14 September 2023

The Blind Earthworm in the Labyrinth

The Blind Earthworm in the Labyrinth The Blind Earthworm in the Labyrinth

Veeraporn Nitiprapha’s novel The Blind Earthworm in the Labyrinth was originally published in Thai (ไส้เดือนตาบอดในเขาวงกต) in 2015, and was translated into English by Kong Rithdee in 2019. Veeraporn describes the shroud that descended over Bangkok following the events of May 2010: “After the fire was doused and the terrible incidents ended days later, the city would still find itself cloaked in an impenetrable haze that prevented it from knowing the truth of what had actually happened. That darkness would remain in place for many years.”

In an interview with the Electric Literature website, Veeraporn explained how the novel had been directly inspired by Ratchaprasong: “I was overcome with a deep, painful bitterness seeing the fashionable, well-educated, well-paid people of the city feeling content about the injuries inflicted upon the poorer, less educated people who were mostly from the upcountry. And it was important to write about that bitterness.” This situates the novel within a movement that Sayan Daenklom called “Post-Ratchaprasong art” (in the journal Read/อ่าน, vol. 3, no. 2).

The novel has an intentionally melodramatic narrative, in a parody of Thai lakorn (soap operas), particularly Club Friday (คลับฟรายเดย์เดอะซีรีส์). In the Electric Literature interview, Veeraporn linked the repetitive nature of soap plotlines to the vicious cycle of Thai politics: “they have the same old toxic storylines that keep repeating themselves, which is also very similar to how the general public keeps becoming involved with politics in the streets of Thailand.” (The short film The Love Cycle makes the same point, comparing lakorn remakes to the cycle of Thai coups.)

The Blind Earthworm in the Labyrinth also describes the whitewashing of another notorious episode from the collective memory: “6 October was twelve years past and its memory had begun to fade. People were no longer even sure if it had actually happened.” (Similarly, all reminders of Ratchaprasong’s violent past have long since been removed.) The short films We Will Forget It Again (แล้วเราจะลืมมันอีกครั้ง) and Delete Our History, Now! (อำนาจ/การลบทิ้ง), and the exhibitions Amnesia and Unforgetting History, also address this social amnesia, which is a central theme in Thongchai Winichakul’s book Moments of Silence.

01 August 2023

The Fight of His Life:
Inside Joe Biden’s White House

The Fight of His Life

Bob Woodward and Robert Costa’s Peril included coverage of the first few months of the Biden presidency, but Chris Whipple’s The Fight of His Life: Inside Joe Biden’s White House is the first book to focus entirely on President Biden. Whipple covers the Biden administration from the election in November 2020 to last year’s midterms. Although he was granted an interview with Biden, it was conducted via email—preventing follow-up questions—presumably because White House staff were conscious of the President’s propensity for gaffes.

Whipple relies heavily on his more extensive access to Ron Klain, who was Biden’s chief of staff until earlier this year. He also interviewed numerous other senior figures in the administration, including Secretary of State Anthony Blinken, CIA director William Burns, and chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mark Milley. Whipple reveals Biden’s uneasy relationship with the Secret Service: “Wary of his own Secret Service agents, the president no longer spoke freely in their presence.”

Whipple’s strongest criticism of Biden relates to the US troop pullout from Afghanistan and the subsequent Taliban takeover of the country: “Both the decision to withdraw and its flawed execution belonged to him.” He presents conflicting accounts of the intelligence shown to the President prior to the withdrawal, which the White House regarded as flawed. Klain maintains: “Biden was being told by the military commanders [that] there would be a valiant defense of Kabul. That defense never showed up.” Blinken also blames “an intelligence assessment that proved to be wrong”.

This notion of an intelligence failure is rejected by the CIA: “President Biden, they insisted, was under no illusions. He understood the fragility of the Afghan military forces and had a clear-eyed view of the weaknesses of the Afghan political leadership.” Burns claims that the President was made fully aware of the risks, describing “a prescription for things unravelling pretty quickly... All of this, he said, was communicated to Joe Biden.” Similarly, Milley says that an imminent Taliban takeover had been foreseen: “The intelligence I saw predicted months”.

On the other hand, Whipple gives Biden considerable credit for his response to the Russian invasion of Ukraine, even describing him in Churchillian terms: “Biden had a few things in common with Churchill”. Biden’s view of Russian President Vladimir Putin—that he has no soul—is well documented, though Whipple adds that Biden regards Putin as a dictator in the same mould as Adolf Hitler: “He thought the Russian tyrant personified the evil he’d seen memorialized at Dachau”.

