WIT PIMKANCHANAPONG, Not Quite a Total Eclipse, 2009, mixed-media installation, dimensions variable. Courtesy the artist and 100 Tonson Gallery, Bangkok.

Not Quite a Total Eclipse

Wit Pimkanchanapong

100 Tonson Gallery

Each new work by Wit Pimkanchanapong tends to be noteworthy, novel and full of play, partly because he ventures into new formats so often—video, animation, graphics, audience-participation experiments, collaborative installations, stage production for rock musicians, you name it. Now nearing midcareer status at the age of 33, Wit delved into kinetic sculpture with his latest solo installation, Not Quite a Total Eclipse, which consisted of an illuminated tower built in the center of the darkened main space of 100 Tonson Gallery. In appearance, it evokes a stage-prop rendition of a communications satellite or broadcast antenna, taking the form of a trio of concentric, box-shaped frameworks mounted with dozens of little triangular flaps of plastic that rotate slowly on servomotors, simple electronic mechanisms similar to the sort used on remote control airplanes to position rudders and fins. In other words, a constant flow of energy runs through the piece.

The three frameworks are supported by a shaft-like inner section that extends more than three meters from floor to ceiling. Mounted over this is a shorter, boxier frame about two meters tall, one meter wide, which in turn is surmounted by an outer box about two meters tall and two wide. The frames are made of wood, and painted gunmetal gray. The triangular fins rotate in arcs that range from 60 to 120 degrees, the servomotors controlled by a personal computer whose innards sit on the floor inside the sculpture’s frame. Hung at eye level within the sculpture’s center is a very large, slowly pulsating incandescent light bulb that shines out through the frame and fins to cast a grid of moving, geometric shadows on the floor, ceiling and walls. The motors whir quietly, like the hissing of insects in a field. Despite the mechanical, architectural look of the sculpture and its near-monumental scale, its light, sound and rhythm convey a soft, organic effect. Time is also an element: the rotation of the fins and the pulsating of the light varies gradually in rhythm over the course of a 24-minute cycle controlled by the computer.

Wit’s past works have sometimes hinged around social critique, commenting on matters including the paradoxes of Thai cultural identity and the human impact of political corruption. But this installation, according to Wit’s own text in the exhibition catalog, represents “no statement.” He adds, somewhat mischievously, that “having no statement is one of the unique characteristics of Thai society. Since it is a complicated and ambiguous society, to explain about it one would need to explain at length and might end up with a headache.” The work’s title, he notes, refers to the light and shadows it projects in the gallery.

Wit writes that the project is intended, instead, to be an exploration of various interests and ideas. He wants, for example, to turn away from digital media and work with an analog object because he has developed repetitive stress injury from excessive computer use. He uses triangular forms because he finds them elemental, and thus helpful, in developing each of his compositions. 

Whereas Wit tries to shrug off deeper meaning, curator Gridthiya Gaweewong, writing in the catalog, sees the installation’s 24-minute cycle as a parody of the compression of time and space imposed by virtual reality. One might also well consider the thrill and mystery of anticipating an eclipse, where a sequence of methodical steps ends in a brief, momentous event which we might only a see a few times in our lifetime. How might we prepare ourselves to process such a fleeting, almost supernatural experience, and how will we be affected by it once it is over? Holding the viewer in that last logical moment, the work is a tantalizing next step in the career of one of Thailand’s most promising younger artists. Within the local context, it was also encouraging to see a kinetic sculpture produced so well, since recent forays into this format by area artists have sometimes been too shoddy to be effective—a fact probably attributable to scarce budgets. This sculpture’s myriad nuts, bolts and snaking wires duly revealed that it was hand-assembled, yet the whole intricate assembly still functioned happily on the show’s closing day.