Laong Saeng exhibition at TARS Gallery
04/04/2019 - by Claire McCafferty
Shinya Matsunaga is a Thai, Japanese photographer who lives in between Bangkok and Tokyo. His photographs play with the distortion of reality through the process of manipulation. In 2018 his “Sunnight and Moonshine” series was part of the BACC’s “Thai New Wave: Multiple Planes and Perspectives” group exhibition, today he holds his first solo exhibition “ละอองแสง – Laong Saeng” at TARS Gallery.
Being half Thai half Japanese, how has your cultural background influenced you?
I moved back to Bangkok from Japan when I was 9 months old and have been living here my whole life. I graduated with a Bachelor of Fine and Applied Arts in Photography from the Faculty of Architecture, King Mongkut’s Institute of Technology Ladkrabang in 2017. Living in Thailand for so long I felt that I lost touch with my Japanese side, so a year after I graduated I decided to go back to Japan to not only improve my Japanese but to re-discover the other part of who I am that wasn’t really present in my upbringing. I’ve been living in between Bangkok and Tokyo ever since.
My interest in photography really began during the course of my degree, since I grew up distant from my Japanese side I always gravitated towards Japanese artists and found my earliest influences in Kenta Cobayashi, Daisuke Yokota and Daido Moriyama. Their work gave me a new perspective on photography and fine art.
How has these experiences contributed to your work?
By the third year of my degree I started to question whether the techniques explored in my courses and textbooks covered what I wanted to depict in my work, so I started doing my own experiments with photographic processes and found my own process of manipulation.
Through my exploration I began to question whether what we capture in a photograph is a documentation of reality or if it’s actually a distortion of reality through our own perception. I call this an “untitled question” or “คำถามซึงไร้คำตอบ” as there’s no definite answer to this question, each individual perceives what is seen based on personal interpretation and those interpretations are being shaped by whoever created the simulation of a space, ultimately transforming what we see into an artificial landscape.
Shinya Matsunaga. Photo credits Shinya Matsunaga
Is your “untitled question” portrayed in the selected works exhibited in “ละอองแสง – Laong Saeng”?
With my time spent in Japan, I noticed the way of living is very organized - there’s always order even in chaos. The city architecture is structured and everything is perfectly categorized, you always know what to expect through the societal expectations set, is this a simulated environment?
I also spent a lot of time in museums and zoos where natural habitats of animals were being simulated within a space, it makes me think how can we know between what’s real and what’s an illusion when even these animals are made to believe they’re in their natural environment. Similar to my “untitled question” about photographs documenting reality or capturing an illusion of reality. These artificial landscapes I came across in Tokyo, Chiba and Ise inspired the selected works in “ละอองแสง – Laong Saeng”.
“ละอองแสง – Laong Saeng” which is a combination of the words ‘mist’ and ‘light’ isn’t commonly used in Thai, how do you define it and interpret it into your work?
A photograph is an image created by light, but once multiple layers of light is copied onto the photograph the light in the original image dematerializes and turns into what looks like a mist of light. It’s related to my process of manipulation that distorts light and manipulates perception.
ละอองแสง – Laong Saeng, exhibition view at TARS Gallery. Photo credits TARS Gallery
Your process of manipulation is about layering to distort light, how did this process start?
It was actually an accident but I liked the effect so I continued to experiment with multiple layers. I captured these images with a digital camera, printed them on normal A4 paper and scanned the low-res prints. Then did some sizing adjustments and retouching for it to finally be printed in high-res at a photo lab. This process is a recent experiment but I’ve always explored different processes to manipulate an image. I’m interested in how with today’s technology, an image or advertisement with familiar people and objects have all gone through a long process of setting up, capturing and retouching with copying and pasting to produce something that looks ‘real’. What we think is natural is not real at all, but as a society we’ve accepted it as a reality.
Speaking of societal norms, with the recent election Thailand is widely known to be a military-ruled country. Just a few days before your opening of “ละอองแสง – Laong Saeng” you went to the military draft, what was going through your mind during the draft?
On the day of the draft I spent 11 hours waiting for my turn, I was nervous. It’s known that you can pay your way out of the draft and of course I don’t want to be drafted, but I also don’t want to feed into more corruption in this country. Paying would never have been an option for me and I would rather face the reality of the consequences. Luckily, I drew a black card and will be on my way back to Tokyo soon.
Shinya Matsunaga’s solo exhibition “ละอองแสง – Laong Saeng” was on display at TARS Gallery from the 5th April – 1st June 2019.