Monday, 21 June 2021

Reincarnations III

Reincarnations III
Reincarnations III
Reincarnations III
Reincarnations III
Ruangsak Anuwatwimon’s exhibition Reincarnations III: Ecologies of Life is part of his ongoing research into mankind’s detrimental impacts on plant and animal life. With Monstruous Phenomenon at 1Projects, he examined the genetic mutations caused by nuclear radiation in Japan, and Reincarnations III focuses on animals driven to extinction by hunting.

Two of these extinct creatures were native to Thailand: Schomburgk’s deer—a life-sized sculpture of which is the exhibition’s centrepiece—and a subspecies of the Bhutan glory butterfly. The exhibition includes a mounted specimen of the butterfly, alongside a drawing of it on a postage stamp and a description of it in a textbook. The effect is similar to Joseph Kosuth’s installations demonstrating the principles of semiotics.

Reincarnations III opened at Warin Lab Contemporary in Bangkok on 12th May, and runs until 10th July. Ruangsak's sculpture Transformations was included in ห้องเรียนวาฬไทย (‘Thai whale classroom’) at HOF Art Space, and his similar Ash Heart Project installation was part of the Dialogues exhibition at BACC.

Tuesday, 15 June 2021

C+nto and Othered Poems

C+nto and Othered Poems
Joelle Taylor’s poetry collection, C+unto and Othered Poems, was published last week. Cunto is an inflection of the Italian verb cuntare, meaning ‘narrate’. As the title of Taylor’s seven-part poem, it may also be a pun on ‘canto’ (and, of course, ‘cunt’). For publication, the title is printed as C+unto, and in her poetry Taylor sidesteps the c-word in favour of its etymological origin, the Latin cunnus.

Friday, 11 June 2021

The Art of Thai Comics

The Art of Thai Comics
The Art of Thai Comics: A Century of Strips and Stripes, by comics scholar and collector Nicolas Verstappen, was published this week. This is the first book in English on the history of Thai comics (also available in a Thai edition: การ์ตูนไทย ศิลปะและประวัติศาสตร์), and it provides a definitive history of the subject, from pioneers such as Prayoon Chanyawongse (“The King of Thai Cartoons”) to contemporary comic zines.

The Art of Thai Comics is both a coffee-table book with beautifully-reproduced illustrations and a meticulously researched, comprehensive survey of Thai comic history. In both aspects, it surpasses the leading Thai-language book on comic history, A 140-Year History of Cartoon in Thailand from 1874 to 2014 (140 ปี การ์ตูน เมืองไทย).

For more on Asian comics, see Mangasia (by Paul Gravett), and Comics: A Global History (by Dan Mazur and Alexander Danner) covers American, European, and Japanese comics since 1968. The World Encyclopedia of Comics (by Maurice Horn) features biographies of hundreds of comic artists; Comics, Comix, and Graphic Novels (by Roger Sabin) is an introduction to the entire field of comic art.

Thursday, 10 June 2021

A 140-Year History of Cartoon
in Thailand from 1874 to 2014

A 140-Year History of Cartoon in Thailand from 1874 to 2014
A 140-Year History of Cartoon in Thailand from 1874 to 2014
A 140-Year History of Cartoon in Thailand from 1874 to 2014 [sic] (140 ปี การ์ตูน เมืองไทย: ประวัติและตำนาน พ.ศ. 2417-2557), by Surrealist artist and photographer Paisal Theerapongvisanuporn, was published in 2018. Paisal’s book was the first comprehensive historical account of Thai comics. (Nicolas Verstappen, author of The Art of Thai Comics, praises it as “the first complete overview of the history of Thai comics”.)

The opening chapters deal with the early history of Thai cartoons, followed by a decade-by-decade examination of Thai comics since 1957. (The authoritative text is accompanied by black-and-white illustrations, some of which appear to be photocopies.) An epilogue discusses political cartoons in Thai newspapers, including a 2014 example depicting a tank chasing a pencil around Bangkok’s Democracy Monument, highlighting military intimidation in the aftermath of the coup.

For more coverage of Asian comics, see Mangasia (by Paul Gravett), and Comics: A Global History (by Dan Mazur and Alexander Danner) covers American, European, and Japanese comics since 1968. The World Encyclopedia of Comics (by Maurice Horn) features biographies of hundreds of comic artists, and Comics, Comix, and Graphic Novels (by Roger Sabin) is an introduction to the entire field of comic art.

Sunday, 6 June 2021

Battle for the Soul

Battle for the Soul
Tim Alberta’s American Carnage detailed the Republican Party’s radical transformation in the Trump era, and Edward-Isaac Dovere’s new book Battle for the Soul: Inside the Democrats’ Campaigns to Defeat Trump examines the Democratic Party’s regrouping during Trump’s term of office. Whereas Trump led the Republicans down a path (or cul-de-sac) of extremism, the 2020 Democratic nominee—Joe Biden—was aligned with his party’s moderate wing (though his presidency has been more progressive than many predicted).

