Recently seen tucked in a room at Singapore's La Salle College Of The Arts was an immersive multi-screen installation titled “Opera Of Kard”.
The brainchild of Thai artist, Arnont Nongyao, the unique installation (which ran until March 22) – commissioned by the Singapore Biennale 2019 – featured a dozen channels playing the sounds and scenery from local markets (kards) in northern Thailand.
According to Nongyao, who has established himself as one of Thailand’s leading experimental sound artists, the intent of the installation was to bridge a relationship between objects, human beings and society.
The “Opera Of Kard” thus fitted this disposition, as it highlighted the market as a gathering place to congregate, communicate and trade.
The sounds derived, such as the chatter, birds singing and wind blowing, in the eyes, or in this case – ears, of the Chiang Mai-based artist, also acted as a musical score.
Rearranged into a single composition, they come together as a socio-cultural operatic performance, which essentially made up the theme for “Opera Of Kard”.
Sound As An Artform
Nongyao’s impressive body of work is largely inspired by sound, with the use of low-fi or analogue-based methods and technology. The artist explained he gravitated towards sound, adopting it as an artform at a very early age.
Citing a period of time growing up with his father at an army camp next to an airport, he said that he was drawn towards the sound of aircrafts every day.
“I just enjoyed listening to all these sounds of everyday life. Eventually, I naturally became sensitive with the sound around my environment, as well as sensing people’s vibration.”
His interest soon evolved into his passion, ultimately becoming a key focus as he ventured into art.
He added, “I experimented a lot with sound in art as I was interested in combining some vibration into my works. I wanted to showcase them at exhibitions in the hopes that the audience would change their perception about what ‘sound’ truly was.”
‘Sound Has Always Been present’
Despite his affinity for sound, Nongyao stressed that he does not separate artforms.
“I still enjoy listening to painting or sculptures,” he said, as he can “hear” the vibrations behind them.
“Art in itself is universal, and I believe that if people get into the meaning of art, then they will be able to free themselves to accept and enjoy any kind of genre.”
However, the artist opined that most of us can relate better to sound and vibrations as we have all been exposed to those senses from the moment we are conceived.
“I think we have been exposed to this (vibration and sound) before we were born – listening to our mom’s heartbeat, listening to people singing to outside her body and so forth,” he explained.
“For me, sound has always been present and I feel that these new technologies available to us are tools to express that energy. Sound art, in my opinion, just reminds people to listen inside and outside of traditional and non-traditional things that have been with us for a long time already.”
Composing The ‘Opera Of Kard’
These ideals gave way to the creation of a number of sound installations and projects by Nongyao, which have been showcased around the world.
They include the “Pinky Soundy Bicycle Roaming In Yokohama”, which went on display at the Koganecho Bazaar in Yokohama, Japan in 2015. The interactive art installation involved a bicycle, which was refashioned into a moving musical instrument, to orchestrate movement and sound.
In 2018, Nongyao unveiled “Sphere”, a solo exhibition at the S.A.C Art Lab, Chiangmai, in which he utilised the playback speed of magnetic tapes to establish a new realm of seeing and hearing for audiences.
The evolution of his art form eventually gave way to the “Opera Of Kard”, which was commissioned by the Singapore Biennale 2019.
Nongyao revealed that the idea for the installation was inspired by his time as a student in Chiangmai.
“I really enjoyed visiting Kard Nut (a flea market in the north of Thailand) and just sitting there and listening to the soundscape of the market,” he explains.
“From the people to the animals and spirit sounds as well as cooking sounds, the mix is utterly confusing, but when I closed my eyes I felt as if they were singing and playing the instruments together just like an opera.”
The idea pushed the artist to create a mini project for a community initiative in Chiang Mai, back in 2013. Nongyao then replicated the same energy, feeling and vibration of the kard for the Singapore Biennale 2019.
To see his vision through, the artist set out with his assistant, Nguyen Ngoc Tu Dung from Vietnam, in which they spent three weeks traveling, recording sound and visual of 12 kards around Northern Thailand.
A Symphonic Market
According to Vipash Purichanont, curator of the Singapore Biennale 2019, Nongyao surprised him with the vibration that that his artwork generated after all the screens and speakers came together.
“As a curator, I am involved with developing ideas with artists from the very beginning. However, with the ‘Opera of Kard’, the vibration was overwhelming. I like these surprises.
"Curators always consider how artworks should look like in their heads while working on an exhibition, but artists like Nongyao, simply overcome those expectations.”
Nongyao’s “Opera Of Kard” in itself is unique as it was created to stir up a range of emotions.
“In the beginning when the audience enter the room, they will feel a bit unpleasant because the sounds are so confusing and loud. However, if they can stop themselves for a moment allowing it to get familiar, they can then change that perception and start to listen,” Nongyao noted.
A fully immersive art installation, the piece was designed to stimulate both hearing and touch, with the sound and vibrations combining to allow the audience to become a part of “Opera Of Kard”.
Ultimately, Nongyao said that through this work, he wanted to send out a question to the audience – “Can we understand ourselves by sounds and vibrations of the things that keep happening around us?”
Cover Image: Joshua Rawson-Harris/Unsplash
Writer | Richard Augustin
Two decades in journalism but Richard believes he has barely scraped the surface in the field. He loves the scent of a good story and the art of storytelling, two elements that constantly fuel his passion for writing.