Montien Boonma at Visual Dhamma Gallery, Bangkok (1996)

R.J. Preece
artdesigncafé - art | 15 September 2009
This review first appeared in Asian-Pacific Sculpture News, 2(4), page 52 in 1996.

Montien Boonma at Visual Dhamma Gallery

Montien Boonma has already established himself on the international art circuit. His current show, entitled Arokhayasan (The Healing Room) shows why he has been receiving more attention. The show acts as a conclusion of Montien Boonma’s work over the past three years, complete with his trademarks: the stupa, the spatial container, the medicinal herbs, the lungs, the question mark. These works are ingeniously laid out within the confines of Visual Dhamma Gallery’s two-story space, and carefully positioned for the viewer to not only experience the works individually, but to participate in a spiritual procession—from life’s tension to release and therapy.

On entering Visual Dhamma Gallery, tension fills the air with three sculptures that appears at first to be seconds away from crashing to the floor. The first work, Sala for the mind, positioned uncomfortably and strategically close to the front door, is an enclosing space with a "roof" suspended by tightly woven steel wires. Thin strips of wood hang down at equal intervals around this structure, which is raised only inches above the floor, from the center of which a medicinal herb necklace hangs to the floor. To the left, in Arokhaya/Rohka, three monumental nails are carefully positioned, resting against each other and supporting three glass jars— one on each nail— filled with whisky and medicinal herbs. From one jar a brass hand defiantly extends upwards, while another hand and a mouth (in separate jars) appear on the one hand to be clutching on, and on the other, to be a means for structural support.

The work that truly dominates this space, Manual Tool House, is a monumental sculpture made up of a large elevated enclosure. Instead of being suspended from above, the enclosure is hoisted into the air by what appears to be an unstable construction of wrenches and bars. Sharp metal edges extend outward at the base of the enclosure, which adds to the warning. Hanging from inside the enclosure of Manual Tool House, a threatening brass hand and mouths extend below the base of the enclosure. Within the context of Bangkok’s building boom, it appears that Montien Boonma may be alluding to the monumental constructions outside the gallery.

The exhibition continues up the open staircase to the second floor of Visual Dhamma Gallery. At the landing, a shot glass filled with a medicinal concoction is offered to the viewer. From this vantage point, Montien Boonma invites the viewer into the "healing room", the space in and around the installation Nature-Breath; Arokhayasan. Here, the artist takes his trademark stupa and lung motif and transforms them into a modern healing space inspired by those of the Khmer period. Several stacked, open-holed metal containers create the walls, and support a variety of medicinal herbs, creating both a sensation of sight and smell. Structurally, these containers are carefully positioned, with a carefully placed, metal-cast multitude of lungs locking the containers into position. Here, Montien Boonma creates a personal, spiritual space for the viewer to enter, breathe, and heal.

By providing a temporary release from outside modern-day and futuristic pressure, Montien Boonma’s work demonstrates its function as art adopting the role of religion— as teacher and healer— in the face of rapid social and economic change in Thailand. Further, with his ever growing influence on the Thai art scene, this seems to be just a taste of the work he’ll produce in the future.