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In Conversation: Weera It Ittiteerarak

Weera-it Ittiteerarak (วีระอิทธิ์ อิทธิธีรรักษ์; 張喆), also known as itit Cheung, is a Hong Kong-born-Thai interdisciplinary artist with a unique cross-cultural and cross-discipline background. He explores artistically and scientifically the interconnection between individuals, technology, and surroundings, revealing the impact of environmental, climate change, and the post-pandemic era on identities, rights, and diversities.

Diagnosed with PDD-NOS in 2015, itit transforms his sensitivities to senses in his artistic practice by analytic and embodiment of the states of emotions, the reaction of surroundings, the connection between gaps, and triggering human sensations through sound, light, and smell. Through his installation artworks, he gained recognition from the university and local government, and his private collections span Hong Kong, Thailand, the UK, and Italy.

His ongoing research project, Sacrifice: Dabble (2019-) and Symbiosis with Weeds (2020-), investigates the trace of human activities in the ocean and land. It aims to reconnect the relationship between humans and the environment by using technology to create an analog in Hong Kong, merging ocean waste or weeds with architecture. The project challenges our perspective on how artificial technology invades the natural environment and questions the meaning of identity and sense of belonging. itit uses data collection and other scientific methodologies, combined with photography, moving-image, installation, sketching, computer programming, and performance, to find inner peace and provoke our understanding of the natural environment within our society in the past, present, and future.

Trigger the Lost Past Pass, 1080p digital video, triple-channel, 16:9 format, colour & sound (stereo), 8 fps, 4 mins 01 sec, Chinese & English subtitles, Thai Audio, 2020 - 2022

First of all, as a Hong Kong-born Thai interdisciplinary artist with a rich cross-cultural and cross-discipline background, what in the first place inspired you to become an artist? And how would you define your practices? I would describe my relationship with art as "subtle". It can be said that I didn't like art very much before, but I couldn't live without art, and this is the beginning of my choice of artwork. As a child, I was always drawn to nature and the environment around me. I was constantly fascinated by the colours, textures, and shapes of everything around me. This fascination grew into a passion for contemporary art, which eventually led me to explore the world of art.

My cross-disciplinary background has played a significant role in defining my artistic practices. Being born in Hong Kong and raised in Thailand, I have been exposed to a wide variety of cultures, traditions, and ideas, which have influenced my artwork in many ways. My artistic practice revolves around revealing the environmental impact of climate change and the post-pandemic era. I seek to raise awareness about identities, rights, and diversities through engaging pictorial introspection methodologies, seeking to cultivate an awareness of the need for sustainability and the importance of nurturing our relationship with nature.

I am drawn to the intersection of Asia-Pacific diasporic identity, post-phenomenology, and technological mediation. Post-phenomenology is a theory that explores how technology mediates our relationship with the world and how we perceive reality. My artworks embody this concept by engaging with technology to challenge and provoke our understanding of the natural environment within society. My approach to creating artwork is interdisciplinary, utilizing data collection and science methodologies merged with photography, moving-image, installation, sketching, computer programming, and performative elements. Through my art practice, I seek to find inner peace and provoke our understanding of the natural environment within our society in the past, present, and future.

In summary, my cross-cultural and cross-discipline background has been a significant influence on my artistic practices. I seek to raise awareness about the environment and the importance of sustainability through my artwork, and I utilize a variety of mediums and techniques to achieve this goal.

In your film, Trigger the Lost Past Pass, the script is written in your third language, Chinese; translated with an online platform into your second language, English; re-translated and recorded in your mother tongue, Thai. It seems like you yielded a crucial part of the narrative to the machine, and you are having a dialogue with it across cultures and languages. Can you elaborate on your intent? Trigger the Lost Past Pass is a work that explores the complexities of language and culture and the impact they have on our identities. My intent was to create a piece that could resonate with individuals who have experienced similar struggles of assimilation and loss of cultural identity.

The decision to write the script in my third language, Chinese, and then translate it with an online platform into my second language, English, and re-translate and record it in my mother tongue, Thai, was intentional. It was an attempt to highlight the inevitable loss that occurs during the translation process and to create a dialogue with machines and systems that seemingly lack humanity.

As an artist, I wanted different viewers to use their own backgrounds to view the work. However, I also recognized that it is impossible to achieve this goal alone. The translation process inherently involves loss and is never perfect, so I chose to leave the translation work to the machine. By doing so, the imperfections and losses of the translation process could be exposed and serve as a metaphor for the losses that occur in our own lives as we navigate different cultures and languages.