08 July 2023

Rama X:
The Thai Monarchy under King Vajiralongkorn

Royal Gazette

As the proverb says, don’t judge a book by its cover. But a forthcoming academic book, Rama X: The Thai Monarchy under King Vajiralongkorn, has been banned from distribution in Thailand on the basis of its cover. It will be published in the US later this year, and anyone importing it into Thailand faces up to three years in jail and/or a ฿60,000 fine. Police are authorised to confiscate and destroy any imported copies of the book, as it may contravene the lèse-majesté law.

The announcement of the ban was published in the Royal Gazette (ราชกิจจานุเบกษา) yesterday (vol. 140, no. 163, p. 45). It misidentified the book—the word ‘under’ is missing from the subtitle—though anyone charged with distributing it would presumably be unwise to rely on that technicality for their defence.

Rama X has not yet been published, thus the ban is based on its cover and the reputation of its editor, Pavin Chachavalpongpun, a Thai academic who left the country to avoid being detained by the junta after the 2014 coup. (Similarly, Andrew MacGregor Marshall’s book A Kingdom in Crisis was banned based on newspaper reviews.)

Official bans on books and print media are rare, as their announcement in the Royal Gazette draws attention to the publications in question (the so-called ‘Streisand effect’). Harry Nicolaides, for example, sold only a handful of copies of his self-published novel Verisimilitude, though it became an international headline once it was banned. An issue of the French magazine Marie Claire was banned seven years ago. Two books by Giles Ji Ungpakorn, A Coup for the Rich and Thailand’s Crisis, are also on the banned list. An issue of the Thai journal Same Sky (ฟ้าเดียวกัน; vol. 3, no. 4) was banned due to its interview with scholar Sulak Sivaraksa. The most notorious title on the list, Paul M. Handley’s The King Never Smiles, was published, like Rama X, by Yale University Press.

Pavin’s previous books, such as Coup, King, Crisis and “Good Coup” Gone Bad, were not banned, though they are not available within Thailand. Sarakadee (สำรคดี) magazine (vol. 22, no. 260) published an extensive article on the history of book censorship, and Underground Buleteen (no. 8) printed a list of books banned between 1932 and 1985.

14 June 2023

Apocalypse Now:
The Lost Photo Archive

Apoclaypse Now: The Lost Photo Archive

Photojournalist Chas Gerretsen’s picture of Augusto Pinochet, posing in sunglasses after launching a coup in Chile, is one of the most iconic political portraits. Gerretsen is also known for his work as a stills photographer on the set of Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now, and his images of that film appear in Apocalypse Now: The Lost Photo Archive. (The book’s subtitle is a publisher’s embellishment, as Gerretsen’s archive is held at the Nederlands Fotomuseum, as seen in the documentary short Dutch Angle: Chas Gerretsen and Apocalypse Now.)

Peter Cowie’s Apocalypse Now: The Book is the definitive guide to the making of the film, though its illustrations look no better than photocopies. The Lost Photo Archive, with its full-page, colour images, is an excellent visual companion to Cowie’s book. Coppola provided a rather ambivalent blurb for The Lost Photo Archive, disputing some of Gerretsen’s recollections—“I don’t remember many of the things talked about in this text quite in the same way”—but he also praised “Chas’s stunning photos”.

Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker’s Apocalypse, one of the greatest behind-the-scenes films ever made, documents the making of Coppola’s masterpiece. The work of another stills photographer, Steve Schapiro, appears in two books published by Taschen: Taxi Driver and The Godfather Family Album. Hollywood Movie Stills, by Joel W. Finler, is a history of stills photography.

01 June 2023

Who? สุเทพ เทือกสุบรรณ


Who? สุเทพ เทือกสุบรรณ (‘who is Suthep Thaugsuban?’) was published in 2014, at the height of the People’s Democratic Reform Committee protests led by Suthep Thaugsuban. Suthep, a veteran MP, attempted to bring Bangkok to a standstill, laying the groundwork for a military coup. His PDRC also blocked candidates from registering for the 2014 election, and sabotaged the election itself.

