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London-based, Burmese multimedia artist Pyae Phyo Thant Nyo, in collaboration with Krone, has built an environment out of excavating matter as he memorialises and harvests material at the exhibition Electric Ruby that took place at The Ground Bangkok. Over the course of six months, the artist created installations consisting of metallic structures, including raw materials set to be ‘harvested’ over time, tapping into ideas inspired by both agricultural and ritualistic activities. In his correspondence with STIR, he describes the raw materials used in the installation within the warehouse complex of The Ground as being “Plants, Painting, Wood, Cement, Metal, Steel, Fabric, Plastic, Wire, Hair, and (Memories).”
Phyo veers away from certain art establishment terms and framings, instead turning his process into that of the ritualistic, speaking to the animistic nature of spiritualism, while at the same time referring to systems of agriculture, where much of the work that occurs is through waiting and fate. While he rejected the gallery framework in the occupancy of The Ground, he also created additional walls and structures that resemble the very same white cube, in an almost sarcastic gesture.
Phyo tells STIR, “Rather than framing the work or moving it somewhere else, we were digging, which is why we called the space The Ground Bangkok. The Ground Bangkok and Electric Ruby go hand in hand. In the ground, you find these minerals that produce electricity and memory capsules and everything else.”
The artist also describes the work as an ongoing experiment without end, while referring to the set of processes as if there is an end result in mind. However, after speaking to him, it is clear that his intention was to push the boundaries of artistic production and pose questions to the viewer and listener, creating an immersive environment that tries to resemble an ecosystem.
“For me, it was just an experiment, to see if we could form essentially an ecosystem from the material collected. It’s an ongoing experiment that never finishes. Even though the exhibition is over, it will still grow, and we are thinking about how we are going to move this forward. Electric Ruby consists of three elements: The Processor, Eclipse, and The RAM, which are different parts of this whole landscape. We want to see if we can create a whole landscape from the individual parts. Electric Ruby is a glimpse into the underground world that we have been digging,” mentions Phyo.
Taking these as three parts of a whole leads to the generation of electric rubies as put forth by the artist, as he engages with a set of rituals over the course of the six months. The rituals involve picking, rearranging, burning, and adding material, while the stage is set up for The Processor to churn and create meaning out of the rawness, finally to be taken through the artist’s own memories, as he rearranges the same to be made sense of.
For example, Phyo speaks to STIR, “It’s like the forming of rice, as it looks like a rice field, and I make it grow. [I was] experimenting not for humans, but for insects. Seeing if spiders, lizards, could live in this swamp. This ecosystem just formed naturally, because we left the warehouse as is for six months. We didn’t introduce any organisms.”
When asked the meaning behind the name of the exhibition, the artist responds, “I wanted to address the ruby mines in Burma (Myanmar), that produce jades and emeralds from these massive lands, where people die, where workers are paid in drugs like methamphetamines in order to work. This is the land of rubies, that is where it grows. I am also thinking about fossils and fuel. It’s electric because it flows. That’s what ruby is, it’s like the blood of the earth.”
Beneath the surface of the raw material lies the actual intellectual assemblage of electric detritus, as the artist reconciles with the ground that is leeched for humankind’s use, whether through the use of minerals (that constitute our ever-present electronic devices), cables, data, vegetation and so on. Presented as a repository of information, the installation resembles the so-called biological parts of electronic devices through a material occupation. Phyo speaks of the project as a search or a finding, rather than ‘making’, opposed to the construction of the production-based artist. Excavatory in nature, the artist regurgitates memories in order to find spiritual and fictional grounding in this living assemblage that attracts its own living ecosystem of plants, insects and other organisms. There is an amber-coloured heat that is produced in this space, evoking the rubies as they are further mined. In speaking of his memories, he uses the words “growing” and “compressing” in order to gesture to the paradigmatic nature of material formation, within the body and without.
In his own words, “I see myself almost like playing Harvest Moon for example, where there are tasks to do over time. And that’s what I’d been doing. My whole process was like playing a game. I would collect something, let it grow and then harvest it. I was just doing tasks, I had no idea what the end result would be.”
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