Battle for the Soul’s title is adapted from an article Biden wrote for The Atlantic magazine in 2017, in the aftermath of the Charlottesville neo-Nazi rally: “We are living through a battle for the soul of this nation.” The book features Biden’s first Oval Office interview as President, in which he draws “a direct line” between Trump’s endorsement of the Charlottesville white supremacists and the 6th January storming of the Capitol.

Although Dovere covers the Democratic Party after Barack Obama’s presidency, it’s Obama who provides the book’s juiciest quotes. At off-the-record fundraising events with Democratic Party donors, he called Trump “a racist, sexist pig”, “that fucking lunatic” and, for good measure, “that corrupt motherfucker”.

Thursday, 3 June 2021

“Do you hear the people sing?”

Reform
The Commoner
Ta Lu Fah
Paeng Surachet
In 2018, Rap Against Dictatorship’s single My Country Has (ประเทศกูมี) encapsulated the frustrations of anti-coup protesters. In 2020, when the protests expanded to include calls for reform of the monarchy, the band released Reform (ปฏิรูป), a song whose lyrics address Prayut Chan-o-cha and King Rama X directly. (Lines such as “pawns have a king captured” in the song’s official English translation are even more blunt than the Thai original.)

The video for Reform—blocked by the government on YouTube—was filmed at Siam Square in Bangkok on 16th October 2020, and includes footage of riot police using water cannon to disperse the protesters. The music video for Elevenfinger’s เผด็จกวยหัวคาน (‘get rid of the dickhead’) was also filmed during the protests, and is even more confrontational than Reform. Elevenfinger hurls insults at Prayut and others, and lyrics such as “ละควรรีบๆตาย” (‘hurry up and die’) are as subtle as a brick through a window.

The lyrics of another recent song are addressed directly to Rama X: Paeng Surachet’s กล้ามาก เก่งมาก ขอบใจ (‘very brave, very good, thank you’). Its title is an ironic appropriation of a comment made by the King to one of his supporters during a walkabout on 23rd October 2020, and its lyric video features animated yellow ducks in reference to the inflatable ducks used by protesters to protect themselves from water cannon.

Paeng’s song takes the form of a breakup message to an unfaithful lover, with lines such as “ประนีประนอมได้ไหม ไม่ compromise นะถ้าทำตัวเเบบนี้” (‘Can we compromise? No, I won’t compromise if you behave this way’). ‘Compromise’ is a reference to a comment by the King on another walkabout: on 2nd November 2020, he told a reporter that “Thailand is the land of compromise.” Paeng later released a music video for the song, featuring protest leaders Panusaya Sithjirawattanakul and Parit Chirawak in angel costumes.

Panusaya and Parit also performed guest vocals on a new version of The Commoner’s track Commoner’s Anthem (บทเพลงของสามัญชน), released last month with a music video featuring footage of pro-democracy protests. (Parit was recently hospitalised after going on hunger strike for forty-six days, and was released on bail on 11th May; Panusaya was bailed on 6th May.) The Commoner’s video คนที่คุณก็รู้ว่าใคร (‘you know who’) also features protest footage, and Parit and Panusaya are name-checked in the lyrics of Hockhacker’s song Pirates (โจรสลัด).

Protesters have also reappropriated existing songs. Do You Hear the People Sing? (from the stage musical Les Misérables) was sung at several of last year’s protests in place of the national anthem. Chaiamorn Kaewwiboonpan performed his hit single 12345 I Love You at a protest near Bangkok’s Democracy Monument on 14th November 2020, leading the crowd in chants of “ai hia Tu” instead of “I love you” during the chorus. (Ai hia is a strong insult, and Tu is Prayut’s nickname.) Chaiamorn was released on bail on 11th May, after burning a portrait of Rama X outside Bangkok’s Klongprem prison on 28th February.

Chaiamorn also performed 12345 I Love You outside Thanyaburi Provincial Court on 14th January, with Phromsorn Weerathamjaree, leading to lèse-majesté charges being filed against both of them. Whereas Chaiamorn usually sang Prayut’s nickname during the chorus, at Thanyaburi they used a nickname for the King instead. Phromsorn was also charged with lèse-majesté for singing three traditional royalist songs at the same event—สดุดีมหาราชา (‘praise the King’), ต้นไม้ของพ่อ (‘father’s tree’), and ในหลวงของแผ่นดิน (‘the king of the land’)—which he performed with altered lyrics.

Ai hia Tu” also appears in the lyrics of Rap Against Dictatorship’s latest single, ทะลุฟ้า (‘through the sky’), and another line—“Burn this image”—is also a reference to Chaiamorn. The ‘sky’ in the title is metaphorical, and the lyrics refer indirectly to “someone in the sky. Fuck knows he’s alive.” (This is a reference to a recent rumour that went viral online.) The music video, directed by Teeraphan Ngowjeenanan, includes footage of recent REDEM protests, which also feature in the lyrics (“Gunshots from the police as REDEM marches in line”).

