Thai artist Kamolpan Chotvichai made her own body the subject of the works in Fragility of the Self, on view this spring at the Sundaram Tagore Gallery. Each work is an illustration of a significant word in Buddhist teachings that is also the title. As if to rid the self of ego, identity, and even materiality, she disrupts her black-and-white self-portraits in a meditative process by cutting portions of their surface into strips.
In Desolation (2015), the nude female figure is surrounded by darkness. The head disappears into the shadows, and a thin strand of black hair rests gently on the curved back. Chotvichai makes her slashing cuts along the spine, and the resulting strips of canvas hang down beyond the image. The aggressive act reveals the white backing, and the slivers of white disrupt the darkness like beams of light.
Though her treatment of the female nude is similar to modern masters—like Irving Penn or Edward Weston—and her self-awareness recalls some the medium’s feminist pioneers, Chotvichai’s interest lies elsewhere. Her photographs are not rooted in desire or in sociopolitical objections. They are, rather, meditations on the self; she cuts the photograph as a way to transcend its material surface.
Restlessness (2015) shows the artist sitting in an open squat. A large triangle is chopped into the top of the image, separating the head from the body. The long strips cut into the print are treated like yarn. Woven down to the bottom of the image, they form a curtain covering the artist’s torso. The physical unease of the pose is juxtaposed with the gentle treatment of the photograph itself, creating a space to contemplate the title.
Chotvichai’s photographs are explorations of angst—its causes and cures as viewed in Buddhism. What started from the artist’s personal look into Eastern thought opens up to all viewers and becomes an invitation to move beyond the surface and meditate.