Furthermore, the use of machines and systems to complete the translation work also emphasized the idea that cultural identity is not simply a matter of language, but also includes the cultural influences that shape our perspectives and understanding of the world. The loss of these influences, as well as language, can make us feel out of place in our environment.

As the first viewer, I found the final result of Trigger the Lost Past Pass to be a very interesting state. However, I also wondered what someone who only speaks English and Thai would think or someone who doesn't speak any language. I wanted every viewer to feel a sense of confusion and strangeness when watching the work, perhaps even an inability to understand the meaning. The use of machines and systems in the translation process accentuates this feeling and serves as a reminder of the limitations of language and the challenges we face in expressing ourselves across cultures and languages.

The use of machines and systems in the translation process of Trigger the Lost Past Pass was intentional and served to emphasize the losses that occur in the translation of language and culture. The work encourages viewers to reflect on their own experiences of cultural identity and serves as a reminder of the complexities of language and the challenges of expressing ourselves across cultures and languages.

Beaches outbreak, medium format negative film, 2022

You mentioned that you attempt to “Explore the past by intervening in the dissimilarity between present and individual memories through an environmental identity.” Can you further explain it to our audience? If I give you a task to try to recall the situation in nature, what will happen? Where are you? what are you doing? With other people? How do you feel? You can close your eyes to help you remember. I find it interesting that even if we come from different backgrounds and have different experiences, we can all empathize with our imagination of being in nature. Let me put aside this fragment of our communication with nature in modern society, and talk about some of my personal stories. Although I have had several experiences with nature, a particular one stands out.

Growing up, I had the opportunity to visit my grandparents in their village in the countryside. I remember spending countless hours playing outside, helping with chores, and exploring the vast forest behind their house. The fresh air, the sound of birds chirping, and the smell of the wildflowers have been imprinted in my memory. The peace and calmness of the environment always made me feel rejuvenated and reconnected with myself.

In adulthood, I realized that these experiences with nature have significantly influenced my values, behaviors, and beliefs about the environment. This phenomenon is known as environmental identity. Environmental identity is the aspect of one's self-concept that is based on their relationship with the natural world. It encompasses the personal experiences, beliefs, attitudes, values, and behaviors that individuals have towards nature.

As an artist and researcher, I attempt to explore the past by intervening in the dissimilarity between present and individual memories through an environmental identity. In other words, I try to understand how people's environmental identities are shaped by their experiences with nature and how they influence their current attitudes and behaviors towards the environment.

Understanding environmental identity is critical for environmental conservation and sustainable development. By fostering positive environmental identities, individuals are more likely to adopt pro-environmental behaviors and take action to protect the natural world. This can be achieved through education, awareness campaigns, and providing opportunities for people to interact with nature.

Our experiences with nature are essential in shaping our environmental identities. As individuals, we must recognize the importance of the natural world and work towards fostering positive environmental identities to create a sustainable future.

2021 Edition of Trigger The Lost Pass Pass. Exhibited Online: Link

When your film was exhibited in a physical space, instead of projection only, you used all different media to display the film, the image, the texts, and the monologue. And instead of juxtaposition, the objects as media were scattered in the space. What leads to the change in the spacial relations and the media? “Exhibition” is a crucial aspect of my artistic creation, as it enables me to explore different ways of displaying my work and communicating with my audience. When it comes to displaying my film, I did not want to rely solely on projection, but to use various media to enhance the viewers' experience. I believe that physical spaces have their unique characteristics, which digital media cannot replace. Therefore, I wanted to create an exhibition that would highlight the distinctiveness of physical spaces.

My decision to use different media to display my film was driven by my desire to create a multi-sensory experience for the audience. By using various media such as images, texts, and monologues, I wanted to create a more immersive experience for the viewers, allowing them to engage with the work on a deeper level. I wanted to create a space that was both interactive and introspective, where the audience could walk around and engage with different aspects of the work in a non-linear manner.

In terms of spatial relations, I chose to scatter the objects as media around the space rather than using a more traditional, linear approach. This decision was made to encourage the audience to explore the exhibition space and engage with the different media in a way that suited them. It also allowed me to create a more organic flow within the space, as the audience moved through the different media and engaged with them in a more fluid way.

Another reason for my decision to change the spacial relations was to create a more collaborative experience between the audience and the work. I wanted to create a space that encouraged the audience to take an active role in their engagement with the work, rather than being passive observers. By creating a non-linear exhibition, I gave the audience more agency in how they engaged with the work, allowing them to create their unique experience.