Wednesday, 2 June 2021

American Carnage

American Carnage
Tim Alberta’s American Carnage: On the Front Lines of the Republican Civil War and the Rise of President Trump reveals how Republican Party factions battled each other and Donald Trump for the soul of the party. (Edward-Isaac Dovere’s new book Battle for the Soul offers a similar account of the Democrat Party’s internal divisions in the Trump era.)

American Carnage covers a decade of intramural conflict, from the rise and fall of the Tea Party to the Republican Party’s gradual embrace of Trump’s disruptive populism. Sources include former House Speakers John Boehner and Paul Ryan, and an Oval Office interview with President Trump. (The book was published in 2019.) Its title is taken from the key soundbite of Trump’s inauguration speech: “This American carnage stops right here and stops right now” (a speech that George W. Bush described as “some weird shit”).

Alberta sets out his stall on the very first page, writing that Trump “spent his first two years as president conducting himself in a manner so self-evidently unbecoming of the office—trafficking in schoolyard taunts, peddling brazen untruths, cozying up to murderous tyrants, tearing down our national institutions, weaponizing the gears of government for the purpose of self-preservation, preying on racial division and cultural resentment”. And all of that was before the double impeachment and attempted insurrection.

In his most evocative and alarming passage, Alberta describes Trump revelling almost maniacally in the adulation he received from (in Hillary Clinton’s words) the deplorables at his rallies: “Preparing to take the stage, the president seemed to feel it all—the crowd, the music, the energy, the media glare—coursing through his veins. “I fucking love this job!” he howled into the November night.”

Tuesday, 1 June 2021

Democracy.exe

Untitled for Us / Untitled for Them
Democracy.exe
White Bird
Aomtip Kerdplanant
The Untitled for Film group held a screening of short films on 29th May, providing a platform for young, independent directors to respond to seven years of Prayut Chan-o-cha’s government. The event, Democracy.exe, was originally to form part of the Untitled for Us / Untitled for Them season at the RDX Offsite gallery in Bangkok. The season was scheduled to run from 3rd April to 24th May, with the Democracy.exe films to be shown from 2nd to 8th May, though the screening ultimately took place online (streamed via Facebook Live) due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The programme began with Panya Zhu’s White Bird, in which an origami bird (representing a dove of peace?) is seen at various locations around Bangkok, including Ratchaprasong, the 14th October 1973 Memorial, Democracy Monument, and Thammasat University. These are all sites with histories of political violence and are thus, to use Dutch painter Armando’s term, ‘guilty landscapes’. (Chulayarnnon Siriphol’s short film Planking and Pachara Piyasongsoot’s painting What a Wonderful World feature similarly ‘guilty landscapes’, silent witnesses to past traumas.) Prayut’s announcement of his coup is heard on the soundtrack, and the film ends with the lowering of the Thai flag, symbolising the country’s political regression.

Democracy.exe also featured four short documentaries by Ratakorn Sirileark, filmed at anti-government protests last year. 21 October 2020: The Event Nearby the Government House and 8 November 2020: The Unintentional Mistake (8 November 2020: มือลั่น) were, like the others in the series, filmed in black-and-white. In 17 November 2020: Tear Gas and Water Canon [sic], Ratakorn documents the grossly disproportionate use of tear gas and water cannon by riot police, with Paint It, Black by the Rolling Stones on the soundtrack. (This is also the subject of Sorayos Prapapan’s short film Yellow Duck Against Dictatorship.) The title of Ratakorn’s 26 October 2020: The Owner of the Mutt is a reference to King Rama X, who has a pet poodle.

The final film in the programme was Aomtip Kerdplanant’s 16 ตุลา (‘16 Oct.’), a drama in which three student protest leaders debate their tactics in the aftermath of the 2014 coup: should they apply for a protest permit, or not?; should they organise a flashmob, or a large-scale rally? The three students could, of course, be substitutes for Arnon Nampa (released on bail today), Panusaya Sithjirawattanakul, and Parit Chirawak; they also resemble the protagonists of Sunisa Manning’s novel A Good True Thai.

16 ตุลา shows how the students’ lives have changed in the years since their initial campaign, indicating how seasoned protesters can become disillusioned, and how Prayut has become entrenched in Thai politics. The title is a conflation of two massacres, on 14th October 1973 and 6th October 1976, which have been whitewashed to such an extent that many people believe they are synonymous. The film ends with a written caption endorsing the three demands of the real-life student protest movement: Prayut’s resignation, a democratic constitution, and reform of the monarchy.

