Spinning narratives

Made By Microwave Solo Exhibition by Kanith. Photos courtesy of Kanitharin Thamlaithong

What do a lazy Susan — a turntable, and common sight in Chinese dining known in Thai as to jeen — and a microwave have in common? They both rotate and carry food.

But for illustrator and artist Kanitharin Thamlaithong, also known under her nickname “Kanith”, the two objects symbolise dual — and contrasting — aspects of her life.

Kanith grew up in a traditional Chinese shophouse, where family reunions and feasts are fundamentals. Nevertheless, the artist apparently entertains a love-hate relationship with these rituals.

She explores this balancing act in her exhibition “Made By Microwave”, currently on show at The Gallery, located on the 36th floor of the Pullman Bangkok G Hotel.

Caught between her roots and the lure of nuclear living — convenient and modern — she delivers a series of 10 digital prints that explore changing narratives within the family home.

With a great economy of means, Kanith successfully depicts a perennial family system, where members are arranged orderly around a dining table or performing house chores and social obligations.

In her minimal paintings, restrained characters stand out against a brightly coloured, uniform background.

Kanith represents herself in all of the prints — either in her family setting, or with her cherished microwave, a symbol of her independent lifestyle.

As the artist insists on depicting a rigid contrast, with little interaction between both worlds, her work leads to little more discussion and is engulfed by the many gimmicks that accompany the exhibition itself.

Retail products such as scarves, T-shirts and pouches, featuring designs that mimic fresh meat, are wrapped in plastic and foam, as if they were ready-to-cook items in a supermarket.

In another spot, viewers are encouraged to draw their own version of a microwave on a postcard and hang it on the wall, or purchase postcard prints from the illustrator.

What is a microwave for you? And what is a to jeen?

The microwave represents myself, whereas the Chinese dining and offerings tables are symbolic of the environment in which I grew up.

How did the idea for this exhibition come about? How did you integrate the various supports in your work as a whole?

About a year-and-a-half ago, I had this idea of a Chinese dining table, where everything would be prepared with a microwave. I didn’t translate it into images until I was approached with an opportunity to exhibit my work.

I was really struck with this idea but didn’t quite understand why at first. Slowly, I began to trace back its origins. The idea had come almost by itself, but I realised that it resounded with physical experiences I had and materials I had been in contact with.

After some soul-searching, I came to the conclusion that I was the product of contradictions. The cross-cultural environment in which I was brought up was at times confusing. I tried to spell it out by creating images of various situations that best represented this polarity.

All the images are created through e-painting. I have a background in animation, so this makes sense for me. It’s closer to me.

What purpose or social function does food serve in your work? Since it is represented both in the paintings, and in design objects — scarves, bags, etc.

The food in the paintings is a central thread that helped keep focus. Most importantly, it gives viewers a clear indication of the time and place I am talking about and helps me set the stage for my ideas. Food, with its social meaning, allows the audience to see how this setting is run — and the forces that regulate it — without the need for me to be too descriptive.

Regarding the props, they are meant to be fun, like small gags. They help create the connection between food that is organic and the ready-made, ready-to-eat packages.

I wanted to create more than just visual works. I found that, if people could touch, play with or tear these objects out, it would be more fun. It wasn’t thoroughly planned in relation to my paintings. It’s more for the atmosphere of the event. Also, these objects can be purchased! [She laughs].

Your work focuses on a dichotomy. On a personal level, do you take sides?

I’m more familiar with a microwave for sure. That is why I chose to represent myself, with my head inside a microwave. I personally enjoy the contrast, and contradictions, between those two aspects. It forces me to examine myself closely and be a critic to my own ideas and thoughts. I’m a product of these two spheres.

How do you think that people from different generations will react when seeing your work?

Some people may take it too seriously, or too personally and feel offended. But I think that most will look at it lightly. If that’s the case, there shouldn’t be too much difference in their reactions.

Made By Microwave Solo Exhibition by Kanith. Photos courtesy of Kanitharin Thamlaithong