In conversation

Somrak Sila, Lena Eriksson & Varsha Nair 

Somrak: How long have you been an artist? Which aspect of art or being an artist interests you most? Has it changed?

Varsha: I feel like since I was 10 or 11 years old. What interested me was that I was most free in my way of being when I made art, and essentially it has remained the same throughout. The process is what drives me. I rarely set my mind on a fixed outcome, it’s the surprise of what one can achieve by working in this way and find directions that one didn’t think of previously, that interests me.

Lena: I decided to be an artist when I entered art school. I want to be part of the society but you must also meet your own needs. I like being an artist because it relates to my belief in autonomy. Art provides me a dynamic, which is not about having one position; it’s more about attitude. Being an artist means you are required to change constantly.

S: Can you tell us your most proud moment as an artist?

V: There is no one moment but there have been many little moments and it’s more about a sense of achievement rather than pride, especially when I work in collaboration. Collaborations present a challenge and its not just about making art but one that takes you beyond art; it is essentially about communicating like with Monday 2 Monday.

Of course, sometimes I am disappointed with my work but that’s also part of the process.

L: There is no one moment. I feel proud now and then, for example when I have earned new skills in the process. I also feel proud when I am able to resist, when there are proposals that might look attractive at first sight, but they ask for me to compromise on my original idea. Saying no is also relevant to being an artist.

S: Where and when are your ideas of art coming from mostly?

V: They can be triggered by news, specific or overall situations, the environment or out of conversations, mostly things that one connects to emotionally or mentally. They can be spontaneous, or develop over time – there are things that have been brewing in my mind which then come to the fore and emerge when the time is right.

L: My ideas often come out of life, also out of the problems and conflicts that are part of life. Like Monday 2 Monday project – it’s because we are friends and we live so far apart therefore we don’t know how to approach each other. So you have to think how to overcome this issue. It’s my emotion that brings out the ideas.

V: I agree. We are friends living in distinctly different realities. We are trying to understand each other and there are many ways to do this – by finding ways to communicate. Sometimes all it needs is a couple words or images and that can tell a lot.

S: Which media or forms of art you think are able to provide you the best platform to express your message or artistic direction the most? Why?

V: It’s really whatever it takes and usually depends on what I am working on. I do like drawing and working with video and performance but in general I cannot answer, to pick one medium of art when I work. I find it problematic to think that way.

L: Like Varsha, the medium of art doesn’t matter to me. It depends on the content. Like if I want a person to understand me completely, I feel that I need to be present. Therefore, I do performance and that allows me to communicate directly. I also like mediums that have a narrative character, which video does.

S: Why did you decide to do VDO and Installation for this piece?

V: In many ways our Monday 2 Monday exchanges have become part of our memory, and some posts are actually about memory. I believe that our memories consist of still images and that the moving image carries a soul, hence Video applies well. In this case it is also to present the flow of our conversation from one Monday to the next, which we began in 2011 and for which we set up a blog to archive our exchange chronologically. In the project, we have actual materials like objects, originals drawings/paintings and so on but we communicate about them digitally, mainly via email. Given that, we decided to continue with the digital format and present our conversation in the form of a 2-channel Video Film.

The Installation on one floor will literally build up when we enter the space at WTF and start to work on the exhibition. It is rare that we find ourselves working together in an actual studio space so in many ways we see the gallery as becoming our studio. This installation will show the traces of our communication, the individual and joint decisions we make to resolve the overall presentation, and the coming together of us as two individuals from 2 locations with our different ways of thinking and doing.

The various components are thought out to present the project as one – the 2-channel Video as presenting memory (our exchanges of past); the Installation as marking our communication taking place in the actual shared site of the gallery; and the Blog where all is archived. And, in addition, we also see this Brochure (printed material) as part of the show. These are all elements of the exhibition.

L: Video can talk well about passing of time, and in the video film ideas can be given out and are taken and processed as a flow of communication in the timeline, which is different to the blog that is more static. In using the medium of video our ideas get presented and shared, and its no longer about possessing the actual materials like the drawings, photos, paintings and so on. Video is volatile and light, and I like it when it is light.

S: How did Monday 2 Monday start? Were you two close friends before? If so, has working on the project changed the dynamics of your friendship?

V: Lena and I met when she came to Bangkok in 2008. We formed a connection right away. It was very instinctive; I tend to connect with people instinctively. Lena invited me to collaborate with her on a performance for an event called Performance Saga that took place in Basel in 2009. That’s when we started to work together and went on to present performances in various locations.

