Soil Concept. A Practice-Based Research by Khajornsak Nakpan

Published: 03.10.2022
Khajornsak Nakpan, Supavee Sirinkraporn
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Khajornsak Nakpan. Body piece: Adorn Din No.1, 2021. Bio-Melanin, bronze. 54 x 26 x 22 cm. Khajornsak Nakpan
Body piece: Adorn Din No.1, 2021
Bio-Melanin, bronze
54 x 26 x 22 cm
© By the author. Read Copyright.

The practice-based research for design titled “Layers (ME) Soil: Body Ornament from the highland archaeology project in Pang Mapha District, Mae Hong Son Province” aims to exploit and pass on research findings and knowledge in the field of anthropology and archaeology by adopting approaches of aesthetics and illustrating the salience of long time culture in the form of ornament  – objects which have been in favour since ancient times – that are used in modern life. 
The purpose of the practice-based research is to demonstrate potential of the innovative biological material from synthesised pre-historic soil from Pang Mapha District, Mae Hong Sorn. The area is an archaeological site from the late Holocene period (wood caskets or metal-iron period) dated 2,660-1,100 years ago. The knowledge is integrated with contemporary ethnic body ornament. The aim is to reflect aesthetics and harmony in the way of living between people and nature. It communicates local wisdom, creative process, and profound respect for the ancestors which are unique characteristics of the ethnic people. In addition to the aesthetical philosophy, the essence of the research is the scientific experiment aiming to produce a new alternative material which is environmentally friendly and enhances natural resources security. It is a conscious use of limited resources and fair management of cultural capital which enables effective future use. The material is produced with clean technology which decreases the independency on imported materials. 

The practice-based research for design titled “Layers (ME) Soil: Body ornament from the highland archaeology project in Pang Mapha District, Mae Hong Son Province” aims to exploit and pass on research findings and knowledge in the field of anthropology and archaeology by adopting approaches of aesthetics and illustrating the salience of long time culture in the form of ornament  – objects which have been in favour since ancient times – that are used in modern life. Since body ornament in most cultures is confirmed by some archaeological evidence regarded as artefacts dating back to prehistoric times; ancient and modern humans find a strong connection with ornament due to its usefulness as decorative objects worn on humans’ bodies and oblations in rituals. Ornaments can be considered spiritual items which enable humans to appreciate aesthetics, arts, and wisdom significantly connected with ways of life, craftsmanship, and the development of ancient techniques, as well as material selection. Thus, it is noticeable that ornament creation processes are regarded as a part of the adoption of attitudes and practices towards a place which humans have been doing ever since ancient times. Aesthetic appreciation in terms of body ornamentation, rituals and the sentimental value indicates the aesthetics of humans who have been punctilious towards ancestors and the sacred spirit of nature. They also demonstrate that existing objects and bodies at the moment are not the most important things, and everything is temporary. Only human minds need to be cultivated in a bid to have wisdom in this very life leading to eternal bliss which is merely a minor part of the infinite cycle of life.

Khajornsak Nakpan on the research field, in Pang Mapha District, Mae Hong Son Province

All began at ‘Pang Mapha’
Pang Mapha District, located in the north area of Mae Hong Son Province, can be reached by following the national highway 1095. The District is 876 km. away from Bangkok and covers an area of approximately 1,100 km2. Most of the Pang Mapha area is situated in the boundary of a national park and wildlife sanctuary in Thailand. Pang Mapha District borders the Republic of the Union of Myanmar to the north, Mueang Mae Hong Son District to the south, Pai District to the east, Mueang Mae Hong Son District Mueang Mae Hong Son District and Myanmar to the west.

According to the area of Pang Mapha District, Mae Hong Son Province is one of the most culturally diverse areas due to its geographical features, namely forest and steep mountain ranges covering 95% of the area. On valley plains, ethnic villages are located. Most of the ethnic groups here include the Lahu, Shan, Lisu, Karen, Hmong, and Lawa.

