by Vatsala SethiDec 26, 2022
Artist and activist Mit Jai Inn sources inspiration from the communal and aesthetic aspects of being raised in rural Thailand under Thai monarchy. His various experiences like practicing as a Buddhist monk and training as a Muay Thai boxer layer his vision. His works often breach the physical boundary and appear hybrid in nature – at the cross section of painting, installation, and immersive sculpture. Inn says that only recently he started to earn a living as an artist. His art aims to offer alternatives for humanity and the society at large, which he confesses are often utopian ideas. A rebel since childhood, Inn continued to oppose oppressive authoritarian frameworks through his work.
“…while my art reflects my activism, I think the word ‘art’ is reductive in its associations. Its deeper and wider meaning is much more utopian,” he says. I interview the artist on the sidelines of his solo exhibition, titled Dreamworld at Ikon Gallery, United Kingdom.
Rahul Kumar (RK): You say that you do not paint only with your eyes, but with all your senses, the whole entity. Please talk about your process and how you came about this format of making art?
Mit Jai Inn (MJI): My practice is very physical. I use my fingers, hands, and a palette knife when I paint, blending colours in a rhythm that feels natural to me. It’s a meditative process that helps me calm subconscious anxieties.
When I was younger, I studied in Vienna, where I developed an interest in psychoanalysis; dreams, esoteric and occult inquiries, and how they become intertwined with the body. This also links to my intuitive night-time studio practice.
RK: In continuation, along with a unique process you have also constantly changed the format of your work. With early works for wall to slit canvasses painted on both sides, then sculptural scrolls, and more recently mounds of paint that remain sticky in open weather conditions. Why the need for a constant reinvention?
MJ: I have always worked against pre-existing structures. For my own development, but also to extend techniques and languages of painting. For example, Aquarius Nerves (2021), the work I have made for Dreamworld with artists Kengo Brown, Dion Kitson and Daniel Salisbury, is site-specific and takes the form of an automatic painting that springs into action and drips bands of colour onto the canvas. It’s an entirely new work for me, which has come out of the time I have spent in Birmingham, during my residency at the School of Art. My works are different because they respond to different sites, climates, cultures, and the evolution of painting itself, from modernism to post-Internet.
There are many ways of working with paint and canvas. They are simple materials, but with infinite potentials. My early Patch Works started as grids with slits that made their edges droop and fold. Now they look more like quilts, because of their weaving technique.
RK: As an activist, you stand for a political change in your country. You have been part of protests to end monarchy in Thailand. How does your art reflect this quest of yours?
MJI: Art and activism are interlinked for me. My campaigning for political reform in Thailand comes into my work in many ways; through my use of colours like red, blue, yellow and silver, for example, due to their association with national and indigenous identities and the Thai monarchy.
But while my art reflects my activism, I think the word ‘art’ is reductive in its associations. Its deeper and wider meaning is much more utopian. My ongoing series called Dream Works,which I started in 1999, resonates with this wider idea of art as a utopian dream. The series consists of painted canvases with internal slits that I made within so that they can be curved, hung, looped, or placed on the ground and resist conventional restrictions.
RK: How does the idea of ‘circulating positive energy from earth and nature to humans’ integrate with your art practice?
MJI: Much of my work is concerned with energy. Dream Tunnel is a combination of two ongoing series, Wall Works and Screens, which aim to cleanse and heal the spaces in which they are shown. Hanging without weights, Screens are breathable like navigation devices, circulating karma. In Buddhism, karma is the force produced by a person's actions in one life that influences what happens to them in future lives. In Dream Tunnel, I create a room within a room that has a magic-like glow, purposely using reflective minerals which force us to look outside of ourselves and towards the transcendental.
RK: You are known to often give away your works to viewers or other artists to incorporate in their own works. Why?
MJI: From when I was nine to my mid-teens I trained as a novice monk, learning as part of the Djittabhawan Buddhist College. They taught us a lot about meditation, minimalistic living and alms. Alms is a Buddhist practice where you pay your respects to the monks by offering them clothes and food. This act of giving taught me its value, which is partially why I am passionate about giving my artworks as gifts. I can freely hand my work over to the care of others without preciousness. #dreammantra shares this mentality. Visitors to my exhibition can take one of the wired sculptures or double-sided canvases as a form of communal exchange. I ask them to perform a pledge, which reflects a series of dictums inspired by spiritual notions of gift-giving and “instruction works” by conceptual artists like Lawrence Weiner and Bruce Nauman.
RK: Please tell us about the works at your recent solo exhibition at Ikon Gallery, Dreamworld. You have used a unique format to make your paintings immersive and meditative while merging the 2D into 3D/sculptural form.
MJI: All of the works I have mentioned about so far are in the Dreamworld exhibition at Ikon Gallery, but Midlands Dwelling has all the qualities you mention. It’s an installation that viewers can walk into, with coloured and silver paint that reflects the environment of my outdoor studio in Chiang Mai. The overall piece has been like a makeshift studio for me; a place to create in peace and solitude as well as socialise, which I have now left for the people of Birmingham.