The comic book Who? สุเทพ เทือกสุบรรณ is an idealised biography of Suthep, presenting him as a role model for children. If he seems a completely unsuitable subject for such a comic, remember that his anti-democratic protest movement was supported by many middle-class Bangkokians, and their children were presumably the book’s target audience. (Of course, the comic whitewashes Suthep’s reputation for corruption, such as the 1995 land-reform scandal, portraying him as a victim of false accusations.)

Former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, against whom Suthep campaigned relentlessly, was also involved in a vanity project similar to Who? สุเทพ เทือกสุบรรณ. Thaksin commissioned a series of seven animated cartoons, ตาดูดาวเท้าติดดิน (‘looking at the stars, feet on the ground’), which gave an equally hagiographic account of his life story.

ภาพประวัติศาสตร์ การต่อสู้ของคนเสื้อแดง ที่คนไทยต้องไม่ลืม

ภาพประวัติศาสตร์ การต่อสู้ของคนเสื้อแดง ที่คนไทยต้องไม่ลืม (‘historic pictures of the red-shirt fight that Thai people must not forget’), published in 2011, covers the United Front for Democracy Against Dictatorship (red-shirt) protests and ensuing military crackdown from a decidedly red-shirt perspective. The book was published by PTV, the satellite television station set up by former Thai Rak Thai party members to compete with yellow-shirt leader Sondhi Limthongkul’s ASTV channel.

Despite its glossy paper, the book feels cheaply made: many of the photographs are printed at a low resolution, and the binding is of poor quality. Also, there are some especially gruesome photos, with one page in particular (p. 17) lingering on the most horrific imagery. (There are brief sections on the 14th October 1973, 6th October 1976, and May 1992 massacres, for historical context.)

Links between PTV and former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra were always denied, though he was widely assumed to be the station’s main financial backer. The book is essentially a Thaksin hagiography: it’s almost as fawning as ทักษิณ Where Are You? (‘Thaksin where are you?’). ราษฏร์ประสงค์ ๒๕๕๓ (‘Ratchaprasong 2010’) and ความจริงวันนั้น (‘the truth about that day’) are also pro-Thaksin accounts of the red-shirt protests.

If Thaksin is the hero of this narrative then Abhisit Vejjajiva is very much the villain. The book directly blames Abhisit for the crackdown, as he was prime minister during the 2010 protests. The documentaries The Terrorists (ผู้ก่อการร้าย) and Democracy After Death (ประชาธิปไตยหลังความตาย) also point the finger at Abhisit personally, though he denied any culpability in his memoir The Simple Truth (ความจริงไม่มีสี).

Two books published by liberal journals, 19-19 ภาพ ชีวิต และการต่อสู้ของคนเสื้อแดง จาก 19 กันยา 2549 ถึง 19 พฤษภา 2553 (‘pictures of the life and struggle of the red-shirts from 19th September 2006 to 19th May 2010’) and กรุงเทพฯ (ไม่) มีคนเสิ้อแดง (‘Bangkok (no) red shirts’), cover the red-shirt protests with more objectivity. Bangkok, May 2010 provides analysis of the period from both sides of the red/yellow political divide.

31 May 2023

ราษฏร์ประสงค์ ๒๕๕๓

ราษฏร์ประสงค์ ๒๕๕๓ (‘Ratchaprasong 2010’), published in 2011, is a coffee-table book documenting the United Front for Democracy Against Dictatorship (red-shirt) protest movement, and its violent suppression by the military in May 2010. (Names of the dead and injured are listed in an appendix.) Many of the UDD protesters were also supporters of former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, and Thaksin wrote a foreword to the book.

Clearly, with its contribution by Thaksin, this is a one-sided history of the red-shirt demonstrations. But it’s a necessary one, as history is usually written by the victors. The book contradicts the accusations of violence and arson levelled at the red-shirts by Thailand’s right-wing media. For example, พฤษภาอำมหิต (‘savage May’), published by Kom Chad Luek (คมชัดลึก), focused almost entirely on the arson committed after the military massacre.

In his foreword, Thaksin writes that he is saddened by the violence captured in photographs of the military crackdown, and indeed the publisher’s introduction warns the reader that “THERE ARE PHOTOS OF THOSE WHO WERE INJURED AND DIED.” Again, this challenges the narrative that the protesters were perpetrators, rather than victims, of violence. All photographs of red-shirt casualties were removed from the Rupture (หมายเหตุ ๕/๒๕๕๓) exhibition at Bangkok Art and Culture Centre, leaving only images of damaged buildings.

