DISINI Discovers – Anon Pairot
For Anon Pairot, understanding is everything. It shapes not only the way he approaches his work, but also his outlook on life—at times irreverent and slightly rebellious; at other times, deeply empathetic. What ties it all together, and what he hopes for every viewer to think when they see his designs or artwork, is that single question behind almost everything we do: why? It’s a question that Anon continues to ask himself every day; a question which has has driven him to go from being a young boy growing up in a playground of abandoned cars to becoming one of Thailand’s foremost artists and designers. We find out more about his story.
1/ Can you tell us a bit about your journey? Where did your interest in design start, and what does your family think about what you do?
I think my family doesn’t know exactly what I do, or what the world’s really like, but I think that’s good for them—they think everyone's a friend. (laughs) My hometown is Nonthaburi, just outside of Bangkok. My family leads a simple lifestyle—they wake up in the morning, have coffee, then go to work in the city in the convenience store they own. When I was younger, there used to be a wholesale truck which would come to the store with products, and my job was to check the inventory. My friends in school had families that sold cars, and each car earned them a big profit. I asked my dad why, even though we sold so many Coca-Colas at 50 cents each, the profit wasn't big. That made me want to try to understand products.
3/ You first studied mechanical engineering and then later industrial design. Do you think your mechanical engineering background still influences what you design today?
The shift to industrial design was difficult because mechanical engineering was more about production, not aesthetics, but the faculty that I was in was focused on architecture, so besides industrial design, I also learnt about products, communication, and architecture. That was around 1997, during the Asian Financial Crisis, and it was good that I studied design then as there weren't many professors teaching it. I had to study all the fundamentals, from architecture to fine arts and design. It helped me to see different points of view and engage with society better. Nowadays, every department is separate and students only study one thing.
7/ What are your thoughts about the art and design scene in Thailand?
I don’t really know about it. I only focus on what I want to do. Some people think that when you work as an artist or a designer, you need to observe trends or movements and adapt your direction to fit the times. But I feel that you don’t have to care about that—you’ll go further if you have a leadership mindset, so I’m focused on things that I feel I can do, and I make them happen.
8/ Can you tell us a bit more about the piece you’ve created for DISINI, and what it’s trying to convey?
I wanted to make something ordinary, because I feel that art is for everyone. Art can even be a car or a mobile phone. We brainstormed a lot and came up with the idea of a see-saw and a flag pole, which might look ordinary, but they’re not. Every object has a meaning. What’s the meaning of a flag pole? For one, it could be about power—you cannot remove flag poles. Why do you need a flag everywhere? It’s not about reminding someone that they’re still in Singapore or Thailand. Are they afraid we don’t love the country? I don’t know. With my work, in order to see the message on the flag, you’ll need to move the see-saw faster. It’s only complete when people participate. Similarly, a country will only move when people take action. The country doesn’t grow because of better money, cars, or buildings, but better people; people are everything. The see-saw is also about balance—the meaning of something starts from relations and actions. Relationships influence my work too.
10/ What’s a dream project you’d love to undertake?
A couple of my projects are still ongoing, but I think, for almost all of them, my dream is to work with good curators and galleries. I’m already 38 years old, so I’m starting to know what I want to do in my life, and my focus. The most important thing is for me to work with the right person, at the right time, in the right place. Sometimes I feel the need to share something and I hope someone else can contribute some context and content for me to continue what I do. That’s my dream.
12/ When was the first time you ever travelled abroad?
It was to Germany when I was 19. I wasn’t too poor when I was young but my family was middle class, and couldn't afford to enrol me in a master’s degree abroad, so I submitted my work for awards. I received a design award, and the prize was a trip Frankfurt. I designed an egg server; I don’t know why I won! (laughs) The art fair in Frankfurt was huge; it was the size of three subway stations. There were 24 halls and each hall had three floors—you definitely couldn’t walk from one end to another. It was really exciting at the time. I met a group of German 20-year-olds who had designed a cable wrap which was essentially a spring made from coloured rubber, and they’d sold millions of pieces of cable wraps around the world. I was amazed that something so small could earn that much—at that point in time, I didn’t know how to sell or launch a product. I started to think that business is all about relations—when I get to know someone, and they know the market of their country. It doesn’t start from products, but from offering something.
14/ Any advice you’d give to aspiring artists/designers?
Hmm, no. (laughs) I have no idea how to advise them. I think the simplest thing I can say is that it’s a good thing to understand yourself. Not just as an artist or designer, but as a human being. Discover something that’s really ‘you’. There’s only one thing to understand: ourselves. Why are we born? What can you do before you die?
2/ What’s a childhood pastime you can remember?