Cunts

Cunts
Cunts, the Los Angeles punk band who began playing live in 2018, released their self-titled debut album, Cunts, in 2019. The album is available on vinyl and CD. Cunts are by no means the first band to use the c-word in their name: there is also a band called The Cunts, and others include Anal Cunt, Selfish Cunt, Rotten Cunt, Cuntsaw, Märy’s Cünt, Cunt Grinder, Filthy Maggoty Cunt, and Prosthetic Cunt.

Friday, 21 May 2021

Panorama

Panorama
Yesterday, the BBC published Lord Dyson’s report into its 1995 Panorama interview with Princess Diana, and Panorama broadcast its own account of the controversy. John Dyson, a former Justice of the UK Supreme Court, was commissioned by the BBC to conduct an independent investigation into how journalist Martin Bashir secured his extraordinary interview with Diana.

Bashir has never spoken publicly about Diana; a BBC2 Arena documentary marking the interview’s tenth anniversary included contributions from everyone involved, except Bashir. In 1996, The Mail on Sunday reported that he showed fake bank statements to Diana’s brother, Charles Spencer, in order to gain access to her. The BBC denied the Mail on Sunday report, and the story was forgotten until the interview’s twenty-fifth anniversary last year, when the BBC’s three terrestrial rivals all broadcast their own investigations into Bashir and the bank statements.

Dyson’s report describes Bashir as “unreliable and, in some cases, dishonest”. It also criticises the BBC’s 1996 internal investigation into the matter as “woefully ineffective”, as BBC management did not attempt to corroborate Bashir’s denials and did not make its findings public. The BBC demonstrated greater transparency yesterday, with the Dyson report and the Panorama broadcast, though Bashir had been a senior BBC journalist until his resignation last week, and the Panorama programme’s transmission had been delayed for five days.

Yesterday’s Panorama episode—Princess Diana, Martin Bashir and the BBC—marked the BBC’s first public criticism of Bashir, and it pulled no punches: “Martin Bashir spun a web of elaborate lies... Martin Bashir’s reputation lies in ruins”. (And that was before the opening titles.) Aside from the bank statements, Dyson and Panorama provide another key document: Charles Spencer’s notes from the initial meeting he arranged between Bashir and Diana. These notes (published yesterday by The Daily Telegraph) show how Bashir undermined Diana’s trust in her senior staff by feeding her outlandish conspiracy theories that, according to a public statement by Prince William, “contributed significantly to her fear, paranoia, and isolation”.

Tuesday, 11 May 2021

Artn’t

Vitthaya Klangnil
This morning, two Chiang Mai University art students facing criminal charges turned their police summonse into a performance art event. Outside the police station, Vitthaya Klangnil carved “112” into his chest with a knife, in a protest against article 112 of the Thai criminal code (lèse-majesté). Vitthaya and fellow student Yotsunthon Ruttapradit have been charged with contravening the lèse-majesté law and the Flag Act, following their display of a banner depicting the Thai flag without its central blue stripe (which symbolises the monarchy).

The two students are co-founders of the art group Artn’t. They displayed their modified flag in March at the Faculty of Fine Arts, and the Constitution Protection Association (a self-appointed moral watchdog) filed charges against them under the Flag Act, which prohibits “any act in an insulting manner to the flag, the replica of the flag or the colour bands of the flag”. The lèse-majesté charges stem from anti-monarchy graffiti written on the artwork.

The students were both released on bail this afternoon. (Parit Chirawak and Chaiamorn Kaewwiboonpan were also bailed today.) The banner is similar to a piece by Mit Jai Inn shown at last year’s Status in Statu exhibition. Mit’s installation, titled Republic of Siam, was a large roll of fabric with a pattern of red and white stripes, thus it also resembled a Thai flag without the symbolic blue stripe.

Thursday, 6 May 2021

Reside

Reside
Following The Unseeable (เปนชู้กับผี) and Senior (รุ่นพี่), Reside (สิงสู่) makes three ghost films in a row for director Wisit Sasanatieng. It also sees Wisit reunited with Ananda Everingham, who previously starred in The Red Eagle (อินทรีแดง). (Reside was released in 2018, and its international title is The Summoning. This month’s planned Wisit retrospective at the Thai Film Archive has been postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic.)

Reside begins with an archetypal horror scenario: a small group stuck in an isolated house. Ananda’s character spells out the inevitable: “The road downhill has been cut by flash floods. We’ll be stranded here for a while.” This Old Dark House cliché is acknowledged self-referentially by another member of the group, who complains that “the lights go out every time it rains. Like in a horror film.”

For most of the running time, the characters are possessed one-by-one by spirits summonsed during a seance (one of whom transforms into a malevolent tree!). This leads to other intentional horror references, including several inevitable nods to The Exorcist, with possession resulting in spider-walking and projectile vomiting. The spirits seem relatively easy to exorcise, though, and they’re not particularly scary. The twist ending isn’t especially surprising, either.

