Contemporary abysses

This paper describes the design and development process of an artwork series created by an artist based in Bangkok. The artist attempted to explore human beings ability to commit wrongdoings, forget ethics and let themselves become overwhelmed by lust. The wrongdoings, such as the possession of vengeance, anger, hatred, greed and jealously, are deep-rooted in human lives, and become the dark side of human beings, which like germs, hide within the depths of the human body. The artwork aims to depict the emotions and feelings of human beings whose minds are seized by wrongdoings, which are also fundamental emotions of human beings. Through detailed representations of a sinful abyss, the images attempt to capture the various negative emotions and feelings. Thus, the researcher imagines the worlds of sin by adapting the scenes of devils and demons described in different legends and the ancient Buddhist scripture. These devils and demons have the appearances that reflect their “Karma”. These scenes depict the abstract concepts of hatred, anger, vengeance, greed and jealousy, each of which has its own shape which the project owner designs in order to symbolize people who commit wrongdoings. This artwork incorporates both events in the past and those currently happening, so it is named “Contemporary Abysses”.

Keywords:     Buddhist scripture; human nature; Karma; contemporary art; Thai art

Human brains and societies have been evolving since the archaic time. Human beings can distinguish goodness from badness and justice from injustice. Furthermore, they have evolved to be more advanced than animals. We have a conscience and have eliminated or concealed our negative traits, including sexuality. However, these traits are not easily eliminated and certain systems were invented to be mechanisms to control these traits. Examples of such controlling systems are ethics, morals, and laws.  However, human beings nowadays are indulging in indecent things. They are masterminded by lust and lead their lives in the unusual ways. For examples, they possess high levels of vengeance, hatred, greed and jealousy, which are deep-rooted in their lives until their identities are corrupted. Consequently, they steer their lives away from decency. These negative natures of human beings are like germs that hide within our bodies. All we can do is just to know and understand them and try to peacefully live with them in order that they cannot harm our bodies. However, when our minds are weakened, these diseases proliferate beyond controls and turn us into monstrous ones.    

1.1. Objectives of the Study
This project aims to manifest the indecent emotions, feelings and minds, which seem to be the fundamental feelings of human beings. Indecency drags human souls to a bottomless abyss which leads our souls to the other world. This is the conflict between goodness and badness, which turns into tension, aggression, frenzy and turmoil. These things are caused from the extreme actions of human beings who see things in an inverted manner. Human beings whose hearts are being dragged down to abyss have different feelings such as fear, coldness, frustration, heat and confusion, which are merged together and cannot be parted. This includes abnormal things that occur in reality and in imagination.In this project, forms and stories are made from imagination in order to create the scene of hell. Forms of human beings, monsters and animals described in Buddhist stories such as Tribhumigatha are adopted in this project in order to reflect the results from human beings’ actions. The work reflects intangible things such as hatred, anger, greed and jealousy. Many forms that are created in the work symbolize human beings who are lured with these indecent feelings. This has been happening from the past to the present. The work in this project is called ‘Contemporary Hell’.Everything described before takes place in the limited space of hell. It cannot sneak out. The technique used for creating the work in this project is the wood engraving by which wood blocks are carved. The blocks are used for making prints on Thai traditional paper, using black and white colours. This work is produced with a simple technique in order to reflect strong and straightforward feelings that are not complicated.This work consists of forms created from imagination such as beasts fighting with each other with the intention to kill each other. The prototype of this work is ancient Thai art. However, the stories depicted in the work are developed so that the forms in the work have their own characteristics. This work is created with wood engraving technique which reflects contrast such as black and white colours.

1.2. Scope of the Study
The scope of this project covers the following aspects:
The manifestation of the spirits in accordance to Thai beliefs,
The manifestation of the catastrophe of spirit through the symbol of a human being’s individual         belief, which represents emotions and modernizes Thai beliefs to be contemporary,
The manifestation of the stories that incorporate the beliefs that respond to emotions and well reflect the concepts and forms of expression, and
The manifestation of wood cut/wood engraving technique.