I have a lot. I’ve been playing football ever since I was seven years old, up till now. But I think it’s not really about football, but meeting friends, doing something together, and concentrating on the game. In my childhood, I often collected money. (laughs) When I had $10, I’d think about how to turn it into $100, then $1,000, and then $10,000. To try to do that I’d collect, buy, and sell things. Cooking also helped me to understand things—what we eat, what we can buy, and how we can mix them all together to make good food. I spent a good amount of time with my mom cooking using ordinary ingredients to make special dishes.
4/ How did your career in design develop?
I started my career after I graduated as a product designer. I was lucky to have an exhibition in New York while I was still studying; it was 2001, and a curator from New York picked my work to be exhibited at a gallery near the Soho area. It was a multi-disciplinary exhibition for products, and my work started to get more recognised. My connections grew from there, so when I graduated, I had the opportunity to exhibit in the United Kingdom, Milan, and Frankfurt. That was lucky as the design scene grew after the financial crisis, and there was more demand for products, design, and architecture.
5/ You wear many hats: designer, curator, artist, business owner, branding consultant—do you feel each that each role influences the other, and how?
Definitely. Although I’m an artist, I also do product design, and as a service consultant, I get to see the people who really make the products. I’d visit the technicians and craftsmen in China—the people with the power to make your products. It’s given me more perspective. When I was growing up I’d see someone fall sick from the dust or even lose a finger or an eye from working at factories. I was lucky—I went from taking taxis to earning enough to buy a Porsche after five years, so it was insane—but at the factory, nothing's changed. The workers are still poor, though the owner of the factory might be slightly richer. When we work with the people in the factory, they’re like friends—we talk to them and try to involve them—we ask them how we can make the products faster, cheaper, nicer, and how we can sell them.
6/ What kind of issues do you tackle in your work?
When it comes to design, I always work for someone else—I get the brief from a client to make a certain product. But with my artwork, I work for myself—to understand myself, who I really am, the context of what I'm trying to say, or what I'm working with. So a lot of my artwork is about people, the system, the economy, or the power of something to drive people. I feel there are many possibilities in art to try something else or even question the public. Maybe my art isn't about the right answers, but capturing what's happening in society; that's why my work is often linked to labour or industrial work while talking about different issues. I think my work always tries to talk about this gap; it reflects an issue, and I can’t describe the issue in my work, but I can capture that point in my life.
9/ Was there a project or piece that was particularly memorable or meaningful to you?
The Chiangrai Ferrari. In Chiangrai, Thailand, the economy is slower; there’re a lot of farms there, and people make baskets, cheap products, and agricultural tools. The government sent me there to do research; they wanted the people from Chiangrai to export their products but it’s not as easy as it sounds. During my trip, I spent time with the people, and the Chiangrai Ferrari started from a question I asked: what’s something you dream of doing? All their lives, they had been told what to do and make, so they didn’t have an answer at first. Eventually they told me that their children were very embarrassed to tell their friends what their parents do for a living. Their children wanted to run internet cafés or become baristas, singers, or do other ‘cool’ things. They said they wanted to do something cool as well, and that their children liked Ferraris. I laughed at first but they were serious. I thought about it and said, if we want to make it, we shouldn’t make toys—we should create the real dream together. They’ve never actually seen a real Ferrari so it was up to their imagination. The Chiangrai Ferrari is bigger than a Ferrari, made out of bamboo, and doesn’t really look like a Ferrari, but the concept was to follow your dreams and never give up.
11/ Where do you draw your inspiration from? Any role models you look up to?
Travelling is one thing that inspires me as one of my jobs is to meet people. I travel about twice a month; I work with rich people and also the poor. I often visit factories, and participate and engage with people in different levels of society. It’s good to understand the people you work with everyday; through this I learn about the gaps in society, and also have the opportunity to learn many things from people’s lives, and better understand myself. I think about how that can become art. I’ve also been lucky enough to meet the right people at the right time. For example, I met (fellow Thai artist) Rirkrit Tiravanija for a Google project, and he inspired my perception on art. We spent time in Chiangmai in Thailand, cooking and having conversations about the future. I’m also inspired by the work of Michael Craig-Martin from the United Kingdom.
13/ What drives you to continue doing what you do, day in and out?
I feel that to wake up every morning is already special, for everyone. I also mean that in a figurative sense: to wake up and understand what real life really is, and from your dreams, to know what your job is and was, and what you want to continue into the future. I think everyday life starts from understanding yourself—from yesterday, to the future. Sometimes I realise things in my dreams too. I dream about mistakes from my childhood; sad things, and good things. Anything that I realise in my dreams, I understand in my head and heart, and when I wake up, I feel the need to do something in real life.