Putin’s People

Putin's People
Five lawsuits have recently been filed against the author and publisher of Putin’s People. Catherine Belton’s book (subtitled How the KGB Took Back Russia and Then Took on the West) received superlative reviews when it was published a year ago. Belton was the FT’s Moscow correspondent for six years, and Alexei Navalny brandished a copy of her book in his viral video Дворец для Путина: История самой большой взятки (‘Putin’s palace: the world’s biggest bribe’).

Roman Abramovich filed the first libel suit on 22nd March, challenging Belton’s allegation that he purchased Chelsea FC on Vladimir Putin’s instructions. Belton writes that “Putin directed Abramovich to buy the club, claimed a Russian tycoon and a former Abramovich associate.” Aside from these two off-the-record sources, she also interviewed Sergei Pugachev, whom she quotes directly: “Putin personally told me of his plan to acquire the Chelsea Football Club in order to increase his influence”.

Pugachev, a defector from Putin’s inner circle, was described by a UK High Court judge in 2017 as “a person quite willing to lie and put forward false statements deliberately if it would suit his purpose.” Belton acknowledges his reputation as an unreliable witness, though she quotes him extensively nevertheless.

On Tuesday, the FT revealed that four other lawsuits were filed against Belton and her publisher, HarperCollins, last month. In what appears to be a coordinated campaign to silence any criticism of Putin’s regime, the Russian businessmen Mikhail Fridman and Shalva Chigirinsky sued for libel, as did the Kremlin-controlled oil company Rosneft. Peter Aven, Fridman’s business partner, sued for breach of data protection.

Monday, 3 May 2021

REDEM

REDEM
A protest by REDEM (Restart Democracy) outside Bangkok’s Criminal Court yesterday evening ended with riot police firing rubber bullets at protesters for the third time this year. REDEM protesters gathered at Victory Monument yesterday afternoon, and marched to the Criminal Court on Ratchadaphisek Road. They had intended to march past the military barracks on Viphavadi Rangsit Road, where rubber bullets were used against them on 28th February, though access was blocked and the protest route was diverted.

When the protesters reached the Criminal Court, REDEM handed out tomatoes and eggs, which were thrown at the Court entrance. REDEM announced the end of the short demonstration at 6pm, and most protesters dispersed, though some stragglers remained, throwing firecrackers at the Court building. They later retreated to nearby Ratchadaphisek Soi 32, where they were confronted by riot police armed with water cannon and rubber bullets.

Rubber bullets, tear gas, and water cannon were also used against REDEM protesters at Sanam Luang on 20th March, after they pulled down shipping containers erected to block access to the Grand Palace. Several journalists reporting on the demonstration were also hit by rubber bullets, and clashes with riot police continued late into the night.

Friday, 30 April 2021

The Film Book

The Film Book
The second edition of Ronald Bergan’s The Film Book was published last month, ten years after the first edition, with a slightly tweaked subtitle (A Complete Guide to the World of Movies). The earlier edition included a list of 100 essential films (which first appeared in Bergan’s book Film), and the new edition adds an additional eight recent films to the list.

The extra titles in the “Must-See Movies” list are There Will Be Blood, White Material, Inception, Twelve Years a Slave, Boyhood, The Grand Budapest Hotel, Black Panther, and Parasite (기생충). Bergan also wrote Understanding Cinema and co-wrote 501 Must-See Movies (which has been updated in second, third, fourth, and fifth editions).

Wisit Sasanatieng

Tears of the Black Tiger
Citizen Dog
The Red Eagle
Senior
The Unseeable
Reside
Nang Nak
Slice
Next month, the Thai Film Archive at Salaya has programmed a complete retrospective of films directed by Wisit Sasanatieng. (The Archive held a mini Wisit retrospective in 2010.) The season begins in style with 35mm screenings of Wisit’s classic Tears of the Black Tiger (ฟ้าทะลายโจร), tentatively scheduled for 4th and 16th May. The other planned screenings in May are as follows: Citizen Dog (หมานคร) on 16th and 25th, The Red Eagle (อินทรีแดง) on 11th and 19th, Senior (รุ่นพี่) on 21st and 30th, The Unseeable (เปนชู้กับผี) on 20th and 26th, and Reside (สิงสู่) on 22nd and 27th.

Two films written by Wisit will also be shown in the month-long season: Nang Nak (นางนาก) on 11th and 22nd, and Slice (เฉือน) on 14th and 30th. Wisit also wrote the screenplay for Dang Bireley’s and Young Gangsters [sic] (2499 อันธพาลครองเมือง), though it’s not included in the retrospective as it was screened at the Archive only a few months ago. All screenings are free, though the schedule will be delayed, as cinemas and other entertainment venues are currently closed until 14th June due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Thai Film Archive

Rashomon
Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives
The June screening schedule at the Thai Film Archive in Salaya includes two masterpieces, released sixty years apart. Akira Kurosawa’s Rashomon (羅生門) was originally scheduled to be shown in 16mm on 13th and 30th June. Screenings of Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives (ลุงบุญมีระลึกชาติ) were planned for 12th and 24th June. All screenings are free, though the dates will be delayed due to the coronavirus pandemic, as all entertainment venues are currently closed until 14th June.

