Exploring Nature’s Impermanence with Ponnapa Prakkamakul
This past year we have made mini-grants to five artists to create original works inspired by the Cemetery during a one-year period. Each of the selected artists will create an original project rooted in their experiences at Mount Auburn. Today, meet Ponnapa Prakkamakul and learn about her project, “Mount Auburn: Seasons of Change.”
Tell us a little bit about yourself and your art.
I am a visual artist and a licensed landscape architect at Sasaki. My artwork includes a broad range of practices from mixed media painting to public art, place-making/place-keeping, and participatory art-making. While some of the work overlaps between these fields, all the work is place-specific artwork that is inspired by landscape and people in those locations.
Could you talk more about your work as a landscape architect? Does your work in one field inform the other, and vice versa?
They definitely inform each other. To me, the boundaries between the two fields are blurry. For example, I believe that a mural and a streetscape design can achieve the same goal, with different approaches and medium. Working on both fields helps me look at things in a broader perspective and see more possibilities, in all scales.
Tell us about your project, “Mount Auburn, Seasons of Change.” How are you exploring this concept though the changing landscape?
At Mount Auburn Cemetery, human bodies are transitioning into the earth through burial, or into the sky through cremation. In this project, I explore the concept of change through the landscape foliage and colors of the sky. Throughout the year, the landscape of Mount Auburn changes from lush green to fall colors, open sky, and blooming in spring. I express these changing scenes in my mixed media paintings and abstract pastel on paper.
In Theravada Buddhism, impermanence is a nature of everything. One of the practices to accept all changes in life is to observe nature and understand its changing quality. I hope that this project will invite people to visit Mount Auburn throughout the year and have their own reflections on the concept of change.
During the time you have spent capturing Mount Auburn through the changing seasons, have you observed anything that stood out to you, or surprised you?
I usually think that the best spot to see colors of the sky or a sunset would be at a high ground – a place with a panoramic view or a spot with no obstructions to the Sun. However, I discovered that watching a sunset at a low spot is also fascinating. I discovered this in December; I was on Spruce Avenue trying to walk to Washington Tower to see a sunset. The sun was already setting, and I realized that I was in a bowl of glowing orange light. It was so beautiful.
I think it was because of the unique topography at the Mount Auburn together with the atmospheric refraction in winter. I plan to go back more often and hope to discover more special moments there.
What has your artistic process been during your residency? What do you work on while you’re onsite at Mount Auburn, versus in your studio?
I did en plein air pastel on paper while I was at the Cemetery. This medium was suitable to quickly capture the changing color of the sky during sunset. Also while onsite, I joined tours to learn the history of the Cemetery, interesting stories, and plant species. I really enjoyed the tours and conversations with other participants. It made me feel more connected to the place even though I do not personally know anyone buried there.
I also collected soil, snow, water, and plant materials to use as painting medium in a studio at home during winter. Although I have been collecting soil from several places, this time is the most challenging thing for me as a Thai. In Thai culture, people believe that taking home anything from temples, graveyards, or cemeteries would bring spirits. I have realized how superstitious I am even though I grew up in an urban contemporary life.
Do you have a favorite place at Mount Auburn?
There are several places that I like and always walk to when I visit Mount Auburn. Washington Tower is one of my favorite spots. I like the experience of going up the dark spiral staircase, walking counter clockwise and feeling almost like walking up into the past. Then you see a box of light when you reach the top, and then everything is so bright. Sometimes I wonder if this is the experience of the afterlife.
What has been your favorite season at Mount Auburn?
I like Mount Auburn in all seasons. In summer, I feel that the space is very dense with tree canopies, humidity, and sounds from bugs like a wash of sound in shoegaze songs. I think fall season at the Cemetery is very impressionist; with the picturesque style and the intense texture of the foliage colors. On a sunny day in fall, the bright light that goes through the yellow leaves is my favorite. And of course, spring makes everywhere so pleasant.
Before working on this residency, I had never visited in winter. During the residency, I actually discovered that I love walking through the Cemetery in winter a lot. The space seemed to be expanded, with tree canopies open up for the sky and the quiet atmosphere. The sunsets were also as beautiful as other months.
Top image: Cycle, 2021; image courtesy of the artist.