howls and the waves suck up any stragglers and deliver them swiftly into the waiting arms of the overworked paramedics, I have no trouble at all seeing the discarded waste of humanity for what it is: a treasure trove of artistic opportunity.
A volatile wave of gratitude often washes over me as I arrive at one of my local beaches and survey the carnage dumped on the sand after the full moon high tide. Lately the amount of debris has been nothing less than overwhelming, both in size and quantity. One beach I went to with my wife and dog for a pleasant Sunday afternoon swim quickly turned into the kind of foraging and scrounging moment I can only dream of, and that often has me waking from a deep sleep covered in sweat and twitching, like a dog having a running dream.
The beach was literally covered in all sorts of treats: everything from huge chunks of trees to incomprehensibly tangled messes of rope, the latter of which regularly sends a chill up my spine, given that I am regularly surfing these places and the thought of getting snared on one of these submerged coffins has me scanning the break furtively before paddling into a monsoonal wave full of fury. The logs don’t escape my fearful gaze either, having seen many bobbing around just beyond the break like corks, except these corks weigh many tonnes and have a way of convincing you to let them have whatever wave they choose.
I often experience a small moment of pity for those poor holidaymakers, having emerged from their buffet breakfast at the five-star resort to see their little piece of paradise resemble a landfill, and their job, it seems, is to try to find a small section of sand that isn’t covered in rubbish, that isn’t vulnerable to the next ridiculously large and angry wave threatening to take away the whole beach. And then making sure none of that shit ends up in their selfies. That’s where I come in. I am more than happy to clear a section of beach as I scamper around with armfuls of timber and lighters or as I drag a large piece of rainforest to the safety of my trusty sidecar. I am more than happy for them to look at ME with an expression resembling pity, assuming I am employed by the hotel to do this for them. What is particularly interesting to me is how many of us can easily go about our lives, even when the by-product of our existence is washed up all around us, and assume no responsibility for this huge fucking mess we have made of things. Never underestimate the power of denial.
I am not taking any high moral ground here. There is no high moral ground to take. We are all in this together. I have merely decided to squeeze some beauty out of it, find the art in the madness, a reason to howl at the moon, a way to scream with joy at the abyss. It’s up to everyone to find a place on that litter strewn beach and try and make themselves comfortable. Look away as much as you like, blame others if you like, it doesn’t matter. Either way we all eventually end up on that beach.
It is the ideas that wash up with the debris, however, that truly make me feel alive. Some of the objects that have sprung up out of the forge or emerged from a workshop filled with sawdust have me wondering if I haven’t just woken from some strange dream. The art that finds me at these moments makes it all worthwhile: all the back breaking lugging of the broken and deformed; all the sublime moments when I find more evidence of the great ocean sculptor at work as I carry another worn, caressed piece of fishing boat over my aching shoulder; all the strange looks from the holidaymakers; all the long moments of thought as I ponder what will come out of this new pile of treasure that no-one else can see.
Sometimes a funky table makes its way up out of the pile, other times a wall hanging or a picture frame when inspiration wanes. Other times a sculpture emerges like sparks out of a dying fire, and I find myself shielding my eyes and blinking in disbelief all at once. Sometimes a mosaic will leap out of the fairy dust in my mind and embed itself in an unsuspecting wall or stairway, transforming an otherwise utilitarian space with the arresting shapes of the found object. Sometimes all I have to do is clean a lump of driftwood and suspend it in steel, and other times I cut and shape and sand and oil a tortured piece of wood and add it to the fifty other pieces that have suffered the same fate: forever trapped in a moment of divine madness, of my divine madness. The wailing of another ex-pat just trying to find his place.
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. You can find his sculptural furniture on Facebook here.