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Art & design contingent returns from Bangkok

RELEASED: Aug. 18, 2010

Thai student Thanistha "Armmy" Sirinarongchai along with UW-Eau Claire students Daniel Smith, Margie Berg, Kaleb Durocher, assistant professor Wanrudee Buranakorn, Rachel Konsella, Ajan Ason and assistant professor Jyl Kelley attending Buranakorn's opening reception.

EAU CLAIRE — A contingent of students and faculty from the department of art & design at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire recently returned from an immersion experience in Bangkok, Thailand. The students and faculty presented research, installed an exhibit of Wanrudee Buranakorn's photography, curated by Jyl Kelley, and investigated new research on visual art in Thailand. Both Buranakorn and Kelley are assistant professors of photography.

The collection, "Language In-Form," comprises interpretations of the female form and showcases Buranakorn's history as an artist since 1995. This is the first time Buranakorn, a Thailand native, exhibited her work in her homeland.

"This was a cultural experience for all of us," Buranakorn said. "I wasn't sure how to handle a showing in Thailand as compared with the United States."

According to Buranakorn, exhibit openings in Thailand are called "ceremonies" and are much more formal than in the United States. There is a ribbon cutting where artists are honored by speakers who are experts in the field. For Buranakorn, this tradition was highly personal. Renowned Thai painter Chuang Mulpinit, a friend of her father's, spoke about her work. Her father, a commercial photographer, helped with the display, helping her find contractors and locating supplies.

"It was a great moment because I used to work for my father and this time he was working for me," she said. "We work well together. I appreciated his support."

The student involvement impressed both Buranakorn and Kelley. Seniors Marguerite Berg of Wisconsin Rapids, Kaleb Durocher, Wisconsin Rapids, and Rachel Konsella, Eau Claire, as well as junior Daniel Smith, Golden Valley, Minn., and Thai student Armmy (Thanistha Sirinarongchai) were instrumental in assisting with the planning and production of the exhibit over a period of two semesters. Durocher designed the exhibition catalog, postcard and gallery's title banner.

"So much labor goes into exhibiting one person's artwork that it is definitely a group project," Buranakorn said. "I was impressed with them, and I give so much credit to Jyl (Kelley) as she creates the momentum for the group and leads by example. They gained a lot of life experience from this trip."

Kelley said the response to 'Language In-Form' was very positive. "Faculty and students from the Thai schools we visited expressed a strong interest in Wanrudee returning her knowledge to her country," said Kelley, who was curious about the extent to which Buranakorn's work in this country is influenced by Thai culture.

"My sense is that Wanrudee's photography is influenced by a unique perspective that comes both from her past experience photographing women in her father's photo studio in Thailand as well as her more recent experiences of studying visual art in America."

In addition to research presentations, the group toured the art facilities and viewed work in progress by students at Rangsit and Assumption universities in Bangkok.

"While both of these schools boasted a larger budget in the arts, the quality of our students' research presentations was well received and impressive," Kelley said.

According to Kelley, the trip provided valuable exchange among faculty members, who share an interest in developing strong curriculum and providing international perspectives to students.

"We traveled to Thailand knowing very little Thai language," Kelley said. "It does become difficult to communicate with the depth of information that we are accustomed to sharing when we speak English with one another. In many cases, this was a challenge.

"However, we learned that when we shared our artworks, we used a visual language that required few spoken words. In many cases our images spoke for themselves and no further dialog was required. It made the world seem very small as we had many things in common."

The trip was supported through the new International Fellows Program funded by differential tuition and the Blugold Commitment.

Photos, videos and notes from the trip can be found at the group's blog. "Language In-Form" is available online in book form and includes full color images of all works in the exhibition as well as essays in English and Thai.

For more information, contact Jyl Kelley at kelleyja@uwec.edu.

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RD/DW

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