Lotus sound 1992


Montien Boonma
Thailand  1953-2000
Lotus sound 1992
Terracotta, gilded wood
300 x 350 x 300cm (approx.)

Montien Boonma’s belief that an artist must have a sound understanding of his own place in relation to religions, cultural conditions resulted in his works having a great influence from the national religion, Buddhism. His works usually comment on the cultural and religious identity of modern Thai.  In the work of “Lotus Sound” (1992), we can see influence of Buddhism in various areas, such as the material used, intentions, symbols chosen, installation and presentation of the work.

“Lotus Sound” consists of a semi-circular wall of stacked tarracotta bell-shaped structures which, when installed, corner off a segment of a given space. Behind the screen of tarracotta structures, gilded wooden leaves are attached to the walls, suggesting the falling petals of a lotus flower.

Materials used in the work are made with the used of simple local materials such as gilded wood and terracotta. Besides the commonness of the materials in Thailand, representing the native of Thai art, terracotta and gilded wood are popular mediums through out history used in sculpturing of wooden statues of Buddha and other spiritual forms. This suggests the long-live of the religion Buddhism.

Boonma’s work expresses his concern over the decline of cultural identity.  This piece, also concerned by the receding importance of Buddhist practice in daily Thai life, he sought to re-create the inspiring and resonant sounds of bells in temple sanctuaries. Boonma was inspired to make a structure of bells after listening to bells in the tranquil gardens of a Buddhist temple. Then he found that imagining the sound of a bell relieved his stress, suffering and pain and he visualised the temple melody in his stacks of terracotta bells. In this installation, the structures of bell provokes the audiences’ imagination to the ring of the bells. However, as the bells does not contain a clapper to make them ring. Entering this space of quietness provides endless possibilities for the mind, creating peace and calm to the viewers. This is also related much to the teachings of Buddhism, to gain inner peace and harmony.

Also, the structure of the installation, draws its inspiration from both traditional symbolism in Buddhism—interpreting the walls of bells as at once permanent but perishable, solid but fragile. From the sculptural operations of minimalism—repeating the same sculptural object over and over again to build a wall, this suggests the routine Buddha worship practiced by the Siamese on a daily basis, reminding the viewer of their religion practices.

For the same reason of creating inner peace for the viewers, the symbols chosen are carefully considered. Lotus is a symbolic flower in Buddhist thought and is associated with the birthplace of Buddha and enlightenment. It is also a coveted plant with many medicinal properties. It symbolizes purity: it blooms out of the mire but is itself pure. The petals, stems and budding flower represent different spiritual levels. Lotus buds and flowers enhance statues of the Buddha in temples throughout Thailand. This again reminds the viewers of their religion. The way the petals of lotus are arranged, suggests the holiness of them, as if angels, from the heaven above. However the fact that they are falling may suggest that decline of the religion identity. Or on another hand, as the resemblance of holy water being dropped, it suggests that Buddha is sending forms of protection and blessing (in the form of holy lotus) to the people. The terracotta bells are part of the installation also because bells are very frequently seen in the worshiping temples.

From the above areas we can see significant influence of Buddhism over the work of Boonma.


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