With its bi-lingual text, and an expensive ฿1,000 price tag, ราษฏร์ประสงค์ ๒๕๕๓ was presumably aimed at a wider audience, and not merely intended as a souvenir for UDD members. On the other hand, ความจริงวันนั้น (‘the truth about that day’) and, especially, การต่อสู้ของคนเสื้อแดง (‘red-shirt fight’) are so pro-Thaksin that they would surely appeal only to the protesters themselves.

Two books published by liberal journals, 19-19 ภาพ ชีวิต และการต่อสู้ของคนเสื้อแดง จาก 19 กันยา 2549 ถึง 19 พฤษภา 2553 (‘pictures of the life and struggle of the red-shirts from 19th September 2006 to 19th May 2010’) and กรุงเทพฯ (ไม่) มีคนเสิ้อแดง (‘Bangkok (no) red shirts’), cover the protests with more objectivity. Bangkok, May 2010 provides analysis of the period from both sides of the political divide.

25 May 2023

ไทยถลอก (ปอกเปิก)

Somchai Katanyutanan Thai Rath

Yingluck Shinawatra became prime minister after winning the 2011 Thai general election, and was removed from office by the Constitutional Court in 2014. The events of her premiership were fodder for veteran political cartoonist Chai Rachawat (the pen name of Somchai Katanyutanan), whose work appears in the country’s most popular newspaper, Thai Rath (ไทยรัฐ). (Chai also illustrated The Story of Tongdaeng/เรื่อง ทองแดง, King Rama IX’s biography of his pet dog.) Chai’s cartoons from 2011 to 2014 are collected in ไทยถลอก (ปอกเปิก) (‘Thailand is badly bruised’), published in 2014.

Yingluck sued Chai for defamation in 2013, after he called her a “อีโง่” in a Facebook post. (The term roughly translates as ‘stupid bitch’.) A book from the same period by cartoonists Buncha/Kamin describes Yingluck using equally offensive language, though it was the viral nature of Chai’s Facebook comment that prompted the lawsuit. Chai occupies the opposite end of the political spectrum to his fellow Thai Rath cartoonist, Sia, who has also published books of his cartoons.


Arun Watcharasawad

อรุณตวัดการเมือง (‘political Arun’), a collection of political cartoons by Arun Watcharasawad, was published in 2012. Arun is a cartoonist for the liberal Matichon (มติชน) newspaper and Matichon Weekly (มติชนสุดสัปดาห์) magazine, and the book features his work from 2010 to 2012. It also includes การ์ตูน-การเมือง-ไทย (‘cartoons-politics-Thailand’), a fascinating chapter on the history of Thai political cartoons by Parnbua Boonparn.

Matichon Weekly

Typically, Matichon Weekly devotes almost a full page to each of Arun’s cartoons, and it’s easy to see why: these are impressive works of satirical art. Like most political cartoonists, Arun employs recurring visual metaphors—shark-infested waters seem to be one of his favourites—though his work also references classical mythology and artists such as Hokusai.

24 May 2023

รวมการ์ตูนการเมือง แหลเพื่อพี่


Buncha and Kamin are political cartoonists for the right-wing Manager (ผู้จัดการรายวัน) newspaper. Their book รวมการ์ตูนการเมือง แหลเพื่อพี่ (‘cartoon collection for everyone’), released in 2013, is an anthology of cartoons satirising former prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra’s government. Manager is published by Sondhi Limthongkul, who has friends and enemies in high places: he narrowly survived an assassination attempt in 2009, and he received a royal pardon in 2019 after being sentenced to a twenty-year jail term for bank fraud.

Sondhi co-founded the People’s Alliance for Democracy movement against Yingluck’s brother, Thaksin. So it comes as no surprise that Buncha and Kamin’s cartoons are scathing in their criticism. In their commentary for the book, they don’t mince words, describing Yingluck as stupid and her administration as evil. Their cartoons also stray beyond satire into downright insult, such as a macabre fantasy sketch showing Thaksin being murdered.