Thursday, 29 April 2021

Pink Man Story

Pink Man Story
Pink Man Story (พิ้งค์แมนสตอรี่), an exhibition of selected photographs from Manit Sriwanichpoom’s long-running Pink Man (พิ้งค์แมน) series, was due to open today at BACC and run until 16th May. The opening has now been delayed, following the government’s announcement of a shutdown of entertainment venues from 26th April to 14th June due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Each Pink Man photo features the incongruous figure of Sompong Tawee wearing a bright pink suit, a symbol of consumerism and superficiality. For the Horror in Pink (ปีศาจสีชมพู) series, Manit digitally inserted Sompong into news photographs of three massacres from recent Thai history. Horror in Pink was first shown at the History and Memory (ประวัติศาสตร์ และ ความทรงจำ) exhibition, and later at From Message to Media (มองสารผ่านสื่อ) and Phenomena and Prophecies (ท้าและทาย).

The forthcoming exhibition was largely designed to promote a book of the same name: the Pink Man Story catalogue includes a complete collection of every Pink Man image, a (heavily edited) reprint of Ing K’s essay Poses from Dreamland (ท่าโพส จากแดน ช่างฝัน), and an analysis of Horror in Pink by Iola Lenzi. The book was published earlier this week, and the exhibition will open after the lockdown ends in June.

Tuesday, 27 April 2021

Kintsugi

Kintsugi
Seppo
Tomotsugi, the Japanese technique whereby urushi (lacquer) is used as a bonding agent to repair broken ceramics, has been practised for as long as 3,000 years. Archaeological excavations reveal that, rather than attempting seamless repairs, the tomotsugi craftsmen decorated the seams with grit.

Gold dust was later used to further accentuate the urushi seams, a technique known as kintsugi. When silver is sustituted for gold, the process is called gintsugi. Replacing missing pieces with fragments from other vessels is known as yobitsugi, and was first practised by Furuta Oribe. Repaired ceramics decorated with figurative maki-e art, produced for export, were known as makienaoshi.

Although kintsugi has a 400-year history in Japan, it has only gained recognition in the West in the last ten years or so. Most books on the subject reappropriate kintsugi as a philosophy rather than a craft, using it as a (somewhat tenuous) metaphor to represent triumph over adversity: just as kintsugi beautifies a vessel’s imperfections, so we should wear our scars with pride.

Kintsugi: The Poetic Mend, by Bonnie Kemske, is the first comprehensive book on the art and history of kintsugi. Kemske traces its origins to a sixteenth century teabowl—Seppō (‘snowy peak’), by master craftsman Hon’ami Kōetsu—which she describes as “the birth of kintsugi.” She also shows how contemporary Western artists utilise kintsugi techniques. The book is beautifully illustrated, and includes an extensive bibliography.

Monday, 26 April 2021

The Patani Art of Struggle

The Patani Art of Struggle
The Patani Art of Struggle
Violence in Tak Bai
Violence in Tak Bai
Jehabdulloh Jehsorhoh has led a burgeoning of contemporary art in Pattani and the other provinces near Thailand’s southern border, and The Patani Art of Struggle (ศิลปะปาตานี วิถีแห่งการดิ้นรน), a monograph on Jehabdulloh’s work, was published last year. (‘Patani’ refers to a formerly independent Malay Muslim sultanate that is now part of Thailand. Today, therefore, ‘Patani’ is a political term with separatist connotations.)

Jehabdulloh first came to prominence with Violence in Tak-Bai (ความรุนแรงที่ตากใบ): wooden grave markers arranged in a circle, commemorating the protesters who died in the 2004 Tak Bai massacre. The book reproduces a watercolour painting of the concept, and three versions of the installation in situ. It was first installed, just a few days after the massacre, at the Prince of Songkla University campus in Pattani, and the grave markers were accompanied by rifles wrapped in white cloth. In 2017, it was recreated at Patani Art Space and exhibited on a plinth containing Pattani soil at the Patani Semasa (ปาตานี ร่วมสมัย) exhibition. (The exhibition catalogue gives it a milder alternative title, Remember at Tak-Bai.)

Since 2013, Jehabdulloh has incorporated images of weapons such as guns and hand grenades into his paintings, a reminder of the continuing conflict between the Thai military and separatist insurgents. The book highlights the financial and human cost of the military operation: “The Thai government has spent 206,094 million baht to solve and alleviate the conflicts in Southern Thailand over the past ten years... Is fighting violence with violence an effective solution?” Yuthlert Sippapak’s film Fatherland (ปิตุภูมิ) poses the same question, as he explained when I interviewed him: “‘เหตุการณ์สงบงบไม่มา’—‘if no war, no money’. Money is power. And the person who created the war is the military.

