Theatre of the Untold at Paris Art Fair

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My collaborative project with Thai Choreographer Jitti Chompee will be featured at Grand Palais @ Art Paris Art Fair – March 31st – April 3rd – Galerie Olivier Waltman – (Booth E1)

Royal Ontario Museum show

Four large format prints and my film from ‘Yantra: The Sacred Ink’ will be on show as part of ‘Tattoos’, Royal Ontario Museum, Ontario | April to Sept 2016

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London Art Fair 2016

Prints from Theatre of the Untold will be on show at London Art Fair | Jan 16-20 2016 @ Galerie Olivier Waltman

London Art Fair 2015

New Project – Theatre of the Untold

‘Theatre of the Untold ‘ My collaborative project with Thai Choreographer Jitti Chompee will be officially launched with a solo show at Galerie Olivier Waltman on Nov 6th 2015 as part of Festival photo Saint-Germain-des-Prés. 

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Galerie Olivier Waltman

74, rue Mazarine
75006 Paris

t : + 33 1 43 54 76 14

info@galeriewaltman.com
Métro/RER : Saint-Michel / Odéon

PJ Harvey

A_PJ_BLOGFourteen years ago today, I landed in Bangkok to begin working as a correspondent for the Corbis Sygma agency. The very last London assignment before moving here was to photograph one of my heroes on stage, the amazing PJ Harvey, a very fitting way to bid farewell to London Town. This old hand print has been on my pin board in every incarnation of my office space ever since and has suffered a fair amount from the humidity, dust and light. I’d like to think that I fared better! There have been some very high and very low points, but over all the experience has been a fascinating adventure… And I thank thee all, including all the exiles, nomads, wanderers, and the departed too, friends old and new, for keeping me on my toes, and insuring there was never really a dull moment!

Dead Man, Jarmusch, Life, Photography

“It is preferable not to travel with a dead man.” Henri Michaux

Paris, the beginning of summer 1995, I just got the results of my Baccalauréat littéraire (en: literary Baccalaureate)  I’m through to the next round and next chapter of my life, university. Excited? Not hugely, as I had picked a field of study for no other reason than the “necessity” of holding some sort of degree. It was a weird blend of linguistics, and other things known back then as LLCE… High-school had been a rollercoaster ride of rock-n-roll, punk, grunge, skateboarding, friend’s suicides and reflections on Albert Camus’ “absurd”, terrible paintings, slightly better drawings, and eye roll inducing poetry, and a brain somewhat fried by the 8 hours philosophy per week imposed on French literature high school students…

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I had a cinema student pass in hand and time to kill, after buying a record (I believe it was the new PJ Harvey album), I headed off to UGC Odeon cinema got myself a seat for a matinee session of Dead Man, Jim Jarmusch’s black and white period piece, exploring the themes of voyage, death, purgatory and staring Johnny Depp. It was 11 am and I was alone in the cinema, I had not read up on it, but had watched Stranger than Paradise and Down By Law before and loved them…

There’s really no other way to describe what happened: my mind was blown… From the stunning black and white cinematography by Robby Müller, to Depp’s acting, Neil Young’s trance-like soundtrack, William Blake’s grandiose poetry, a hilarious cameo by Iggy Pop, the film got me on every level… I was transfixed, in shock and there and then knew I had to live my life through creating images… 

Bit of a dilemma really, as I had enrolled and been accepted into the wrong field now… But that soon lost its importance as the French system of university studies has some annoying and hilarious quirks to it that turned out to be my saving grace. You see, we had “options obligatoires” literally, compulsory options… Ah France… Anyway, I took a lot of these options, most memorable was Documentary Film Making taught by a completely mad but brilliant professor with whom I eventually drove around the whole of Ireland in my final year for a Uni film project, and got drunk on Bushmills with hardcore republican 80 year olds in Belfast, who threw us out because I had mentioned a “classic Irish song” that was actually written by an English man (oops) “Feck off… That’s not oirish!” Dom is now a good friend and attends my openings in Paris. (There’s definitely a most entertaining blog piece coming on that Irish trip of ours…) There was also History of Cinema and Photography, taught by a somewhat snobby and strict but very passionate man, who happened to be personal friends of Stanley Kubrick and John Boorman. Us meeting Kubrick never happened because he died a month before that was meant to have happened, but he did bring us Boorman and we got to see his brilliant film The General in his presence.  I also got to show Boorman my first ever exhibition (on Ireland), which featured one of my first sets of (obviously brilliantly mounted) darkroom hand prints falling off a panel as I showed them to him… He did say he liked my images from Belfast though (one of which was on the floor at the time)…  