Buncha/Kamin Buncha/Kamin

The cartoons mocking Yingluck’s supporters are even more problematic: they are portrayed as a herd of buffalo. Kwai (‘buffalo’) was a term of abuse adopted by the PAD, who dismissed the red-shirts as an uneducated mob undeserving of the right to vote. (Research in After the Coup confirms the prevalence of this patronising attitude.) Tepwut Buatoom’s picture book Buffaloes Dream of Being Human (ควายอยากเป็นคน) subverts the ‘buffalo’ stereotype, and the term has been reappropriated in a t-shirt design.

18 May 2023

Johnson at Ten:
The Inside Story

Johnson at Ten

From his 2019 election landslide (‘Get Brexit Done’) to his downfall last summer, Anthony Seldon and Raymond Newell recount Boris Johnson’s term as UK prime minister in Johnson at Ten: The Inside Story. They cover Johnson’s “callous amorality” during the coronavirus pandemic (“Let the bodies pile high in their thousands”, first reported by the Daily Mail on 26th April 2021), and his ethical and even legal shortcomings. (In 2019, the Supreme Court ruled that “the Prime Minister’s advice to Her Majesty was unlawful,” and Johnson was fined last year for breaking coronavirus lockdown rules.)

There are some extraordinary details in Seldon and Newell’s book. They quote Johnson proclaiming to staff, “I am the Führer. I’m the king who takes the decisions”. Whereas former PM John Major famously called rebel Tories “bastards”, to Johnson they were “c**ts, utter c**ts.” (Apparently he “would use the C word a lot”, in an attempt to bond with senior staff, though the authors censor the profanities. Ironically, a cabinet minister called Johnson a “cosmic cunt” last year.) After the EU tried to ban exports of coronavirus vaccines, he told French President Emmanuel Macron: “I will hold you personally responsible for the deaths of the British people”.

Sebastian Payne has already written a detailed account of the fall of Boris Johnson, and he concluded that there were “three Ps that brought down the prime minister”: the Owen Paterson, Chris Pincher, and ‘partygate’ scandals. Seldon and Newell suggest an alternative (and non-alliterative) trio, citing three flaws in Johnson’s personality that made his downfall inevitable: “an inability to value truth and to set or pronounce on moral boundaries; to recognize merit, appoint the best people and trust them to do their jobs; and to stick by any decision or person without changing his mind.”

Payne’s account of Johnson’s final days in office includes a brief quote from a phone call between the PM and Michael Gove, who asks if Johnson is going to resign. Johnson replies: “Mikey, mate, I’m afraid you are.” (Tim Shipman used the same quote in The Sunday Times on 10th July 2021.) In contrast, Seldon and Newell quote a long extract from the call, without the “Mikey, mate” line. They also quote a conversation during which Nadhim Zahawi tells Johnson: “The herd is moving”, which could have inspired Johnson’s resignation speech (“when the herd moves, it moves”).

Seldon is the author or co-author of books on every UK prime minister of the past thirty years, including Cameron at Ten. He and Newell spoke to more than 150 senior sources for Johnson at Ten, including on-the-record interviews with Sajid Javid (Johnson’s former chancellor), Graham Brady (Chairman of the 1922 Committee), and Pippa Crerar (the Daily Mirror journalist who broke the ‘partygate’ story, now political editor of The Guardian). Tim Shipman’s All Out War and Fall Out are in-depth accounts of Johnson’s role in Brexit, and his successor Liz Truss is profiled in Harry Cole and James Healey’s Out of the Blue.

10 May 2023

The Final Act of the Trump Show

Betrayal: The Final Act of the Trump Show

In Betrayal: The Final Act of the Trump Show, Jonathan Karl covers Donald Trump’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic and the insurrection by Trump supporters who believed his lies about the 2020 US presidential election. This is the eighteenth Trump book reviewed on Dateline Bangkok (or the nineteenth, if you count the audiobook The Trump Tapes). The others are: Confidence Man, Fire and Fury, Too Much and Never Enough, Fear, Rage, Peril, I Alone Can Fix It, A Very Stable Genius, Inside Trump’s White House, The United States of Trump, Trump’s Enemies, The Trump White House, The Room Where It Happened, Team of Five, American Carnage, TrumpNation, and The Cost.

Trump’s last year in office was reported more extensively in I Alone Can Fix It and Peril. But Karl’s book—which is partly a memoir of his experience as an ABC News correspondent—does contain some new details. He writes about his “strangest ever meeting” with Trump, an off-the-record Oval Office discussion in March 2020 during which Trump kept Vice President Mike Pence waiting while he traded political gossip.

