Montien Boonma

Montien Boonma, Das haus der Sternzeichen, 1999

Montien Boonma, Das haus der Sternzeichen, 1999

Montien Boonma (b. 1953, Bangkok) is one of the most gifted contemporary sculptors working in Southeast Asia. His subject matter is profoundly grounded in the spiritual traditions of Thailand, yet he has consistently sought alternatives to the strict confines of traditional art.

Inspired by arte povera and by British sculptors like Tony Cragg and Bill Woodrow, he successfully combines high tech media with the use of junk and perishable materials in his assemblages. Objects and even entire walls have been coated with aromatic herbs believed to possess psychological and meditative properties. Other materials like ash, soil, buffalo hide, gold, terracotta and cement, carry specific associations within the artist’s culture.

Boonma has used these new forms of sculptural expression to address the tensions and transformations that have defined his country. Rural and urban, primitive and modern, spirituality and rationality, Third World and First World: these are the recurring themes in his work, and the concerns that set him apart from most Western artists. An installation he made (at a distance) in Sydney was a striking example of this fusion of technology and tradition. 

Four monitors were arranged in a square facing the centre of the gallery space. Each monitor displayed an image of Boonma’s hand. As if conducting a ritual, he pointed one by one to characters on a page. The effect was of a video mantra. Under each monitor a fax machine endlessly churned out the sacred words on paper sheets. The sheets were then pasted to the wall from the top edge only so that they fluttered in the air conditioning, just as gold leaf flutters in the draft from a temple candle. The installation was at once genuine and ironic: a spiritual event and a humorous reflection on the cultural exchange programme between Australia and Thailand.

For TRACE Boonma installed six cylindrical canopies raised on tripods. They stood like a group of monumental figures under the skylight of the old sculpture court at John Moores University, and were designed so that the viewer could duck under the canopy. One's first impression of the dark interior was likely to be strong smell of spices applied by the artist to induce a meditative state. The bright autumn light from the skylight penetrated small holes drilled into the sculpture, creating the appearance of constellations in the night sky. The bodily state of meditation was thus linked to the infinity of space.

Montien Boonma at Liverpool Biennial 1999

Das haus der Sternzeichen, 1999
Steel, transparency, wood, herbs
Courtesy of the artist
Exhibited at John Moores University