L: We met and I felt we had a lot of connections. I met her when she ran the Womanifesto residency project. I also ran an art space [Lodypop] at that time and I worked in many roles. So I understood where she was coming from and the multiple roles she was doing. I remember when I first met Varsha on Boon Bandarn farm the TV was going on about a political rally in Thailand. Varsha was filming a sleeping baby with a hand rocking the cradle and in the background you could hear the shouting from the rally. At the same moment she was a host [of the project], I related to this way of playing multiple roles as an artist. Our relationship has not changed but it’s developing – like a relationship that grows. Monday 2 Monday gives us a structure to communicate. We talk more about what we do and the project gives us a focus to talk. I am interested in work where personal and private issues can be shared.

V: In many ways our friendship has intensified and Monday 2 Monday has become an anchor of my very being. At times there was so much going on in my life and there was no way that I could concentrate on anything. I found myself in a very dark place. I started to look forward to Mondays and finding ways by tapping into my creativity to talk about things each week.

S: You mentioned Revisiting old works whilst working on this project, particularly some performance works. Could you give us an example of this and how you incorporate the old works into online dialogue? And how does that affect your opinion towards your own art?

V: It’s more about working on ideas at home or in the studio. Lena recreated ‘wannabe’  [a performance] which was perhaps an idea that she had tried out in private. That’s what it remained until it was time to open it up again and then to share. It’s not a question of keeping it away but more that our project also became a platform where we could share some of the ideas and actions that were initially done in private.

L: We talk about it but it’s an open end with no expectation. Sometimes I send something on Monday, and Varsha will respond immediately. But we also talk about it outside the blog. It’s like a studio visit. You put something on in your studio, and a friend comes around and criticizes it. Sometimes they think it’s a funny piece. But I didn’t do it to be funny and that’s very interesting for me. Each of us reads or interprets the work from our own perspectives.

V: And it influences the next post or there is a reaction which comes from so many possibilities opening up. I pick up on one thing, and she responds with another thing altogether. For instance, following Lena sharing ‘wannabe’ I sent her a collage text made of punched paper dots from a book that connects to one of my old performance works [When Words Fell]. Then she had these dots in a drawing she did – on a water jug and book, and spectacles. Following her post, in the sequence, I basically picked up on 2 points, as 2 points of view, which also related to my ‘vision’ at that time as I’d had an eye operation…. That’s what’s interesting to see – how things get interpreted. It’s a related experience between us two, and you are not in control of where it’s going to go. The way of working that I recognize in Lena is to let go of control and open things up, and I really appreciate that. To be able to let go.…

S: It seems that the exhibition will be focusing on the relationship and connection between you two by using your observations and creativity as a tool to express yourselves.  Why should the audience care to see this?

V: Communication is essential to us. It’s one of the important senses all living beings have and I think everyone can relate to this. And, in a time and given the tools we have – natural ones and those enhanced by technology – we don’t really speak with or hear each other anymore so to experience where opening up to regular and in-depth communication can lead us, is important.

S: What will it lead to?

V: Start to understand each other better, and that it’s important and relevant to open up your mind to consider different points of views – not just hold on to your own. I found this process of communicating as a way to learn about another individual’s way of thinking and doing, and to express myself openly.

L: I always have one question about myself that is – “what do I know?” If I really take something important and carefully work on it, maybe someone else will start to care too?  Here, we are talking about our project, which is in our present time. What does it really mean to talk with each other? In my opinion, everything is public oriented. I think it should be relevant.

S: By creating an exhibition from a vast variety of topics and dialogues between both of you into one single exhibition, what’s your strategy to put all these dialogues into art works that will not lose the sense of commitment and long-term dialogue between two creative people?

V: It’s definitely a challenge, and it requires one to have a strategy. There are so many things that we might want to include afterwards but what we’ve come up with for now is a format: 2 channel VDO, an Installation, the online archive/blog, and the brochure. These elements are all connected for the audience to access.  Therefore, It’s not just an exhibition. It’s also a flow of communication happening through exchanging with the audience. The decision to present the project in this exhibition format took a while and it has come together after our very careful consideration. I see the exhibition as another aspect of the project.

L: This is just like when we have open studio days here and the public comes to you.  And, you get busy reorganizing your space and presenting yourself or your ideas to others. You are constructing something but your actual working studio is normally not like that. By doing this exhibition it is like opening up our studio to show people what we are doing.

S: What do you want your audience to feel/do after they see this exhibition?

V: To understand the thoughtfulness with which we work, and also to realize the ways of using all kinds of media to connect and how that opens up many possibilities to express, communicate. It’s about taking an artistic direction to achieve something.

L: I want to share how we work and are inspired by ideas, and I hope the audience will be inspired with our articulation as well.

S: Will Monday 2 Monday dialogue continue after the show?

V: It’s inconceivable to think that it might end. This exhibition, as Lena put it – “ is a key frame”, a punctuation in the process. We’ll see what develops after.

L: I can’t really answer that question, I wish that it continues… maybe it becomes Tuesday 2 Tuesday!

This conversation took place and was published in the brochure of the exhibition Monday 2 Monday held at WTF Gallery, Bangkok, October 2014