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Artist Talk: Arin Rungjang and his artwork inspired by history and a legendary dessert

Source: ICONSIAM 2019-07-11

Arin Rungjang’s suspended sculpture titled “Golden Teardrop” is a follow-up of the Thai artist’s earlier work that was exhibited at the Venice Biennale 2013. The new piece has recently been installed in ICONSIAM, suspended from the ceiling inside Triplex building between H&M and Urban Revivo stores. The artistic value of “Golden Teardrop” is derived from the artist’s conceptual flair and exceptional finesse, and the installation process was meticulously carried out because of the work’s unique placement as an airborne sculpture. This is a New Year’s present that ICONSIAM would like to give to all our customers, a means to emphasise our philosophy that art should be conveniently accessible and should belong in public space.

Here we talk to Arin Rungjang about his research and inspiration – as the name suggests, “Golden Teardrop” was partly inspired by the gold-coloured dessert thong yod.

Could you tell us more about the artwork?

Arin: The piece I’ve created for ICONSIAM is an extension of the original work I exhibited at the Venice Biennale 2013, which was a combination of a sculpture and video installation. “Golden Teardrop” is the English name of the Thai dessert thong yod. I started working on it when I was spending a residency in New York, supported by Rockefeller Foundation, and working with a Puerto Rican artist. I was trying to find a connection between Thailand and Puerto Rico, two countries from two different parts of the world. Finally I found out about sugar trade, and how Portugal back in the colonial era used Central America as a production hub for sugar. From there, I began to look for a sugar-related object that had a historical meaning, and this led me to a dessert shop in Queens called Nam Tarn. I found out that the thong yod sweet sold at the shop was supplied by Thai people who had immigrated to New York. This was how I got my inspiration, which later became the original piece that went on to debut in Venice.

You’re particularly interested in the story of Maria Guyomar de Pina, a Portuguese lady who served in the court of King Narai and who’s believed to introduce thong yod to Siam. How did her story become a part of your inspiration?

We have to go back to the sugar trade and maritime history. They represented a complex journey that involved many human dimensions – the world back in those days was driven by the intertwining of politics and international trade that resembled what we now call globalisation. The story of Maria Guyomar de Pina involved slave trade and sugar production; slaves were used to produce sugar because back then it was a luxury product, and to mass- produce it required a large labour force. When sugar was brought to be sold in Asia, the traders brought with them new culture and religion. Not many people know that Maria Guyomar’s family came from Japan; she’s in fact half-Portuguese, half-Japanese. She was also a Catholic, and when Japan expelled Catholics from its land, her family probably got on a boat and sailed to Ayutthaya. Maria’s knowledge about desserts thus came from this complex voyage. In the end, thong yod isn’t a Thai sweet as most people understand: it has been through a long historical journey before ending up here. I guess my artwork wants to say that “Thainess” is never pure but made up of many influences.

In your view, what is “Thainess”?

In the story of thong yod or any other historical incidents, we can see the idea of cosmopolitanism. The idea of harmony, amalgamation, and diversity of races and ethnicities – I think this is an Asian quality that was developed long before the “melting pot” of USA. Back in those days, the countries around Siam were resisting the advances of Western power, but Thai people chose to compromise, to find an understanding. In the story of thong yod, we see the definition of Thainess as a blending of various layers of cultural influences. It speaks of sophistication, compromise and harmony.

How do you feel when your artwork is exhibited in ICONSIAM?

I believe this piece will be seen by a lot of people and hopefully it will become an icon. The best thing is that we have an art patron who supports the exhibition of artworks in public space that is accessible to everyone. ICONSIAM will soon open an art museum, which will bring in even more people. I’m proud to be part of the space that gives an opportunity for people to come in to admire and learn more about art.



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