Symbolic Wood: Language of Wood and Techniques in Thai and British Cultures

Kornkamon Kaewprasert

Supervisors: Mark Cousins, Chittawadi Chitrabongs


The thesis is based on a conviction that wood is not only used symbolically but it is one of the objects that can become the symbolic of itself. This is not an attempt to include all relations in which wood and symbolism are combined but it restricts to the question where wood symbolises something as such. Even though wood can be treated as a natural substance but in reality, its distinction is not only about the object and the substance, but it is overlaid by the distinction between culture and nature. Because wood is usually thought of as something that can be worked on, it contains two uses first social use, secondly a cultural and symbolic use. In either case, it is social. This thesis approaches wood through language which enables us to see distinctions between science of wood and language of wood. Furthermore, an issue of untranslatability, we usually think of translation as a simple act of referring but the moment we recognise that the word wood is part of a language which is English not other languages. The whole situation becomes much more problematic. If there were only one language in the world, this problem would not exist in the same way. But not only there are many national languages in this world, there are regional, technical and verbal languages which constitute of conflict connotations and esoteric terminology.  

Wood is wood because it is worked on. It becomes especially important because anything that has been worked on and goes through a process in some extend becomes a different thing, a different mode. There is no wood as raw material. Every piece of wood has been processed; being planed, being sawn, being dried or being polished. Carpentry may seem as association between the carpenter and the material which is real thing but that is not quite right. Working with wood is working with a concept of the thing signified by the relation of it being used and being worked on. It has never been the physical. It is the concept of the physical and this is an important gab.

The idea of Western symbolism was a notion of an image thus the symbolism on wood would often be carved or engraved as an image. I have initially aimed to compare the use of wood in the UK and Thailand in respect to symbolism as though both of them use wood for symbolic purposes.  However, in Thailand, the rule governing working on wood seems to relate much more to what was appropriate and what was not appropriate in effect where one thing went with another. Working with wood in Thai culture would follow not the production of an image or so call a symbol of something else but was the consequence of techniques applied in a disciplined form. The question of Thai symbolism relates much more to technique. It is no longer practical but cultural approach which has no clear definition. Technique is so important that it often takes within itself an aesthetic question. Anything that works wood can function as a technique, can lend form and decorate the object. Then we are going to find symbolic as something very close to what people describe as form. The concept of form is always said that it lacks symbolisation. In contrast, this thesis, in a way, is saying that characteristic—form symbolises itself.

Image: The Wood, Chiang Rai Thailand, Kornkamon Kaewprasert, 2018

Biography: Kornkamon Kaewprasert is an artist who was trained as an architect at INDA Chulalongkorn University, Bangkok. She is now being a PhD candidate at Architectural Association School of Architecture. She has been teaching on Curartistry: Trees in Bangkok at AA Visiting School Bangkok since 2018. She and her sister, Kanyaphorn Kaewprasert, have founded a multi-disciplinary design practice Made of Two since 2015. They worked on various scales and cross disciplines from architecture, exhibition, furniture to visual media but all central to the main interest which is wood, tree and forest. From 2016, they have started their wood workshop construction in Nakhon Pathom, Thailand to explore and experiment on wooden techniques and craftsmanship. In 2019, They exhibited an art piece titled The Wood at Royal Academy of Art, Summer Exhibition in London.