When Bangkok dreams, 2007
WHEN BANGKOK DREAMS - review in Bangkok Post by Rathsaran Sireekan
Dreaming City is on display at the Kathmandu Photo Gallery, Silom, from 11am to 7pm (except Mondays), until September 30 2008.
Photo exhibition harmonises the prosaic and the surreal
Perhaps the cliche of Bangkok as an angelic city has already worn away, or perhaps the reality of the Bangkok streets is too pressing for him to do otherwise. When Paris-based photographer Martin Argyroglo takes apparently random snapshots of Bangkok's footpath scenes, evidence of its residents' exhaustion from their hard daily lives is captured so quietly it transcends to a reverie. The easiest way to enjoy Argyroglo's ''Dreaming City'' is to appreciate its dual nature. The work holds true to two clashing forces: While dreaming is the most private act known to man, ''city'' is a public space where people come out to show it all off. In Dreaming City, one can see how this polarity resolves itself.
Also intriguing is how Argyroglo treats ''dreaming'' differently from artists before him; that is, when an economically demanding city like Bangkok dreams, it does not seem so much of an indulgence for luxury's sake but more of an outlet for city-dwellers to cope with their living hardship, hence the artist's choice of the lower class, including pedestrians and footpath frequenters, as his principle subject matter.
''People here are working hard,'' he says, ''selling things on the streets or queuing up for the crowded bus heading to work and, sometimes, they are too tired to go on ... they fall asleep and dream.''
Despite the socially engaged voice in his work, Argyroglo's Dreaming City should not be seen as a realist work in any typical sense. The details in his photographic works, tinged with hypnotism, transcend everyday banality to something beyond.
''I am interested in capturing life exactly as it is, even when it seems to lead the viewer to something and somewhere else'' _ a paradox of here and there which is made possible by the artist's careful pairing of two seemingly irrelevant photographs that may have nothing or everything to do with one another.
A city vagabond in yellowish tight shorts caught, unguarded with eyes closed, during a flight of his fantasy, with a naked Barbie doll beside him, is, for instance, paired with an ill-lit noodle-shop window crammed with gluttonous meatballs and awkwardly hanging, phallic-shaped Chinese fish sausages.
Unrelated to one another though they might appear, this ''rhyming couplet'' is highly charged with innuendo if one is to associate the phallic symbol and the stark naked doll with the wanderer's sexual yearning.
The artist insists that the meaning of his works is up to each viewer's individual interpretation. Associating one thing with another and struggling to tease out our own meaning seems, therefore, the likely result of a visit to this exhibition at the Kathmandu Photo Gallery.
The scale of association and interpretation, however, goes far beyond that of a couplet. Argyroglo multiplies the dual interactions into a bigger network of photographic montage by tying up dozens of these pack-pairings _ a highly associative method of presentation which, collectively, generates a chain-reaction towards the endless possibilities of ''correspondence''.
The creative energy required of us in making sense of how each picture relates to another within and outside the coupling can also be understood as another set of ''correspondence'' _ this time not between one picture and another, but between the artwork and the spectator.
''I like it when the viewer can develop their own way of reading through the profusion of details in my works,'' Argyroglo says. ''This makes the experience of 'looking' very personal to them.''
Despite the recurrence of the term ''correspondence'' throughout the interview, Argyroglo denies any influence on his work of the French symbolist movement (Walker Evans and Helen Lewitt are two American inspirers). But one thing he seems to agree with is that this precious moment of ''correspondence'' between the artwork and the viewer is the truest of the true moments that provide the healing power to reshape and reinvigorate our soul and perception disoriented by the chaos of city reality.
''Accidental theatre'' is, interestingly, another striking trait of Argyroglo. ''As for me, the photographic space is a theatrical stage where the character can evolve as in a play.'' Full of quiet dramas playing out in characters' minds, Dreaming City captures the highest moment of these interiorities, producing the effect of suspended time.
But not without paying a price; although each of these snapshots was taken on the spot of ''high'' drama, the artist's photography sometimes invites the question of contrived arrangement.
Take one pictorial couplet in the montage collection, which shows a group of female commercial college students. The direction these female legs point presents itself so symmetrically and so well composed that we doubt if this is a work of pure spontaneity and wonder if it is a tedious routine of repeated studio shooting _ such ontological ambiguities are cherished by the artist himself.
Indeed, full of overlapping complexities which do not easily lend themselves to clear and coherent explanation and categorisation, Argyroglo's photographic art and innovative installation techniques give one an impression of drifting in the territory of the unconscious.