Karl interviewed the former president at Mar-a-Largo and asked him to confirm an extraordinary quote first attributed to him by The New York Times in 2021. Did he really tell Pence, in a phone call on the day of the insurrection: “You can either go down in history as a patriot, or you can go down in history as a pussy”? “I wouldn’t dispute it,” is Trump’s remarkable reply.

03 May 2023

Life and Death:
Art and the Body in Contemporary China

Life and Death: Art and the Body in Contemporary China

Think of a shocking or scandalous work of art. An artwork that’s provocative, controversial, or offensive. Whichever painting, photograph, or installation you have in mind, its shock value almost certainly pales in comparison with the art in Life and Death: Art and the Body in Contemporary China. Silvia Fuk’s book, published in 2013, is the first to examine the use of human remains, ashes, and blood by contemporary Chinese artists who “challenge the boundaries of art, morality and law to the extreme.” The book features rare photographs of some of these artworks, though they’re all black-and-white.

Yang Zhichao used a mould to create dice made from his own congealed blood, in a performance titled Macao (澳門). Sun Yuang and Peng Yu collected unclaimed ashes from crematoria, and mixed them with plaster to sculpt One or All (一個或所有), an architectural column. They also transfused some of their own blood into the bodies of Siamese twins, for a performance titled Link of the Body (連體). For Ruan, Xiao Yu grafted a baby’s head onto a bird’s body. (Ruan, which also appears in The Museum of Scandals, is a Chinese neologism that the artist coined to represent this chimera.)


Zhu Yu is China’s most extreme contemporary artist. He suspended a human arm from the ceiling for his installation Pocket Theology (袖珍神学 图片; not included in Life and Death). For Intellectual Brain (全部知識學的基礎), he puréed six human brains and sold the resulting paste in jam jars labelled ‘do not eat’. Infamously, he ignored his own advice with Eating People (吃⼈), photographs of him apparently eating a foetus. Even more offensive was Sacrifice (献祭), for which he artificially inseminated a surrogate mother and seemingly fed their aborted foetus to a dog. (Did Zhu Yu use real foetuses in his work, as he claimed in the Channel 4 documentary Beijing Swings? This is difficult to verify, though Fuk takes him at face value.)

Art such as this, transgressive to the point of illegality, has very few equivalents. Perhaps the only comparative example is Rick Gibson, who was convicted of outraging public decency after exhibiting two tiny foetuses as earrings at a London gallery. Fuk doesn’t cite Gibson in Life and Death, though she does discuss other less extreme artists in relation to the Chinese works in question. Araya Rasdjarmrearnsook’s morgue videos are examined in detail, and she suggests Marc Quinn’s Self (a cast of the artist’s head made from his frozen blood) as an inspiration for Macao. Ruangsak Anuwatwimon’s sculpture Transformations, made—like One or All—from human ashes, is not included.

29 April 2023

An Investigation

Shit: An Investigation Piero Manzoni

Andres Serrano’s Shit exhibition, held in 2007, featured mural-sized images of feces excreted by various animal species (and the artist himself, titled Self-Portrait Shit). The feces in question appears in close-up, photographed against brightly coloured backdrops. The exhibition catalogue, Shit: An Investigation, reproduces all sixty-six shits.

This is not the only controversial and potentially offensive subject tackled by Serrano. In fact, his work has broken all kinds of artistic taboos, with self-explanatory photo series such as A History of Sex, The Morgue, and Bodily Fluids. He is arguably the world’s most provocative photographer, and an image from his Immersions series—Piss Christ, a crucifix submerged in urine—is the most famous artwork to be accused of blasphemy. His subject matter may evoke shock or disgust, though his glossy, vibrant images are also visually appealing; in fact—as is the case with Piss Christ, for example—their transgressive nature is often not apparent until the title is revealed.

The use or depiction of shit is rare in modern art, though there are a few examples besides Serrano. Piero Manzoni sold cans apparently containing 30g of his own feces, Artist’s Shit (Merda d’artista). Chris Ofili affixed balls of elephant dung to his Upper Room paintings (and, controversially, The Holy Virgin Mary). Gilbert and George photographed their feces for The Fundamental Pictures and The Naked Shit Pictures. Santiago Sierra’s Anthropometric Modules installations were blocks of dried human excrement, collected and moulded by scavengers in India.