In recap, my decision to use different media and to scatter the objects in the space was driven by my desire to create a more immersive, multisensory experience for the audience. It also allowed me to create a more collaborative experience and highlight the unique characteristics of physical spaces. I believe that by using a non-linear approach, I gave the audience more agency and encouraged them to engage with the work on a deeper level.

In the online exhibition by D-NORMAL/V-ESSAY, I noticed that your film received controversial responses- It’s a common challenge for contemporary artists. How do you deal with those comments and criticism? Perhaps contemporary artists are a bit like a mixture of ego, but not in the way that we want to satisfy all audiences. As an artist, I create work to express my ideas and communicate with the world, not to please everyone's aesthetic taste. Contemporary art is complex, diverse, and hybrid, which makes it challenging for some viewers to understand and appreciate. However, that is also the beauty of contemporary art, as it encourages viewers to engage with the work more critically and reflectively.

Regarding the online exhibition by D-NORMAL/V-ESSAY, I acknowledge that my film received controversial responses. It is not unexpected, as contemporary art often challenges people's preconceived notions and beliefs. However, I believe that every viewer is entitled to their own opinion, and I respect all comments and criticism, whether they are positive or negative.

Criticism can be beneficial for artists as it helps us to grow and improve. I always try to keep an open mind and listen to constructive feedback, even if it is not what I want to hear. It is essential to understand that art is subjective, and there is no right or wrong answer. Instead, it is a dialogue between the artist and the viewer, and each perspective is valuable.

Furthermore, I also think that the online exhibition format has its unique challenges. Unlike a physical exhibition, where the viewers can physically interact with the artwork and experience it in real time, the online exhibition is limited by the screen. It can be challenging to translate the physicality and sensory experience of the artwork into the digital space, which can affect how viewers perceive and engage with the work.

As a contemporary artist, I am aware that my work may not be everyone's cup of tea, and that is okay. What matters most is that my work sparks a conversation and provokes critical thinking. I am open to all comments and criticism, as they help me to grow and improve as an artist.

What do you think are the biggest challenge for interdisciplinary artists at present? I have yet to learn about other countries, but in Asia or at least Hong Kong, especially emerging artists face several challenges when it comes to interdisciplinary art. Firstly, there needs to be more government support and funding for interdisciplinary art projects. This makes it difficult for artists to find resources and promote their work. The traditional funding models for art often focus on specific genres and styles, which may include something other than interdisciplinary works in their scope.

Secondly, interdisciplinary art is still a relatively new concept in Asia, and audiences may not be familiar with or open to it. Audiences often prefer traditional forms of art, which can limit the exposure and understanding of interdisciplinary works.

Thirdly, interdisciplinary artists often need help finding a suitable platform to showcase their work. There are limited physical spaces or galleries that specialize in interdisciplinary art, and digital platforms may not be sufficient in providing a holistic experience for the audience.

Lastly, interdisciplinary artists face challenges in collaborating with other artists from different fields due to language barriers or a lack of understanding of each other's art forms. Finding the right collaborators and building a cohesive team can be a challenging process.

Despite these challenges, I believe that the demand and interest in interdisciplinary art is growing in Asia, and with the right support and resources, artists can continue to push boundaries and create innovative works that blend different genres and styles.

What are your 3-year goals and plans as an artist?

As an artist, my 3-year goals and plans are focused on expanding my artistic practice both locally and internationally. One of my top priorities is to explore more exhibition opportunities worldwide to showcase my artworks to a broader audience. I believe that exhibiting in different parts of the world will help me connect with diverse communities and provide me with valuable feedback to develop my artistic practice further. Additionally, I am actively searching for residency programs that support my research, provide new environments to create, and offer opportunities to collaborate with other artists.

Another important goal for me is to collaborate with different professions to gain experience, share knowledge, and develop new skills. I believe that working with other artists, scientists, engineers, and experts from various fields will broaden my perspective and inspire me to create more innovative and thought-provoking artwork. By collaborating with professionals from diverse fields, I hope to contribute to a more comprehensive understanding of the complex issues I am addressing through my artistic practice.

In summary, my primary objectives for the next three years as an artist are to expand my international reach, search for residency programs that support my research, and engage in collaborations with different professions. I am confident that achieving these goals will lead to new opportunities for growth, development, and meaningful impact within the art world and beyond.

Portrait of Weera It Ittiteerarak


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