“Real Thread” Revealed: An Ole Ukena Original

First of all, I am excited about my upcoming time here at the Thaillywood Artist Residency and grateful to be a part of this amazing overall Thaillywood experience.

The first phase of DAS Project has already given us a brief idea of the potential that lies behind Thaillywood’s collaboration with local school Nongjetjai and CRE8 Foundation. But also, as an artist with a profound interest in new materials, I can’t imagine a place with more variety in materials than Thailand. As a first entry, I want to talk about a piece I recently finished here in Thailand (after coming back from a recent and very intense period of work in India) that talks about my choice of material.

A piece containing text in combination with material can translate to a kind of associative puzzle that awaits to be deciphered by the viewer. The material I chose for this piece was carefully selected to reveal the story it represents, the story of its nature. Here is the story behind “Real Thread” which I also featured on my personal website.

Flying into Bombay over the years has been an astonishing experience for me. Right next to the luxurious skyscrapers and villas of the city lies something that at first seemed to me to be a bright blue ocean. All of similar size, next to massive highways, parks, shopping malls, thousands of interconnected blue squares lie next to each other for miles on end.

Later I realized that this “ocean” actually consists of the plastic tarp roofs of the slums that are interwoven into the urban fabric of the sprawling city. In fact, the blue plastic is for sale on every street corner. It’s simply the cheapest way to protect yourself from rain.

The growing slums are a real threat to Indian society. Men and women flee in masses from the country’s rural areas and into the cities in hopes of a better life for themselves or, more often, simply for survival. Unfortunately, due to the limitations of their circumstances, slum dwellers are often left with no choice but to make their home from something you can find for sale on almost every street corner: plastic. Although plastic protects much of the Indian population from the rain, a closer look reveals that its proliferation is harming India more than helping it.

Before plastic, the Indian people would eat from palm leaves and then dispose of them wherever it was most convenient. Nowadays the leaves have been replaced with plastics, but the disposal habits remain the same. Plastic gets thrown everywhere. It lines the streets, swirls around corners and tarnishes the overall beauty of the country. It never decomposes, and no one picks it up. This is a real threat.

When you see the piece from far away, you may think the words are written with spray paint as the black seems to be dripping down underneath each letter. However, when you get closer, you realize the writing is actually constructed with black, hanging thread, creating the illusion of material (mis)interpretation when looked at too quickly.

The statement, “THIS IS A REAL THREAT”, refers to the piece’s material nature. But phonetically “thread” also sounds like “threat”, referring to the over-reliance of plastic in Indian society and the real threat that it poses.

A closer look reveals the choice of material

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