The Patani Art of Struggle, housed in a die-cut slipcase, was edited by Apichaya O-in and Ekkarin Tuansiri. Its Malay title is سني ڤتاني چاراو او سها.

Friday, 23 April 2021

The Making of Raging Bull

The Making of Raging Bull
The Making of Raging Bull
The UK went into almost total lockdown in March last year, due to the coronavirus pandemic. In the year that followed, Jay Glennie researched, wrote, and published his impressive new book on the making of Raging Bull.

Glennie has interviewed all of the film’s key cast and crew, including director Martin Scorsese and star Robert De Niro (both of whom also gave him access to their archives). Even co-star Joe Pesci, now somewhat reclusive, agreed to an interview. As Glennie says in his introduction: “This is the story of the making of Raging Bull, by those who conceived it.”

Glennie’s comprehensive record of the film’s production is supplemented with handwritten notes, script drafts, and (mostly black-and-white) photographs, all magnificently reproduced. Richard Schickel wrote an excellent feature on the making of Raging Bull for Vanity Fair’s March 2010 issue, though Glennie’s book is the definitive account.

Perhaps we should expect nothing less, as the book costs £100 (albeit limited to 1,980 signed and numbered copies, mine being no. 125). Although The Making of Raging Bull (or Raging Bull: The Making of?) is a lavish publication, its layout is rather unconventional, with no contents page or individual chapters.

Tuesday, 20 April 2021

Lets Kill

Thai experimental noise band Gamnad737’s album Lets Kill [sic] includes several tracks with anti-government titles: Kill the Government, Kill the Dicktatorship, and Kill the Section 44. Section 44 is a reference to article 44 of the interim constitution, which granted absolute power to the 2014 military junta. Similarly, P9d’s rap album RAW Jazz Effect includes the track Section 44, which begins with the unambiguous line “Fuck the section 44”.

Lets Kill is available on cassette and CD, and in a unique CD edition splattered with founding member Arkat Vinyapiroath’s blood. (The blood-splattered edition also comes complete with two vials of Arkat’s blood, and it remains unsold almost three years after its release.) Gamnad737’s latest release is the Drilling Technique cassette EP (which includes a grisly photo of a Jeffrey Dahmer victim). Arkat is also the bassist for thrash metal band Killing Fields, whose most recent EP is Death to Dictator.

การเมืองโมเบียส

Wad Rawee
Wad Rawee’s book การเมืองโมเบียส: การเมืองและเรื่องเล่าว่าด้วย ศีลธรรมที่ไม่มีด้านตรงข้าม (‘Möbius politics: politics and narratives, morality without opposition’) examines Thai politics and the monarchy since the Thaksin Shinawatra administration. The cover illustration shows Bangkok’s Democracy Monument as a military complex in a dystopian future. Jakkapan Kangwan’s new novel Altai Villa (อัลไตวิลล่า) also features the Monument on its cover. On the cover of the second edition of Sulak Sivaraksa’s book หกทศวรรษประชาธิปไตย (‘six decades of democracy’), the Monument is represented as a jigsaw with one piece—containing the constitution—missing.

Death to Dictator

Death to Dictator
Death to Dictator, the latest EP by Thai thrash metal band Killing Fields, was released last year on cassette. The cover illustration, by Slaughterhouse21, depicts the skeleton of the army chief with a bullet hole through his head, and a cobwebbed Democracy Monument. The Monument has appeared on several previous album covers, such as the สามัญชน (‘commoner’) EP by The Commoner, ดอกไม้พฤษภา (‘May flower’) by Zuzu, and the compilation ตุลาธาร ๑๔ คน ๑๔ เพลง ต้องห้าม (‘14th October: 14 artists, 14 forbidden songs’).

The Death to Dictator EP includes a live version of 6th October, a track from the band’s previous album, Gigantrix Extinction. The cassette features the Dolby logo, though this is presumably an error, as Dolby noise reduction is no longer licensed to cassette releases. Bassist Arkat Vinyapiroath is also the founding member of experimental noise band Gamnad737.

Monday, 19 April 2021

Altai Villa

Altai Villa
Altai Villa (อัลไตวิลล่า: เรื่องราวขำขื่นในนครขื่นขม), the new novel by Jakkapan Kangwan, was published last week. Like Uthis Haemamool’s ร่างของปรารถนา (‘shadow of desire’) and Duanwad Pimwana’s ในฝันอันเหลือจะกล่าว (‘indescribable fiction’), it makes direct reference to recent Thai politics.