1.3. Concepts about Art Creation
1.3.1. Cultural and Social Influence Human desire, which is called lust, is infinitive and always drives human beings towards indecency and away from ethicality. Goodness is forsaken in the era in which money and materials are more important than any other thing. Human beings are lured to be captured in the maze of lust, anger, hatred, greed, jealousy and indulgence, which are generally seen in the current society. Raised in traditional Thai culture, I, the creator of this project, possess Thai beliefs and thus, am aware of the distinction between goodness and badness and feel embarrassed to commit sins. However, many people nowadays lose their human spirits and let themselves be influenced by their instincts. When human instincts are freed and our minds cannot be controlled, human beings will be swallowed into the badness and will be struggling in the maze of hell. This concept is used as the theme for creating the work in this project.    
1.3.2. Influence from Nature
Beauty and charm of forms of animals drove a great ecologist and biologist in the time before Victorian era- Charles Darwin- to read a personal narrative of Alexander von Humboldt who  had recorded his trip to South America and the areas around that region. Darwin, having read the narrative, imagined the tropical land that Humboldt described1. Likewise, for the artist, natural beauty leads to limitless imagination. I combine beauty and charm of the forms of animals with my personal imagination and feelings in order to create the unique art.  
1.3.3. Influence from Film 
The animation titled ‘Spirited Away’ gives inspiration for the creation of the work in this project. This animation inspires both the concept and forms of the work in this project. Spirited Away is an adventure-fantasy movie that reflects the philosophy of eastern world. The script is written by Hayao Miyazaki who also directs the animation. The animation is produced by Gibli Studio and has won many awards including the Best Animation Oscar Award, which is the fifth Oscar award for animations.        The theme of this animation is the travel to explore things, to learn and grow up, and to think about tangible and intangible things around one’s self. 
1.3.4. Influence from Art 
The art work that greatly influences the work in this project is Tribhumi Praruang/Tribhumigatha, which is a pictorial book that is not made in the current form of book. Rather, it is a big piece of paper that is folded several times like an ancient scroll. This book contains paintings about Thai custom and culture. It depicts the story of Tribhumi (the three worlds in Buddhist belief). This book also contains other additional stories such as the Dhosachata (the Ten Past Lives of Lord Buddha), which is composed by dint of the faith in Tribhumigatha, which is one of excellent literatures in Buddhism. It is believed to be composed by King Lithai, a king of Sukhothai, around 1988 B.E. (1445 C.E.). The Tribhumi pictorial books that are important and are regarded as the books that contain beautiful Thai arts are the Tribhumi books composed in Ayutthaya and Thonburi eras.  

Fig. 1. Tribhumigatha, which is one of excellent literatures in Buddhism. It is believed to be composed by King Lithai, a king of Sukhothai, around 1988 B.E. (1445 C.E.).

Tribhumi is a literature that is remarkably important to Thai society. It teaches people to fear sin and to understand the results from wrong doings so that they adhere to the principles in Buddhism. The Tribhumi pictorial book is an important cultural heritage that manifests the wisdom of ancient Thai people. The Buddhist riddle pictorial book with the description by Buddhadhas Bhikhu is also an inspiring work of art. The original copies of this book are scrolls called ‘Bud Khao’ found at old temples in Chaiya or Suratthani Province, the home city of Buddhadhas Bhikhu.  In such ancient temples there are many inscriptions about Thai herbal medicines, folklore and Buddhist principles in Khmer alphabets. A Bhuddhadhas monk found a copy of this book and copied it in transparent films and imitated the pictures in the book by having some of them painted at the Spiritual Theater at Suan Mokhplaram Temple. The book was also publicized. In the publicized version, the Buddhadhas monk wrote the descriptions of the pictures in it.  Hieronymus Bosch aka Jeroen van Aken (original name) circa 1450 C.E. – 9th August 1516 C.E.), whose date of birth is unknown but has been estimated through the consideration of his self-portrait that depicts himself as an aged man whose age is around 60 years, which he painted not so long before he passed away. Bosch is an important Renaissance artist from the Netherlands in the 15th and 16th centuries. He was an expert in oil painting. Many of his paintings show the ethical failure of human beings. Bosch used pictures of demons and half-human and half-animal creatures as mechanisms to create fears and frustration, and to manifest the badness of human beings. His works are unique and full of symbols and imagination.   Raqib Shaw, born in 1974 in Calcutta which is the capital of West Bengal, India, spent his childhood in Cashmere where he was influenced by Buddhism, Hinduism, Islamism and Christianity. Later, he traveled to study in London, England, until he graduated his Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees from Central Martins School of Art. His works are full of symbols and imagination. Many of his works depict violence, sexual emotions and fighting for powers. They consist of sophisticated details, various colours and different coloured stones. 

