Nathan Beard’s solo exhibition, Perennials, features a series of new mixed media works depicting sculptures and artefacts evoking associations with his Australian-Thai heritage. By thrusting these ancient fragments into the present moment, the artist seeks to agitate the colonial context in which they were found by filtering them through a nuanced, personal perspective which is interested in the ways Thai identity can be negotiated and expressed.
The artefact images are reproduced from photogravure plates published in Sculpture in Siam, a 1925 catalogue by Alfred Salmony, Assistant Director in the Museum of Far Eastern Art in Cologne, which the artist encountered in the British Museum Library during a 2022 residency in London. Building upon an understanding that the reception of these objects within a Western context is inextricable from the power structures and histories of the institutions housing them, the artist seeks to liberate these objects through his own re-imagining, pairing them with visual cues from his mother’s domestic Buddhist shrines.
Plastic recreations of Thai orchids sourced from Chatuchak market in Bangkok are adorned with hues of Swarovski Elements chosen specifically for the use of Siam, an antiquated name for Thailand, in their names. These tangled blooms spring forth from a matte blue field of paint called Thai Sapphire, produced by the British company Little Greene in partnership with the National Trust as part of their Colours of England Line. The sensuous qualities of these materials are named specifically to evoke a condition of tasteful, exotic beauty; and they are deliberately contrasted with and delightfully compliment arrangements of artificial flowers which might invite associations of kitsch.
The works in Perennials cast their gaze across several centuries; drawing together several periods and styles of Thai sculpture through the colonial expansion and study of South-East Asia, and into its current modern boom of globalisation and migration. These hybrid works reflect this constant push and pull of influences. Nathan’s reproduction of these objects through the visual language of his mother’s shrines can be seen as an act of veneration and subversion, gesturing towards broader complexities surrounding associations of taste and distinction.