Curators in Southeast Asia often joke about the ‘white cube’, that paradigmatic envelope of modern art exhibitions. The subject usually comes up during a show’s installation as, on close inspection, corners reveal themselves to be not-quite-right angles, walls to be not quite straight or flat. It’s not a lament, but a shared acknowledgement that somehow forms in this part of the world are just not meant to be rectilinear.
Thai artist Thakol Khao Sa-ad turns this idea on its head. For over a decade, the quiet-spoken painter and woodworker has dedicated himself to straightness, with a rigour that’s as philosophical as it is practical. In each cycle of his meticulous paintings, mass media images are isolated and broken down into grids of discrete colour, always rendered by hand and by eye. In a series of sculptural experiments, Thakol deconstructs the classical (Vitruvian) notion that the human form is the ‘measure’ of the world. Working from first principles with rare and carefully selected timbers, he builds from scratch the tools necessary to create perfectly straight edges by hand. These tools beget standard measures, rods traditionally based on the maker’s body that are fundamental to Thai joinery and architecture.
Are modern, metric systems any more ‘rational’ than our hands-on, anthropometric ways of making things right? Thakol’s work is richly metaphorical amidst Asia’s incomplete modernities. Rigorous without being austere, minimal yet somehow generous, his creations reveal that our working notions of form are not universal but contingent, mediated all the time by local habits and singular bodies.
Thakol Khao Sa-ad is based in Thailand. He has held solo exhibitions at Gallery VER and Cloud, both Bangkok. His next exhibition is at Nova Contemporary, Bangkok, 15 June – 6 August.