2. Procedure and Elements of Creation
The woodcut or wood engraving technique is one of the oldest printing techniques in the world. Invented in eastern world in the 13th Buddhist century (8th Christian century), this technique spread to the western world in the middle of the 20th Buddhist century (15th Christian century). Works made with wood engraving technique have their own unique charms and features. This technique is simple because artists need not press the block too hard. Artists just rub a spoon on the material on which the block is printed in order that the ink or colour from the block will be absorbed by the material.   The creation procedure of the work in this project is the creation of forms that are caused from the combination of imagination and feelings. These forms symbolize indecent minds of human beings that drag their spirits to the underworld. The work consists of many feelings such as fear and coldness.
2.1.1. Data Retrieval
Abstract Data are retrieved from the thinking and consideration of the feelings and experiences that I obtain from everything that happen all around in my daily life such as media, literatures, rhymes, movies and my own actions. These things affect my feelings and inspire my work.  Substantial Data that are used for creating the works in this project are retrieved from following sources:
Natural and biological living things such as human beings, animals and plants the forms of  which trigger the limitless imagination and lead to the creation procedure; and
Arts of all types such as old and contemporary paintings, sculptures and print arts, which expand the imagination and are processed, analyzed and are combined with my feelings, imagination, and beliefs.                        

 2.1.2. Sketching Process
The sketching process is divided into 2 steps as follows:
Character design which is to sketch the rough structures of main characters of the work in this project, which are adapted from the forms seen in nature, and ancient and contemporary arts which are deformed and re-interpreted in accordance to the theme of the work through the combination with my personal feelings until they become semi-abstract forms with their own unique characteristics; and

Composition whereby the designed forms are put together in the sketch and the details are added.I, the artist, am aware that the sketch is important. In the sketch, there are just main characters, but the forms and space are important. The characters are placed in their positions, but the space creates a lack of feelings, so I use my imagination and design details to be added into my work. 
2.1.3. Materials
·  A wood board stuffed with paper, the thickness of which is 4 millimeters,
·  Wood carving tools,
·  Needles,
·  A stainless Chinese spoon,
·  100 Gram-mulberry paper,
·  Proof paper,
·  Turpentine,
·  Chinese ink, and
·  A cutter
2.2 Work Process and Steps
2.2.1.Block Preparation
Cut the wood board with the cutter for the desired sizes and paint the cut board with Chinese ink. Draw the characters with colour pencil on the board. The drawn characters need not have the exact forms as they are drawn in the sketching procedure. After the characters are drawn, there is space, so I imagine what other forms or characters should be added in to the frame.  

Fig. 2draw the characters with colour pencil on the board.

2.2.2.Wood Block Engraving
I use the V-shape wood carving tool to carve the characters I draw on the wood board. Then, I use the u-shape tool to get rid of the unused parts. Then, the V-shape tool is used for finishing the wood block. Finally, the needle is used for reinforcing the forms and lines on the wood block. This step is hard. I have to use the needle to reinforce each line one-by-one like when I shade a drawing with a charcoal pencil, but in this case, the needle is used instead of  a charcoal pencil and the drawing is on the wood, not paper.  

Fig. 3. cut with wood carving tool.

The printing is a full-page work. The paper to be the material must be the same size as the size of the wood block. The piece of paper is torn with a ruler in order that it will be in the desired size. The edge of the paper that is torn with a ruler is not sharp. Then, I use the roller to roll the black ink all over the paper. After the black ink is painted all over the paper, I roll the black ink all over the wood block. Afterward, I place the paper on the wood block. Next, I lay a wood board the size of which is one-seventh of the block on the paper, but the wood board has to be placed 20 centimeters away from the edge. I sit on the board and use the stainless spoon to rub on the paper on the 20 centimeter-space from the paper edge. I rub the spoon in up and down directions from the left to the right. I open the paper while sitting on the board. If there is any part that is not dyed with the ink, I rub the spoon on that part again. When the part is completely dyed with ink, I move the board 20 centimeters downward and rub the spoon on the paper again. I do this until the entire paper is dyed with black ink. While printing the work on the paper, the paper must be held still. Every time that the board is moved, the paper must be still. This is the reason why I have to sit on the board throughout this step.  

