Event: New COVID-19 inspired art exhibition opens at The Peninsula Bangkok

Embroidery artist Narissara Pianwimungsa features four of her works as part of the hotel’s residency program

From the revolving door of the lobby entrance to the expansive garden by the pier, the ground floor of the Peninsula Bangkok is currently home to an exhibition by Narissara Pianwimungsa, the artist in residence.

She is the fifth artist to be supported by the hotel through the “Art in Resonance” programme.

The programme is part of a larger commitment by The Peninsula Hotels to “[promote] the rich and vibrant cultural aspects of the destination cities in which it resides,” according to the 2019 press release announcing the beginning of the initiative. The Peninsula hosts local artists and provides them with a suite and studio for the entirety of the residency.

“Gravity of Thoughts” is an exhibition composed of four multimedia pieces, a culmination of reflection and creation of this past plague year. Open to both guests of the hotel and the general public, all four pieces will be available for viewing until March 31st.

The titular piece is a fabric installation, composed of calicoes hung from the ceiling of a retail space in the hotel. Eyes of varying sizes are threaded into the fabric, most of which was hand embroidered. “I use embroidery to translate thought into art,” said Pianwimungsa. “A needle is like a pencil for drawing or a brush for painting.”

Initially trained in fine arts, Pianwimungsa only turned to embroidery in 2015. The death of her father, and the funeral rite of sewing up the deceased’s pockets, made her realise that “there can be expression in the act of sewing as well,” she said. Since then, all her works have been centered around the medium of thread and cloth, with the occasional use of acrylic.

Her embroidered pieces employ a strict colour scheme of black, red, and white. In the exhibition guide for her 2018 exhibition “Deers, Eyes, Owls, and Other Stories,” she explains her that each colour is specifically chosen to invoke three aspects of birth: black to represent the darkness of the womb, red to represent the blood of birth, and white to represent “the first vision.”

Though the calicos are embroidered with open eyes, they were purposefully sewed with black thread to represent the fear and chaos of this past year, which had been overwhelming and almost blinding. Pianwimungsa also strung up the sheets to emulate the ripples of water, as she found herself reflecting a lot on the “fragility of life” and “the greatness of nature” as a result of the pandemic.

Her second piece, a set of four coloured pillows hung from the ceiling, is also concerned with the severity of COVID-19 and personal reflection. The piece had evolved from a simple question she asked herself: “if thoughts had physical form and weight, what would they look like?”

The “soft sculpture” plays upon the dual meaning of “gravity” as a word that refers to the physical force that weighs things down as well as a word that is synonymous with “seriousness.” However, Pianwimungsa wanted the piece to be more interactive and light-hearted than the first, hence her choice of bright blue and red as the colour of the pillows.

“Adapting these materials to exhibition space has been an enjoyable process,” said Pianwimungsa. She encourages every guest to touch the pillows, to interact with her art and interpret it for themselves. “I want people to be unafraid of art,” she added.

Hanging on the wall of the corridor connecting the lobby and the outdoor garden is Pianwimungsa’s third piece. This tapestry, which features a black wolf with a red moth covering its face, was created as part of her 2019 residency in Japan, not during her time at the Peninsula. Though it was initially planned as a painting, she found that embroidery was a better medium of expression.

Instead of the pandemic, the tapestry is more concerned with the act of looking. How do we gaze as an audience? How is this reciprocated? “I wanted to create a piece that reminds my audience that art is not only about looking,” she explained. “Sometimes, it is also about being seen. When we look at a piece of art, that piece is also looking back.”

The exhibition’s fourth and final piece is a metallic sculpture of two red phoenixes. One is named “hope” and the other “happiness,” combining to signify Pianwimungsa’s wishes for this new year. Intended to accompany the Lunar New Year celebrations, the phoenixes are “a symbol of new life and rebirth” for a better year than the last. The phoenixes were also made to look as flat as possible to imitate Chinese paper-cut art.

Though her art is an expression of her personal reflections, Pianwimungsa stressed that there is no specific message she wants viewers to take from her work. “If the meaning of a piece could be single sentence, I hope that my art offers an incomplete one,” she said, “it might offer a ‘subject’ and an ‘object’ but the verb connecting them would be missing, and the viewer would fill in that blank with their own interpretation.”

“What matters the most is that each person derives meaning for themselves,” she concluded.

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