Source - Bangkok Post (Eng)Tuesday, August 03, 2004 08:37

By Pichayanund Chindahporn

They are an odd couple _ a statuesque beauty getting cosy with the notorious hot-pink-clad demi-icon of Thai contemporary art in the most obviously Parisian of places.
They pucker up in front of the Eiffel Tower, pose amorously on the steps of the Sacr-{AAC}Couer Basilica. Look, out on the street _ it's a flirt, it's not plain, it's Pink Man, and he and his French coquette are painting Paris pink.

They flash devilish smiles amidst the goggle-eyed tourists along the Champs-Elyse{AAC}. Flamboyant photographer Manit Sriwanichpoom clicks his camera to capture another scene of the "Paris romance".

You will never see Rue de Rivoli, the Eiffel Tower, the Notre-Dame cathedral in the same light after you view how Manit recreates the ubiquitous Robert Doisneau images of Paris in his own manner.

This Thai photographer, a French model, an academic, a chauffeur and the Pink Man cram into one of those impossibly minuscule European sedans, not forgeting their not-so-mini supermarket cart with the glaring pink hue that blinds passing drivers on the Rue de Rivoli.
The driver is navigating the afternoon Parisian rush hour to try to make three more sites that Manit wishes Pink Man to conquer _ the Eiffel Tower and two of the best known churches, Sacre{AAC}-Coeur Basilica at Montmartre, and Notre-Dame Cathedral. No low-budget, haphazard tour of Paris, this is a trip with real purpose.
Its results may forever alter your perception of the City of Lights. And this also is not just the latest but possibly the last of Manit Sriwanichpoom's Pink Man photographic series.

The mission is to revisit the French capital's most famous, most-viewed sites and re-represent them through the sardonic eyes of Pink Man. Joining the tour of Manit and Pink Man (Sompong Thawee in real life) are the lovely French model, a French anthropological researcher who offered to help simply for the chance to witness the event, and the trusty driver who is willing to exceed his two-passenger legal limit for this historic 10am-7pm operation.

After sojourns in Bangkok, Bali, and Venice, Pink Man was ready to take on Paris after Manit was accepted for an Artist-in-Residence programme by the City of Paris cultural affairs department, the Direction des Affaires Culturelles.

"As the Pink Man character speaks to issues of consumerism and Paris' major consumer product is tourism, I decided to tackle the theme of tourism marketing and its constructed cliches," explained Manit on his intentionally absurd remakes of some of the most famous images of Paris _ from Manet's Dejeuner sur l'herbe and Olympia to Doisneau's portraits of post-World War Two street romances.
This time around, though, Manet's bourgeois dandy and Doisneau's amorous male lovers are replaced by our Sompong who never loses his deadpan Pink Man character through a gruelling two-week production process _ although it is debatable if cosying up to voluptuous French beauties really counts as gruelling.

"I also wanted to address certain stereotypes," said Manit, "the tacky tourists and their exotic fantasies. It's like when tourists visit Thailand, they have certain preconceptions, including those of Thai women. Here, French women become exotic objects of fantasy."

Hence the stupefied stares of envious tourists on the Sacred Heart steps, contemplating the luck of our Sompong as model Angelique leans in to plant a firm kiss.

Trying best not to crumple his one and only hot pink suit in the front seat is so far arguably the most mundane of Sompong's tasks. Just a few days back an angelic French blonde draped her pale nude body atop the same pink suit while an equally unclad brunette languidly lounged on the magnificent divan in the sumptuous director's office of the Ecole de Beaux Arts, the school for fine arts. The office view from the grand double windows facing the private garden featured wine bottles and a picnic basket _ Manit's take on the Manet luncheon picture. The fine features of the young French women seemed straight out of a 19th-century painting. Yet the presence of Sompong somehow altered that allusion.

Later. No nudity this time but there is still to be, well, "close contact" between pink protagonist and statuesque beauty. The team arrives at the Eiffel Tower a little behind schedule.

Not to worry. The run-in with the Louvre police only hardened the determination of the pink entourage to blaze through obstacles, official or otherwise. At I M Pei's glass pyramid, les flics forbade photography, reasoning that Mr Pei his very own self was lunching at the nearby Cafe Marly and might not approve. (Guarding the Louvre obviously improves the imagination.)

At the Tower, a parking spot opens close by. The props are lugged (the cart serves a mundane purpose at times), the team is ready, poses are struck in front of this illustrious metal tower. A few well practiced embraces later as the tourists and locals stare, the team of five is off again, to mystical Notre Dame, Our Lady.

This time, parking seems impossible and negotiations begin with the Parisian police. A letter from the City of Paris is scorned, and attempts at civility escalate the police arrogance. The gendarmarie seems determined to give team the maximum contempt, even pulling out the "too many passengers in the taxi" rule.

Finally flicking off the flics, the team starts shooting. Within a minute, as the odd but decidedly amorous couple clinches, and here comes the policeman back. He wants to be included in the shoot. And there is a sudden hordes of tourists, cameras on rock 'n' roll, clicking away at this photo op that the guide books definitely did not mention.

Numerous miscommunications, police run-ins and last-minute complications later, Manit is happy. With all the attention Pink Man has been getting, if he continued to roam the Paris streets he could very well become a local cult icon.

"It has been quite an experience working completely by myself," admitted Manit, who must finish this large scale production without an assistant.

In truth, while Manit has had to provide and transport all props, devise all production processes _ from spray-painting the supermarket cart to casting models and renting cars _ both Parisian and Thai authorities have been more than generous.

The Director of Ecole Nationale Superieure de Beaux Art Paris, Henry-Claude Cousseau, who was willing to transform his elegant office into a backdrop for a nude photo shoot. The Office of Contemporary Art of Thailand's Ministry of Culture provided all travel expenses.

It remains to be seen what they will say when they view the spectacular results. The eye-popping resplendent Ecole de Beaux Arts shots and the tacky tourist-paints-the-town-pink series have the spectator viewing the mythologised city through new and definitely rose-coloured lenses.

"Manet's paintings, which dealt with complex social issues of class and sex, were once considered controversial," Manit said.

"Yet now his images have become normalised through their integration into popular culture. Take Olympia, the originally controversial prostitute painted as goddess who has somehow become an emblem of French beauty. Instead of representations of questionable bourgeois behaviour, we see pretty calendars, postcards, and refrigerator magnets," Manit said, who wants to reinstate the great Modernist's original agenda in a contemporary context.

If Manet's compositions are sublimated rebels, Doisneau's snapshots are pure propaganda. While Paris is most certainly beautiful and romantic, the ubiquitous images of romanticised Paris were actually meticulously staged. So, of course, are Manit's equally deliberate retakes juxtaposing the contradictory cliches of graceful romance on one hand, with gaudy tourists and consumers of the romantic projections of Paris on the other.

At 7pm on the dot, the team must leave the last location, the Notre-Dame Cathedral. The workday is over for the trusted driver.

Exhausted, Manit and Sompong say their au 'voirs to him, to the model, and to the researcher, and return to their dormitory in the Cite des Arts, international artists' residence by the Seine.
First, though, they grab a bottle of wine to celebrate their pink conquest of Paris _ a good rose of course.