Phantom Selves

PHANTOM SELVES traces the origin and evolution of Thai Buddhist architecture and sculpture, particularly the large Buddha statues Thailand is known for, through temple ruins from the Sukhothai Kingdom (which was the first kingdom to gain its independence from the Khmer / Angkor empire, and generally considered the cradle of Thai art and architecture) and those of the later Ayutthaya Kingdom that annexed it (which legitimized itself as the new center by incorporating Khmer elements and continuing Sukhothai designs but made them more extravagant, such as the giant Sleeping Buddhas associated with Thailand).

Sukhothai (and its sister city Si Satchanalai) not only defined the parameters and structures of the Thai Buddhist temple, it also developed and refined representations of the Theravada Buddha never seen before which reached its apotheosis in “Walking Buddha” statues. It is the most significant historical site in Thailand, as Angkor is to Cambodia. However it was forgotten and ignored unlike Angkor. Restoration is recent with inroads made since the 1970s, there are 193 ruins located (with more being discovered) although only 35 are administered – many of the monuments are unmarked, lost in time other than remainders of stupa bases or wall still standing.

Drawing upon the meanings of phantom as ghost and mirage (particularly in the Buddhist context of illusory world) PHANTOM SELVES explores the ruins and remnants of the Buddha image in these fallen and forgotten kingdoms. The title itself evoking the Buddhist philosophical concept of anattā (translated as no-self) – that no unchanging, permanent self or essence can be found in any being or phenomenon; including the Buddha image.

Stephen sees this metaphoric death of the Buddha via the forgotten and ruined images, as representing the decay of compassion in contemporary times through the tenets of materialism and meritocracy. Yet Stephen also sees it as a signal of hope for the future as Buddhism as a religion tends to take hold and resonate when societies are in turmoil or repressed – as evidenced by the turbulent histories of Asian countries where it took root. A future where Buddha is no longer needed because suffering has ended, and we have all become enlightened.

CREATED BY: Stephen Chen | COMPLETED: 04/30/2024

2048 1536 dissonance productions

dissonance productions

Started by trans-discplinary art-ivist Stephen Chen to consolidate his recent work; as well as facilitate collaboration with others. Stephen’s oeuvre is often allegorical as well as simultaneously deconstruct and hybridize the very forms he works in. Disdaining academic and esoteric expressions, as well as institutional conventions and practices, Stephen explores complex ideas and issues immanent in his works through experiments in form and technique.

dissonance productions