Altai Villa is a new community of self-described ‘good people’ (a loaded phrase in Thailand, as it refers to establishment figures who are portrayed as paragons of virtue), established following a coup, and the rights of its citizens are imperceptibly eroded. Just in case any readers failed to grasp the satirical metaphor, the subtext is clarified in chapter twenty-six when one of the ‘good people’ pledges to return happiness to the population, a reference to the 2014 junta’s propaganda song Returning Happiness to the Thai Kingdom (คืนความสุขให้ประเทศไทย).

The novel features Bangkok’s Democracy Monument on its cover, with a tank in the foreground. (Throughout the book, illustrations show the Monument in various stages of completion.) Similarly, the cover of Wad Rawee’s book การเมืองโมเบียส (‘Möbius politics’) shows Democracy Monument as a military complex. On the cover of the second edition of Sulak Sivaraksa’s book หกทศวรรษประชาธิปไตย (‘six decades of democracy’), Democracy Monument is represented as a jigsaw with one piece—containing the constitution—missing.

Sunday, 18 April 2021

ไข่แมวX

Khai Maew
ไข่แมวX, by the anonymous Facebook cartoonist Khai Maew, was released this month. The book features the best of Khai Maew’s satirical cartoons from the past four years, including several parodies of the 2019 election campaign. Minimal context is provided alongside each cartoon (as Khai Maew’s work is usually presented without captions, to allow for multiple interpretations), including a reprint of the manifesto for monarchy reform also published in ปรากฏการณ์สะท้านฟ้า 10 สิงหา (‘an earth-shattering event on 10th August’).

At the back of the book are a handful of new cartoons that are too sensitive to publish on the artist’s Facebook page (though even the cover illustration is also potentially taboo-breaking, albeit indirectly). The book’s final image borrows a motif from The Last Monument by another anonymous satirist, Headache Stencil.

Like Chalermpol Junrayab’s Amazing Thai-land series, Khai Maew combines superhero characters and political figures in his satirical cartoons. Both artists’ works are distributed primarily on Facebook, and they have both branched out with exhibitions, calendars, and books. Khai Maew’s first exhibition, Kalaland, was held in 2018, and Chalermpol’s took place a year later.

Khai Maew has also produced satirical merchandise, including soft toys and other items based on his recurring Thaksin Shinawatra and Prayut Chan-o-cha characters. He even created Happy Boy, a plastic model of the smiling child seen in Neal Ulevich’s photograph of the 6th October 1976 massacre.

Wednesday, 7 April 2021

Come and See

Come and See
After Nottapon Boonprakob submitted his documentary Come and See (เอหิปัสสิโก) to the Thai censorship board, they phoned him and explained that some board members had reservations about it. Would he mind if they rejected the film, they asked. Naturally, he did mind, so they invited him to a meeting. After the phone call, the Thai Film Director Association publicised the case online, and the stage was set for another Thai film censorship controversy. However, when Nottapon met the censors on 10th March, they told him that there was no problem, and the film was passed uncut with a universal ‘G’ rating.

It’s likely that the censors capitulated as a result of the publicity generated by their rather naïve phone call. The earlier case of Nontawat Numbenchapol’s Boundary (ฟ้าต่ำแผ่นดินสูง) was very similar: that film’s ban was swiftly reversed following online publicity about it. (Nontawat’s film was subject to a token cut, imposed to save the face of the censorship board who had originally banned it.)

Come and See and Boundary are both documentaries about controversial temples. In Boundary’s case, the controversy was territorial, with Thailand and Cambodia both claiming ownership of the disputed Preah Vihear on the border between the two countries. Come and See, on the other hand, examines the cult-like practices of the Wat Phra Dhammakaya temple complex (in Pathum Thani province, near Bangkok) and its former abbot, Dhammajayo, who has long been suspected of money laundering.

Dhammakaya is a Buddhist sect recognised by the Sangha Supreme Council, though it closely resembles a cult. Dhammakaya supporters are encouraged to make large financial donations in return for their salvation, and thousands of followers have given their savings to the temple. (Come and See interviews both current devotees and disaffected former members.) After Dhammajayo was accused of corruption, a declaration of his innocence was added to the temple’s morning prayers. (The film shows temple visitors reciting this like a mantra.)

The Dhammakaya complex itself is only twenty years old, and its design is inherently cinematic. The enormous Cetiya temple resembles a golden UFO, and temple ceremonies are conducted on an epic scale, with tens of thousands of monks and worshippers arranged with geometric precision. The temple cooperated with Nottapon, though his access was limited. Come and See doesn’t investigate the allegations against Dhammajayo, though it does provide extensive coverage of the 2016 DSI raid on the temple and Dhammajayo’s subsequent disappearance.

One of the film’s interviewees, a Buddhist scholar, hits the nail on the head when he argues that the long-running Dhammakaya scandal is not an anomaly; rather, Dhammakaya is simply a more extreme version of contemporary Thai Buddhism, which has become increasingly capitalist. Come and See also hints at the institutional corruption and hidden networks of influence that characterise the modern Thai state.