I had also gotten membership at the Uni’s darkroom and took a printing course with a very flamboyant French-Vietnamese fashion photographer… After getting yelled at multiple times for wasting chemicals I was eventually put on the list of us few who were allowed to use the dark room after hours and on holidays, I ended up spending pretty much all my spare time holed up in there. In the end I paid way more attention to these “options” than the main curriculum, scraped through the course, got my bachelors degree, enrolled for a masters but never turned up… All the while, I was saving money to buy pro gear by working as a translator, teacher and bilingual telesales operator, working on mind numbing projects like giving support to IT professionals on things I had no understanding of, such as 3D design software; answering with the not at all generic name of John Smith (ah the advantages of being French/British).  

Anyway, I made that cash and I went straight off to London to kick-start my career shooting freelance for Sygma, the French agency and working at a hotel reception part time so as to afford silly London rents… It was a blast, energy levels were very high and working these long hours made perfect sense… Over the course of my career so far, came many moments where I wondered if this choice, to be a photographer, was indeed the right one. But re-watching Dead Man or even just editing work while listening to the soundtrack, was and is always a good reminder as to why I could not consider doing anything else, at least for now… In short, Mr Jarmusch I thank you for this masterpiece!

To be continued…

 

“If the doors of perception were cleansed every thing would appear to man as it is, Infinite. For man has closed himself up, till he sees all things thro’ narrow chinks of his cavern.”

― William BlakeThe Marriage of Heaven and Hell   

Yantra: The Sacred Ink – Project history

My first encounter with the world of sak yant (yantra tattooing) was at the famed Wat Bang Phra temple in Nakorn Chaisi on the day of its Wai Khru ceremony. This was back in 2003, early on during my stint in Thailand,  covering the event for a magazine feature; not knowing then, that I would later go much deeper and embark on one of the most ambitious projects of my career, “Yantra: The Sacred Ink”.

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From the series “Yantra: The Sacred Ink” Untitled 1: 40×40″ Edition of 10 – Galerie Olivier Waltman

Over the years, I grew more intrigued by local beliefs in magic and how widespread, across all social divides, superstition was in the south east Asian region. I wanted to work on a personal project to explore this and discover how local spiritual traditions often incorporate magic and superstitions. In Thailand, I was particularly curious about people’s need to seek “protection” from bad luck, evil spirits and danger by using sacred and “magic” text, or “Yantra”.

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The “wai khru” day (literally honor the teacher ceremony or master day). On this auspicious day, believers come to show respect to both living and dead tattoo masters. Held once a year in March 50 km west of Bangkok in Nakon Chaisi, Wat Bang Phra Temple’s ceremony is quite a spectacle and the place to witness “Khong Khuen” (animal Spirit possession), when tattooed men are “possessed” by the spirit of their tattoos.

Yantra is often written on cloth, used to bless cars, homes and businesses. But it also adorns the human body in the shape of spiritual tattoos known as Sak Yant (Yantra tattoos). It is an age old tradition, with historical records as old as 200 BC, from the Chinese Qin Dynasty depicting tattooed men in the region. The spiritual Yantra or Sak Yant tattoo tradition (Sak means to tap, whilst yant is derived from the Sanskrit word yantra, meaning scared geometrical design), is practiced across southeast Asian countries, including Cambodia, Laos, and Thailand. The complex spiritual landscape in the region incorporates elements of Buddhist, Brahman, Hindu and Animist traditions.

The first portrait session happened by chance when, on assignment, I met a shipyard worker, inked head to toe with script and magic spells, and arranged to return the following week with a 6×6 medium format camera.

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Two images from the first roll of that session with the shipyard worker. Shot in 2008 – (40×40″ – editions of 10) – Galerie Olivier Waltman

I was later introduced to tattoo masters who eventually allowed me to witness and photograph countless ceremonies, blessings and tattooing sessions.

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L: A tattoo master at work in Bangkok R: A child blessing at a Bangkok tattoo master’s “samnak” (studio)

I then began seeking out sitters all over Thailand to photograph them for the large format portrait series featured in ‘Yantra: The Sacred Ink’.