Fig. 4. wood block.

3. Elements of Creation
The creation of this work is comprised of 3 main parts, namely, concept, forms and visual elements, and technique.
3.1. Concept The forms are created on the basis of the concept which is established in accordance to the inspirations that influence the meanings of the work. The work in this project is the exploration of human beings’ selves that are reflected through the selves of monsters. The work depicts the imagined scene of the sinners’ land, which is the land of imagination in which the goodness is fighting the badness. A variety of symbols are used in order to represent the intangible things such as hatred, anger, greed and jealousy, such as a gigantic two-headed snake that is opening its mouths in order to prompt itself to swallow anything that comes in its range. In the stomach of the snake lays a whale that has swallowed a bird that has swallowed a turtle that has swallowed a sleeping man with wings.    The big snake represents a person who has consumed too much and let greed overwhelm his heart. This makes him hungry and needy all the time until he can swallow a great whale. His eyes are staring around in order to prompt him to swallow everything that passes by. This is the overwhelming desire that gives a man limitless needs.  The bird that was swallowed by the whale symbolizes a man who cannot take himself away from all the feelings. A bird should be flying in the sky but he falls into the sea and is swallowed by the whale. This is the mind of a man who cannot control his fear, greed or anger, which are fundamental feelings of human beings. The man with wings sleeping in the turtle’s stomach reflects the mind of a human being. Wings are the consciousness that can take a man away from indecent hell. Even though having the wings, the man is sleeping, which means he lets lusts and sins control him and drag him to the indecent world. The turtle is the time dimension in which everything has its own cycle. The small man-head fish that are swimming in the ocean represent the journey of human minds that cannot stay away from luring sins that are all around in the time dimension. They are eternally struggling with anger, fear and greed without finding the way out. The bear that is catching fish, with water running out of his mouth, represents the sexual emotion has been released. This means human beings cannot control or hold the sex drive inside, and have to let it affect themselves.The monster with three eyes, wings and a fish tail that is swimming in the ocean  is a man that is always struggling. The three eyes are represent the fear of guiltiness that makes him alert and restless all the time. This feeling will always haunt him and hinder him from gaining real happiness. The swimming hands are the hands of a needy man who tries to grab things all the time and without end. If the man stops struggling, he will drown in the ocean. Even though he has wings, he cannot get himself away from this state of sinfulness. The turtle with eyes on its shell symbolizes a man who creates some walls to shelter himself. The walls are the ethical principles  that human beings establish in order that they will fear sins. However, these walls cannot protect them from being tempted by things that influence their emotions.
3.2. Forms and Visual Elements 
To create an artwork, the ideas and emotions that the artist wants to express are the most important aspects. The visual elements are the aesthetic materials that the artist puts together in his art work to create certain forms with the purpose to convey certain meanings in accordance to the main theme or concept of that work. As for the work in this project, the visual elements are as follows.
3.2.1. Form
Form is the most important element of my work. I choose interesting forms that are seen in nature such as plants, human beings and animals. Most of the forms used in the work are organic forms of marine creatures. I design them on the bases of their biological appearances in combination with my imagination in order that they will clearly reflect my ideas and feelings. 
3.2.2. Lines
The lines in my work are categorized into 3 types as follows:  ·       Lines of wood textures which make the details of the work more interesting and create the feelings of the work;·       Lines from the carving set realms and directions of the pictures, showing the movements of all the characters in the work;·       Lines from the needle scratch on the wood are important for this work because they create perspectives and highlights and shadows in the work.                                         
3.2.3. Colours
Colours can make the work more interesting. In this work, black and white are used. Black colour conveys the feelings of fear, mysteriousness, darkness and hidden things. Therefore, it is used as the main colour in this work.
3.2.4. Space
Space in this work gives the feeling of infinity. It highlights the movements of the characters in the work and strengthens their forms.
3.2.5. Tone-Light and Shadow
Tone-light and shadow in this work show high contrast between the forms and space in order to create the ambience and to highlight the movements of forms and the feelings that are severe, mysterious, frightening and endlessly struggling. 3.2.6. Textures
Textures in this work are the textures of the block that are caused from the scratching and carving. They make the work look interesting, unique, and lively.          
3.2.7. Composition
The composition of this work emphasizes the unnaturally enlarged characters that make them look powerful and attractive to the viewers. The medium and small forms are also added to the work so that they can show the liveliness and movements in the work. 

