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Midst – a charming film by Nirobon Yuenyong in which the personal meets the general

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The recent MA degree show at the University for the Creative Arts in Farnham illustrated both the strength of an overlapping community of artists working in many different disciplines as well as the excellence of several individual exhibitors. The show reflected a number of deeply felt personal issues intertwined with certain pressing and disturbing themes apparent in societies across the world.

Amongst the range of impressive works on display was the moving and technically excellent short animation film ‘Midst’. The film was made by the gifted film-maker Nirobon Yuenyong who, I was later to learn, comes from the spectacular 24/24 Thai capital city Bangkok. The film featured the behavioural and emotional response of a small boy who was caught in the ‘midst’ of the tension and conflicting value-priorities of his parents. Superbly well-wrought, the film profiled the real existential difficulties faced by only children who find themselves tied in the knots of family relationships. In so doing, the film ‘Midst’ resonates with some of the original radical observations made by R.D. Laing in his celebrated portrayal of dysfunctional family life published in his book ‘Knots’.

Nirobon Yuenyong’s work also had the capacity to re-surface a powerful and surprising statement made by the remarkable psychotherapist Carl Rogers. Rogers was perhaps the most loved and revered psychotherapist (from the 1960s to the 1980s) and he once made the following remark:

That which is most personal is most general.”

This insight is often overlooked: Rogers held the view that all humans – in virtue of their shared humanity – are subject to fear, anxiety and a fundamental vulnerability, a vulnerability which, if improperly managed, can result in maladjustments. The small boy in the film ‘Midst’ experiences aloneness, loneliness and that special deep fear associated with the sheer fact of parents-in-dispute. His basic needs for love, for understanding and for a measure of control over the forces around him are universal i.e ‘that which is most personal is most general’.  But the film also shows how these difficulties may serve as catalysts for the development of inner strength and resourcefulness, for resolve and independence.

As I watched ‘Midst’ I was charmed and touched. It impressed me as a work of art located in that wonderful tradition of animation which deals with the big questions of existence. It served to remind me of the brilliant film ‘Grave of the fireflies’ which surely remains one of the best anti-war films ever made. But more than this, ‘Midst‘ can be taken as illustrative of an Aristotelian analysis of art. There are, as Virgil Aldrich puts it, ‘innuendos in Aristotle’s thinking which suggest that one of the main values  of dramatic art lies in the fact that, ‘we turn to it for a fuller contemplative realisation of the terrible and painful conditions of human life.’

And,  Aldrich continues by outlining Aristotle’s contention that through art,

‘… we come into … a sort of understanding … of the nature of the human enterprise in its cosmic setting.

Although I imagine that ‘Midst‘ did not have such lofty ambitions it demonstrates how a seemingly modest work of art can provoke hard thinking about ‘who we are.’

Nirobon Yuenyong is a highly intelligent film-maker; her work is informed by a sophisticated grasp of theory as well as the sheer skill of film-making; she draws from her own lived experiences and her awareness of the precarious world in which we live.

A future lies before the little boy in ‘Midst’: the outcome is uncertain; Like so many people he is caught in the middle of conflict. Will he, will they, find a way out?

Postscript:

I was lucky enough to enjoy a brief communication with Nirobon Yuenyong: in it she said:

I’ve  always been interested in animation and graphic design so my style is a sort of mixed media melding the hand-drawn and graphics. I like a minimal look mixed with a ‘crafted feel’ and I seek to represent emotional tones and the emotional spectrum.
The appeal of animation for me lies in the  mix of western and eastern stylistic influences; I  grew up with Japanese cartoons as well as comic-book art  and I appreciate western animated movies such as ‘Inside out’, ‘Big Hero’, ‘Toy story’, etc.

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