A handful of artists have also used excrement as a paint medium. In 2015, New York artist KATSU painted a portrait of Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg using his own excrement. This year, British artist Dominic Murphy painted a portrait of Vladimir Putin with a dog turd. Werner Härtl has been painting with cow dung in Germany for more than a decade. Pablo Picasso’s granddaughter Diana Widmaier has claimed that he used his daughter Maya’s feces to paint an apple for a 1938 still life.

The work that’s most similar to Serrano’s Shit catalogue is Cacas: The Encyclopedia of Poo, a photobook credited to Oliviero Toscani though in fact photographed by his sister, Mariosa Toscani Ballo. Like Shit, Cacas also features close-up images of the excrements of various species, though they are photographed against clinical white backgrounds.

27 April 2023

A World Tour


Patchwork: A World Tour, by Catherine Legrand, was originally published in French as Patchworks: Une mosaïque du monde. Patchworks is the second recent French-language survey of international patchwork textiles, though this translation, published by Thames and Hudson, is the first book on the subject in English. (Caroline Crabtree and Christine Shaw’s Quilting, Patchwork and Appliqué: A World Guide, a previous Thames and Hudson publication, also covered international patchwork, alongside other textile techniques.)

Legrand’s book, like patchwork itself, is a colourful collection of material, assembled and juxtaposed. The scope is truly global: there are chapters on all continents with native populations, with the exception of Australia. (Therefore, Aboriginal patchworks are unfortunately omitted.) Patchworks from more than thirty individual countries are included, with China and the US receiving the most extensive coverage. The patchworks photographed for the book—most of which are quilts and items of clothing—are sourced from an impressive variety of museums and private collections. The full-page, close-up illustrations are superb, and there’s a comprehensive bibliography.

06 April 2023

100 Years of Electricity in Art

Kinetismus Kinetic Construction

The publishers of Kinetismus: 100 Years of Electricity in Art—the catalogue of an exhibition held last year at the Kunsthalle in Prague—describe it as “the first comprehensive survey of art forms based on electricity and electronics.” The book explores a century of “plugged-in art”, which it distinguishes from the “unplugged art” (equivalent to acoustic music) that existed before the twentieth century.

The title Kinetismus comes from a term coined by Zdeněk Pešánek, “the father of neon art”, and his kinetic light sculptures were the initial inspiration for the exhibition. The catalogue builds on the work of curator Frank Popper, whose books include Origins and Development of Kinetic Art and Art of the Electronic Age. Peter Weibel, who co-edited Kinetismus with Christelle Havranek, previously co-edited the monumental Light Art from Artificial Light (Lichtkunst aus Kunstlicht) catalogue.

Kinetismus is divided into four broad categories: cinematography, kinetics, cybernetics, and computer art. Cinematography is represented by early abstract ‘absolute’ films such as Hans Richter’s Rhythmus ’21 (‘rhythm 21’), Viking Eggeling’s Diagonal Symphony (Diagonalsymphonien), and Walther Ruttmann’s Lichtspiel Opus I (‘light show I’). Kinetic sculptures include a replica of Naum Gabo’s groundbreaking Kinetic Construction.

05 April 2023

From Its Origins to Goya


Aquatint, by Rena M. Hoisington—the catalogue of a 2021 exhibition at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C.—is the first general history of aquatint printmaking for more than a century. The only previous work on the subject, S.T. Prideaux’s Aquatint Engraving, was published in 1909.

The full title of Hoisington’s book is Aquatint: From Its Origins to Goya, though the origins of aquatint are a matter of debate. As Prideaux put it: “There seems to be no one person to whom the actual invention of aquatint can definitely be assigned.” Writing 112 years later, Hoisington agrees that “the designation of an artist as the “first” to invent or use acquatint is often complicated”.

The earliest potential aquatint pioneer is Jan van de Velde, whose circa 1653 portrait of Oliver Cromwell has an aquatint background. In The Art of the Print, Fritz Eichenberg argues that the technique “may have been used” by van de Velde, though Prideaux dismisses this, believing that “it is more likely that the attribution is mistaken and that the background was added later.”

Oliver Cromwell XII Views in Aquatinta from Drawings Taken on the Spot in South-Wales

Arthur M. Hind’s A History of Engraving and Etching notes that Jean-Baptiste Le Prince, working more than 100 years after van de Velde, is “generally regarded as the inventor of aquatint.” Prideaux concurs with this view, though Hoisington credits Le Prince as aquatint’s populariser rather than its creator: “Le Prince himself fully acknowledged that he did not invent aquatint, but he proudly took credit for perfecting it.”

