Thai Artist Explores Displacement

Thai Artist Explores Displacement

Multimedia artist Bundith Phunsombatlert MFA 10 DM has won a grant from the Harpo Foundation, a Florida-based family foundation that supports unrecognized visual artists through fellowships and grants. The foundation, which awards annual grants of up to $10,000 to each winner, selected the recent graduate ofRISD’s Digital + Media department from hundreds of artists who submitted proposals on a common theme – exploring the relationship between art and site in a dematerializing world.

Phunsombatlert, a Thai national who now lives in Brooklyn, will use the funds to support a piece calledT|r|a|n|s|t|r|a|c|k|. Already in progress, the sound installation explores the refugee experience in the US through the functions and metaphorical meanings of trains. It is also being supported by the New York Foundation for the Arts, which submitted the grant proposal on his behalf.

Phunsombatlert describes his interactive installations as works that address globalization and invite diverse audiences to explore new cultural meanings. “Carefully considering the history of a culture or a place,” he says in his artist’s statement, “I analyze and synthesize these situations in order to develop artwork that reconsiders Thai identity.”

Dwelling in Perennial Dreams (detail)

Last spring Location One, a nonprofit arts center in New York’s Soho neighborhood devoted to digital arts and new media, featured Phunsombatlert’s interactive installationDwelling in Perennial Dreams. With unsettling references to both primal human instincts and the global politics of international adoption, the piece invites the audience to imagine caring for orphaned babies in Thailand by rocking three wood cradles – each mounted with two TV monitors that play videos of the upper half and lower half of a Thai orphan sleeping. Viewers can either rock the babies back to sleep or wake up a sleeping baby by making noises that are picked up by sensors. One crying baby can also wake the other babies.

“Waking is a metaphor for the rough awakening to the reality of life. Sleeping is one of the most essential things for the . . . development of a baby,” Phunsombatlert says in his artist’s statement. “While sleeping is a necessary part for babies to grow physically and mentally, the work aims to have the babies perpetually sleep, thus preventing them from facing the real world.”

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