3.3. Technique 
The creation of the work in this project relies on the woodcut or wood engraving technique because it does not use so much chemicals. In addition, this technique can reflect the characteristics and personalities of the artists (me). It can be used for depicting several forms through a simple and straightforward procedure that can create the shadows and lights in the works.The wood engraving technique is a sub-category of the relief process. It uses hard wood which is carved with special tools that carve the wood in order to create a block. The reliefs are flat so that they can hold ink which is rolled by the roller on the carved block. Then, a piece of paper is placed upon the inked block and is pressed or rubbed by some tools such as the roller so that it can absorb the ink.This technique effectively conveys the emotions and feelings that the work highlights. In this project, I use manual printing instead of machine printing  so that I can control the pressure which affects the darkness of the colour. With manual printing technique, I can create the work that consists of a variety of darkness levels that can convey feelings of the work better than the monotone darkness which is caused from the machine printing technique.                                 

4. Analysis on Project development
Everything in this world changes over time, so does the artist. Changes around me create different feelings in different times. The infinitive perseverance seems to cause continuous and consistent progress and development. When we look back and analyze the past by using our thinking process, we can see the growth of everything, including its strengths and weaknesses, and mistakes, in the more precise fashion. These things are used as data for analyses and developments of new things all the time. As for this project, its development is divided into 3 phases as follows.
4.1. Phase 1: The work before the project, Year of 2551 B.E. (2008 C.E.) 
In the first phase, I presented my work in the form of a big wood engraving that focused on gigantic forms with small forms added as the backgrounds. As for the theme, I desired to reflect the darkness of human beings that is hidden in their hearts. Accumulated beyond the limit, this darkness explodes. This is how human beings can be masterminded by lust and changed from human beings into demons. In this phase, I was looking for the symbols to be used in the work. Such symbols have to suit the concept and main feelings that this work was intended to manifest.  

Fig. 5. the work before the project, Year of 2551 B.E. (2008 C.E.)

4.2. Phase 2: The work before the project, Year of 2552 B.E. (2009 C.E.)
In this phase, I had accumulated knowledge and expertise, so I became more skilled and experienced in working. Consequently, I adjusted my work by adding new things into it. More symbols and meanings were added into the work. I wanted to link my work to the riddle pictures that had hidden implications in them. Concerning the technique, I had experimented with new objects to be added into the work. Also, more natural forms were used in order to reflect human beings’ feelings. In this phase, both the style of this work and the technique used for creating it became more precise. 

Fig. 6. the work before the project, Year of 2552 B.E. (2009 C.E.)

4.3. Phase 3: The project
In this phase, many analyses and developments were carried out. There are developments in concept, technique and the feelings of the work. This ‘Contemporary Hell’ work depicts the imagined world of sinners that is hidden underneath human beings’ consciousness. The eternal needs and desires emerge from human beings’ minds and become uncontrollable although human beings try to suppress them with ethical principles.  After the data was collected, processed and analyzed on the bases of the experiences and developments of work in phases 1 and 2, this work was found to be satisfying because it manifested the continuous creativity in terms of concept, style and feelings of the work. It is more sophisticated and powerful. The forms used in the work are divided into two main groups, namely, the forms that really exist and the imagined ones. The forms of both groups are interesting and more united. Experiences and knowledge obtained during the course of this project can contribute to the learning process that leads to continuous and consistent changes and developments. 

Fig. 7. project 1
Fig. 8. project 2

5. Conclusion The project is based on the ‘complex’ that lays in human beings’ minds. It arouses me to question myself, expand the linkage to society, and come back to solve my problem. This project gradually deconstructs the complex I have by thinking and considering the conflicts that are hidden in the work. I depict human lust by showing the story that is the mixture between concept and feelings through the forms of creatures that symbolize the demon from the world of spirits in order to remind the viewers of what sinners will face with in hell.The stories from the ancient scroll of Tribhumigatha and symbols that represent demons in hell are adopted and adapted until they have unique forms. This project is supposed to be successful in terms of its ability to convey the mysterious feeling and to teach the viewers to think about Buddhist philosophy that can lever human beings’ ethicality which will take them to the better world after their death.

Kriangkrai Kongkhanun

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