Map of Pang Mapha District

The archaeologists of these projects discovered traces of prehistoric human settlements in Pang Mapha District,. The traces signify prehistoric populations in the late Pleistocene which is the oldest age ever found in the northern region of Thailand dating back to over 32,000 years ago. Moreover, evidence regarding the outstanding culture of highland dwellers, that is, the wood caskets culture, commonly known amongst present villagers as “Pi Man wood caskets” estimated to be 1,100 – 2,600 years old. The archaeological site reveals death rituals which involve large wood caskets the heads of which were decorated with carvings of different styles and burial items dedicated to the dead; for example, beads, metal tools, clothes, and pottery. Artistic works and other items unearthed by archaeologists can be regarded as an open door to the prehistoric world for later generations. Creative thinking began here at the point where we can explore the prehistoric populations’ ways of life and thoughts sophisticatedly demonstrated in the form of aesthetic objects called ‘Body Ornament’.The prehistoric ages refer to a period when writing systems were not adopted on land, or it can be simply defined as the time when languages and scripts did not exist yet. We can explore origins and other areas of the land through other kinds of evidence; for instance, tools and household items, ornament, items for living, pieces of cloth, human skeletons, and animal bones. When there were languages and written records, the period would be regarded as a historic age. Most of the evidence of the historic periods includes inscription stela, stone inscription panels, terracotta bricks and paper cloth bearing inscriptions found in some sites, and inscriptions on other kinds of material. 

The research field, in Pang Mapha District, Mae Hong Son Province
It can be thus said that the creation of the body ornament of Pang Mapha was initiated due to the examination of non-documentary evidence from the prehistoric times in human history based on the age of the earth, geological features, types and features of stone, or the period when a creature called Homo Sapiens – the ancestors of present man. The prehistoric people usually led a nomadic life in caves and rock shelters. Later, in light of gathering and living as communities and cultivating their own civilization; humans learned to settle. Their improved ways of living involve agriculture, i.e. rice farming, animal husbandry which replaced hunting, and the making of ornament, clothes, and household items. Besides, they worshipped sacred spirits by creating rituals aiming to control nature, society, and lives. Some rituals were performed to pray for gods of the nature; for instance, rainmaking rituals for agriculture and communities; and ancestor worship and even death rituals were also made.
             The collected data show that not only the wood caskets culture which illustrates the ways of life and living along with sacred spirits of the prehistoric people of the Pang Mapha area but other items, especially ornament are also important; since ornament is objects which have been used by humans from different time periods, nations, and races. To study phenomena, concepts of ornament creation and expression processes can be considered as ethnical dimensions or conventions. This case study implies profound wisdom, that is, the connection which shows great sympathy for nature; and a fine appreciation of life.

Contemporary ornament creation as an archetype of aesthetic objects can be regarded as the development of national wisdom; guidelines for sustaining cultural capital, quality of life, and consciousness of respecting nature and ancestors; and the indirect promotion of identities of the ethnic groups. 

Phenomenology of Body Ornament
An attempt to explain phenomena as regards humans and ornament which can be confirmed by historical evidence and discoveries of ornament buried along with the dead in every civilization from the prehistoric periods can be regarded as empirical evidence which demonstrates that the creation of a body ornament inspired by Pang Mapha District, Mae Hong Son Province reflects the aesthetics of human body worship, ritual performance, symbols of races, and emblems which impact spirits and souls. The creation elaborates on aesthetics for modern humans. The body ornament is not created only for actualizing imagination, but also for formulating tenets and theoretical concepts; since the body ornament set represents the “visible self” as sacred objects used to decorate human bodies and the “invisible self”, that is, beliefs which deepen the core of ethnic culture. The two aspects of self are linked at infinity. 
According to the phenomenological frameworks, humans provide themselves with contexts or situations where they are a part of the social norm. When humans create a society, they define the meaning of things in order that all members of the society conform to the same rules, viz. social order. Phenomenologists concentrate on studying these processes in order to develop an understanding of the thoughts of members of the society that they would like to explore. Hence, it would seem that the phenomenological approach can be employed in a research study on ornament in order to analyze the “reality” of the existence of humans in each period. When humans create reality, seeking reality by “returning to a thing” according to the phenomenological theory does not refer to returning to “things” or “objects” but it means to think and consider the state of “being” things or objects as a physical object which is concrete and as an abstract object, that is, considering things using one’s perception and recognition. Considering the theory of Heidegger, seeking the reality of ancient ornament does not involve only crucial historical evidence but also includes the state of “being” ancient ornament which is linked with the spirit of beliefs connected to the environment, mores, traditions, bias, and consciousness of living of people in those periods contributing to “reality”.  

