The Art of Pradeep Thalawatte:
Day 2 Day
Anoli PERERA Pradeep Thalawatta’s Exhibition ‘Day 2 Day’ at Theertha
Red Dot Gallery 36A, Baddegana Road South, Pitakotte from November 30 to
December 17. Gallery hours: Monday to Wednesday: 10.30 am to 5.00 pm.
Sunday: 11.00 am to 4.30 pm.
Pradeep Thalawatte’s artistic investigations incorporate highly urban
situations, industrial material, mass produced, popular/celebrity icons
and personal episodes of his life.
Absorption in urban allure, commenting on consumer anxieties and
feelings of isolation/loneliness in the big city have been seen in the
works of many artists in the later period of ‘90s Trend’ which marked
the departure from the conventional use of art material and embracing
the unconventional while finding meaning in the material itself. On the
exhibition ‘Day 2 Day’ Thalawatte explains:
“The items chosen for the background in my work are mass produced and
mass used items, and the images that are represented are individuals
with whom I tend to associate very closely. What is expressed within the
background and foreground represents relationships that cannot be
ignored or avoided. They are decided on personal selections, individual
tastes, continued usage, authenticity and conveniences.
Today’s world with its mass productions, mass consumption, and the
virtual world of cyber technologies, the image is repeated, digitised,
dissected and rearranged. Globalisation, mass consumer markets and
technologised cultural conditions triumph over all hierarchies in its
ability to offer infinite possibilities and manifestations of
‘fantasies’ and ‘dreams’ to all.
Billboards with perfect bodies backgrounding products offering
divinity if used, rapidly changing TV commercials that offer situational
scenes of fantastic possibilities are an integral part of this world
into which the consumer is invited constantly. These fantastic
possibilities are the ‘potential actualisations’ into reality.
Thalawatte plays with these potentialities of actualisation, the urban
landscapes of advertisements and make-believe world where the most
mundane action is blown up and fed to the masses as unique.
Thalawatte’s exhibition ‘Day 2 Day’ articulates self voyeuristically
encoded narratives of and mundane happening of his own life in a
billboard format. Is he offering the audience a ‘potential actualisation’
of the urban dream or ‘claiming’ a part of that urban dream - as a
billboard celebrity - for himself on his own terms?
In a sense, his work parodies the advertising world and the ultra
commercialisation of products where everyday life and nonchalant actions
of urban realities are appropriated, virtualised, digitised, cleaned up
and rearranged as perfect fantasies; here the urban realities are
simulated in a way that the copy becomes more real than the real. In a
Baudrillardian sense, the simulacra have come to ‘precede’ the real:
“The simulacrum is never that which conceals the truth - it is the
truth which conceals that there is none. The simulacrum is true.
Thalawatte in his ‘Day 2 Day’ series purposefully places moments from
his own real life frozen as digitised photos in place of this otherwise
usually simulated images on backgrounds with repeated images of shampoo
sachets, match boxes, liquor bottle caps (all of them prominently
displaying their ‘brandings’) reminiscent of the Pop Art icon Any
Warhol’s ‘Green Coca-Cola Bottles’ (1962). Here, the parody is that the
real is consumed as the simulacra instead of the simulacra as real.
Thalawatte’s work continuously plays with the idea of real and the
simulated. His works done in 2006 show the artist playing with the
notions of ‘celebrity icons’ where he constructed situations identical
to certain moments taken from a ‘celebrity life’ and imposing himself in
place of the actual celebrity.
Through a documentary process of digital photos he constructs his own
simulated celebrity narrative where he becomes the hero. His works
‘Hello’, ‘Angelina Jolie, Pradeep and Eminem’ (2006), ‘Paparazzi’ (2006)
and ‘Superman’ continuously portray this idea of role playing,
simulation and fantasy in dealing with the complexities of consumer
culture and youth identity.
In his early works such as ‘Me and My Material World’, one could see
his interest in the contemporariness of material, texture, colour, the
exotic allure of the urban waste as well as the ‘trivial’ in the urban
“I like very simple things and simple objects. They are mostly common
material that are found everywhere in day-to-day life. Without any
particular reason I get attracted to various glittery plastics and
metals, and I use these things as art material in my work. In this
sense, my work is constructed with things that are both trivial and
throw away waste material while retaining their authenticity.
Other than the attraction of the ‘mass produced’, it is this interest
in transforming the ‘trivial’ or the ‘mundane’ into ‘unique’ that
continues in Talawatte’s recent works.
This is seen in his work ‘Paparazzi’ (2006) where he takes a series
of photographs from a mundane moment in Justin Timberlake’s life
(pumping petrol into his car) and reworking it.
He replaces his own image in place of Timberlake’s, making it his
unique fantasy. Here, he creates his own celebrity status (by the
manipulation of images through technologies) as opposed to the notion of
celebrity as something created by popularity and by mass acceptance.
This also hints at the media interventions and manipulations in
‘making celebrities’ where popularity is ‘media fed’ than the actual
popularity of celebrity icons.
What is also very obvious in his work is the self absorption with the
artist’s own identity, and in his later work this manifests as an
oscillation between reality and fantasy. It seems to me that his work
can be conceptualised within the following idea articulated by Stuart
“Culture has ceased (…) to be a decorative addendum to the ‘hard
world’ of production and things… Through design, technology and styling,
‘aesthetics’ has already penetrated the world of modern production.
Through marketing, layout and style, the ‘image’ provides the mode of
representation and fictional narrativisation of the (human) body on
which so much of modern consumption depends … And the material world of
commodities and technologies is profoundly cultural.
Thalawatta’s work represents the future direction of art that would
have much absorption in consumer culture, globalisation, identity and
multi-national business of popular icon making. However, in many ways,
that future seems to have already arrived in so far as the youth
everywhere are concerned.