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L: Portrait 6, Muay Thai boxer, Bangkok R: Portrait 13, Monk, Ayuthaya Province 30×40″ – editions of 10 – Galerie Olivier Waltman

Shot on a 4×5” camera the series of black-and-white portraits – the negatives of which are chemically altered by brushing various chemicals onto the emulsion, depict men from all walks of life and all ages, proudly showing the inked protection on their bodies.

The ‘Yantra: The Sacred Ink’ project was officially first launched on May 25th 2011, with a major exhibition at Bangkok’s Chulalongkorn University Art center, featuring 56 black & white prints, a multimedia display with images and sound as well as antique Yantra shirts (historically used by Thai soldiers for protection in battle) loaned by the Museum Siam.

Extract from the short film “Yantra: The Sacred Ink’ – Currently on show at musée du quai Branly in Paris, (May 2014 – October 2015) and on show at Tropen museum in Amsterdam from March 20th to August 20th 2015

Selected Exhibitions:

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Natural History Museum, Los Angeles |‘Tattoos’ Nov 19 2017 – Apr 15 2018

Field Museum | Chicago ‘Tattoos’  Oct 17, 2016 – Sept 4, 2017

Tropen Museum, Amsterdam | ‘Body Art II’,  March 2017 – Dec 2018

Royal Ontario Museum, Toronto | ‘Tattoos’ April to Sept 2016

MAS | Museum aan de Stroom, Antwerp | ‘Body Art’ Feb 16 – April 17 2016

Museum of Folk Art, Santa Fe | ‘Sacred Realm’  Feb 28, 2016 to March 19, 2017

Olympia, London  |  Art 16 May 19-22, 2016

Tropen Museum, Amsterdam | ‘Body Art’,  March 20th | August 20th 2015

Musée du Quai Branly, Paris |  ‘Tatoueurs, tatoués’,  May 6th 2014 | Oct 18th 2015

Galerie Olivier Waltman, Paris | ‘Yantra: The Sacred ink’   May-Jun 2014

Galerie Olivier Waltman, London Art Fair, Jan 2014

Festival Photo Saint-Germain-des-Prés Galerie Olivier Waltman, Paris | Nov 2013

Le Magasin de Jouets, Arles | ‘Sacred Ink’  July – Sept 2013

SNAP Photo Festival, Orlando | ‘Sacred Ink’ May 2013

Farmani Gallery, Bangkok  | ‘Sacred Ink’  Nov 2012 – Jan 2013

Brunei Gallery London – SOAS | ‘Sacred Ink, The Tattoo Master’ Oct  Dec 2012

Chulalongkorn University Art Centre  Bangkok | ‘Sacred Ink’  May 2011

For more info and photographs of the exhibitions, click here

Selected Print publications

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“Tattoo” – Actes Sud / Musée du quai Branly

“Encre Sacrée” – Geo Magazine, France

“L’art dans la peau” – Le Monde Magazine, France

“Carving Spirituality” – Picture Power, Newsweek Japan

“Grand designs” – Spectrum – The Sunday Times Magazine 

“Yantra: The Sacred Ink” – January Art Magazine, Australia

Yantra: The Sacred Ink” – The Trip Magazine – Italy

“Yantra: The Sacred Ink” Hey! Modern Art and Pop Culture – France

More publications

Online features, interviews & profiles:

Slate Magazine
France Fine Art
Arts hebdo
Boat Magazine
Die Nacht
Wayne Ford
Newsweek / Daily Beast
Lomography
Lens Culture
Actu Photo
Artsper
Vogue.fr
Jetez L’encre
Ein Dutzend
Sport et Style
Artslandstreet
Art Market Review

Excerpts from reviews

” There’s a certain unnerving juxtaposition about Cedric Arnold’s photography. There is an obvious potency, or aggression – men standing in various stages of undress, stoic, staring, unblinking; yet there is a reverence or calm that provides depth and intrigue.” – January Art Magazine

“Arnold’s powerful, yet sensitive portraits present a mystical subculture through its rituals, and symbols; a chest etched with a fierce leaping tiger, a hand adorned with images of geckos on each finger, a back protected by a monkey God, or a shoulder inscribed with ancient Khmer text…” – Wayne Ford

Gallery representation / Paris

Olivier Waltman