Hoisington seems to support the case for van de Velde, writing that aquatint “was invented in the Netherlands in the 1650s,” though she relegates van de Velde’s name to a cursory footnote. As it omits any details of the van de Velde attribution and instead skips forward a century to Le Prince, Hoisington’s book cannot be described as a comprehensive study of aquatint’s origins.

Regardless of who invented the technique, it flourished throughout Europe in the second half of the eighteenth century, and Hoisington covers this acquatint ‘golden age’ in unprecedented detail, though most illustrations are from the National Gallery of Art’s permanent collection. Aside from Le Prince, there are chapters on several other artists, including Paul Sandby, who coined the term ‘aquatint’ in the title of his series XII Views in Aquatinta from Drawings Taken on the Spot in South-Wales. The book culminates with a chapter on Francisco Goya, the artist who “harnessed aquatint’s tonal darkness to his artistic vision like no other.”

30 March 2023


The Commoner The Commoner

Posters calling for the abolition of the lèse-majesté law were removed from the National Book Fair in Bangkok yesterday, on the orders of a plainclothes police officer. Staff at the Queen Sirikit National Convention Center removed nine posters from a stall run by The Commoner, before the event opened today. The fair runs until 9th April.

The posters featured a “112” logo, a reference to article 112 of the Thai criminal code. A graffiti artist was arrested on 28th March after he spray-painted “112” onto the outer wall of the Temple of the Emerald Buddha in Bangkok. The temple is part of the Grand Palace compound, and therefore a highly symbolic and sensitive location for such a slogan.

This is the third time that police have confiscated items from stalls at the book fair. Last year, a banner featuring hashtags such as #รัฐบาลเผด็จการ (‘dictatorial government’) was removed from the Same Sky Books booth, and t-shirts were confiscated from Same Sky’s booth in 2014. (The Commoner previously published สมุดระบายสีเสรีภาพ/‘freedom colouring book’.)

Anatomy of Time / Come Here / Worship

Anatomy of Time / Come Here / Worship, published this week, explores the making of three recent independent Thai films: Jakrawal Nilthamrong’s Anatomy of Time (เวลา), Anocha Suwichakornpong’s Come Here (ใจจำลอง), and Uruphong Raksasad’s Worship (บูชา). The book gives a valuable insight into the creation of each film: Anatomy of Time is particularly well covered, with a production diary, director interview, and the complete script; there are also long essays by the directors of Come Here and Worship. Early copies of the book come with film posters, and all copies include links to watch the three films online.

Anatomy of Time made headlines this week as, despite its critical acclaim, it was excluded from consideration for the Suphannahong National Film Awards. The awards organisers, the National Federation of Motion Pictures and Contents Associations, now require films to sell a minimum of 50,000 cinema tickets in at least five provinces, to be eligible for awards nomination. These commercial stipulations effectively remove independent films from awards contention.

29 March 2023

End in This Generation

End in This Generation

Karntachat Raungratanaamporn’s photobook End in This Generation was published this week, in a limited edition of 500 copies. Karntachat has photographed the recent wave of anti-military student protesters, and the book documents the protests from 10th August 2020, when Panusaya Sithijirawattanakul called for reform of the monarchy, until 12th December 2021, when demonstrators announced that they had collected more than 200,000 signatures on a petition to abolish article 112 of the criminal code (the lèse-majesté law). (One of the most powerful photographs shows “112” carved into Panusaya’s arm.)

End in This Generation is the latest of a handful of photobooks devoted to the protest movement, the others being There’s Always Spring (เมื่อถึงเวลาดอกไม้จะบาน), EBB, #WhatsHappeningInThailand, and No God No King Only Human. Like No God No King Only Human, it’s a larger, coffee-table book, and—in another similarity between the two publications—its title is one of the protesters’ slogans, aligning the book with the aims of the protest movement.

End in This Generation

No God No King Only Human and End in This Generation both have their fair share of stunning images, though the glossy colour photographs in End in This Generation are even more striking. Unlike in No God No King Only Human, the photographs in End in This Generation are presented in chronological order. Both books provide dates and locations for each image, though End in This Generation also features a timeline of the protest movement.