Sacred or profane? Ambiguity and duality can be seen as two sides of a coin or each brain’s hemisphere. Myrtille Tibayrenc, or ‘Mimi’, a multi-talented gallerist/curator/artist, intrigues and perplexes the audience with these double entendres in her intimate yet intense tableaux.
Born in Paris, raised in Bolivia, and schooled in California, Mimi is a mélange of cultures and inspirations. Growing up with a scientific father and an artistic mother, her family exposed her to two worlds’ perspectives: reason and emotion. Her family often poses universal questions such as God’s existence vs. Darwin’s Theory of Evolution, and they continue to inspire her. Against her father’s will, she studied art in Dunkirk and Marseille, and gained a master’s degree from L’École des Beaux Arts de Dunkerque. However, she was mainly taught contemporary art techniques and thinking for conceptual and installation art. Her painterly skills are self-taught.
In 2005, after her vacation in Thailand where her father was a Scientific Attaché at L’Institut de Recherche Pour le Développement (IRD), Mimi found a job co-ordinating and organizing events for the 2nd annual La Fête French art and cultural festival, and met Haritorn Akarapat, a respected sculptor (who eventually became her husband). She then started to curate for Tang Contemporary Art and Gossip Gallery, and opened Toot Yung Gallery in 2010.
“I like the name Toot Yung because it’s kinky, on the edge, erotic, and bloody,” she jokes. “It’s Thai for mosquito’s ass. When it bites, it hurts and is painful.”
Two years later, with a wealthy benefactor, the gallery moved from Bangkok Old Town to Sukhumvit. The newly renovated space became a one-stop art enclave with a café, a boutique, a studio, and an artist-in-residence atelier. Unfortunately, she left because of disagreement with the financial partner.
With these experiences under her wings, and between full-time jobs, Mimi took art from the confinement of a gallery to the open streets of Bangkok. She went on to co-direct the Bukruk Urban Arts Festival in 2013 and 2015, as well as the Ratchaprasong Art Maze (an ephemeral art installation), and From Dusk till Dawn (on the Skywalk). Most recently, in 2018 Toot Yung’s third incarnation launched in Chiang Mai—the Toot Yung Art Centre, designed by Udom Dansakchai. As artistic director or curator, Mimi engages contemporary artists and local artisans to create both art and crafts installations.
Until now, Mimi only has two solo exhibitions: ‘Sublimation’ and ‘Sweet Waste’. She first exhibited her paintings of gay men kissing in a group show at Kalwit Studio. When she had time to paint again, she chose small formats of oil on canvas, with subjects ranging from landscapes to portraits of both saints and sinners. Shy and introverted, she explains, “I try to hold on to my confused emotions. Painting them feels more relaxing, like meditation. I expel my emotions into the works. I have too much to express. Otherwise, I get drunk or frustrated and angry. I paint to control my temper.”
“I like subjects that can express many topics at the same time. When I paint gay couples, I don’t want to talk about homosexuality but about two selves—a man and a man, twins, or duality within one person. I’m worried and horrified that even today homosexuals are still harassed about their intimate lives. I love that there are mixed emotions and deeper layers of meanings. At first, these images may appear a bit hardcore, with some blood and frontal penetration. But they are painted with soft techniques to look very refreshing and natural. When I look at pornography, I hear stories about women mistreated by men in bed. There’s miscommunication between couples in terms of sexuality. When I sleep with men, I still have mixed feelings in my mind. We are not natural creatures anymore. Sex is all linked to physical, intellectual, and spiritual aspects.”
‘Sweet Waste’, Mimi’s second series, exhibited in the secret room of Patpong Soi 2’s BarBar Fetish Club, shook up both the Bangkok art crowd and the city’s S&M scene.
“I felt more liberated after the first show, so the second one is more seductive and kinkier,” she explains. “All the religious themes come from my mother, who’s now a hermit, and my sister, her follower. They are very spiritual and dedicate their lives to the church in Provence. I explore subjects like the nuns (whose corpses are incorrupt), the girl who saw the Virgin Mary, and statues that weep ‘the Blood of Christ’ every year. I believe in the miracles of life and that’s the religion in itself. Besides religious and erotic paintings, I paint emotional landscapes, like a little, peaceful pond and a field. A WWII bomb was dropped and made a huge hole which became a pond over the years. It contrasts between war and peace.”
Kind-hearted and generous, Mimi assumes multiple roles but is ultimately an agent provocateur—a truly rare bird.