It is noticeable that ornament is a foundation of perception through human bodies used as medium and objects passing on beliefs, mysteries, faith, and courage that are created into concrete forms by humans. Ornament may refer to characteristics of symbols linked with stories, images, community thoughts, or indisputable forms of heritage; and humans always use ornament to represent practices and rituals which eventually become features of society or personalities and behavioural patterns. Although ethnic diversity can be found all over the world, customs and norms people conform to with ornament as creative objects, which cultivate the salience of ways of life and wisdom of humans in each civilization passed on from ancient times to the present. Humans of all races develop, add, and enhance the salience of ornament in order to generate concordance and time structure which represent continuous and eternal growth. 

Khajornsak Nakpan talks about the Body Ornament
Creation Processes
The death of the ancient world means the rebirth of the modern world. Even though none of the prehistoric men lived until the present day and told their stories and ways of life; artistic works and artefacts, namely ornaments remain and describe prehistoric ages. The above-mentioned tenets and theoretical frameworks of phenomenology can be regarded as a critical set of theories for obtaining information, knowledge, thoughts and wisdom of prehistoric people. As a creator, we shouldn’t show only written data; but aesthetic outcomes considered another kind of empirical evidence should be also showcased. It is evident that no other means could demonstrate abstract knowledge better than the principles of composition of art and elements of art or visual elements.

The composition of art theories comprises elements of art and numerous distinctive characteristics of visual elements. Visual elements could express power in terms of meanings and perception and present equilibrium and contradiction for aesthetics from any viewpoints which artists or designers want to express. According to the Royal Institute Dictionary, the word “element” means parts which form new particular shapes; while the composition of art refers to what the artist applies to express and communicate by arranging it in order to portray different desired forms which express or convey meanings, content, and creative ideas. Also, the composition of art can be defined as art created by humans to express feelings, emotions, thoughts, and beauty. Mostly, the composition of art includes some parts created by humans and other parts expressed due to material structures.

Moreover, elements of art refer to visual components which artists use as elements to create visual forms, namely lines, values (the degree of light or shade), shapes, forms, colours, and textures. Hence, the creation of works of art generates the perception of stories, feelings, and emotions and refers to harmoniously combining visual elements, i.e. lines, forms, shapes, colours, values, and textures to create works of art by using materials, adopting techniques carefully, and communicating clearly in order to fabricate aesthetics. Layers (ME) Soil has principles of showcasing its “visible self” and “invisible self” as objects worn human body.  

About the author

Khajornsak Nakpan Klimt02 member jeweller.
He focuses on the aesthetics of postmodern art, especially philosophy. He also pays attention to research methodology and process. His work, therefore, demonstrates different aesthetic dimensions through the lens of adaptive science.
Khajornsak Nakpan. Body piece: Adorn Din No.3, 2021. Bio-Melanin, bronze. 72 x 148 x 19.5 cm. Khajornsak Nakpan
Body piece: Adorn Din No.3, 2021
Bio-Melanin, bronze
72 x 148 x 19.5 cm
© By the author. Read Copyright.