24 September 2021

Specter

Specter
Specter
Specter
Specter
Specter
Specter
Specter
Specter (ปีศาจ), an exhibition organised by the protest movement Thalu Fah, opened at Angoon’s Garden in Bangkok on 18th September and runs until 14th October. Since the opening, more works have been added to the exhibition, all of which relate to the 6th October 1976 massacre. (Specter marks the 45th anniversary of the massacre, in lieu of the annual commemoration at Thammasat University, which will not take place this year due to the coronavirus pandemic.)

The additional works all incorporate elements of Neal Ulevich’s infamous photograph of a vigilante hitting a hanging corpse with a folding chair, a single image that has come to stand for the entire massacre. The photo itself is reproduced as part of a collage by Lucky Leg. (Due to the sensitivity of the exhibition, many of the artworks are credited to pseudonyms.) In a drawing by Sinsawat Yodbangtoey, the vigilante and the corpse appear in an hourglass.

Ulevich’s photo is now so iconic that even isolated elements from it are immediately recognisable. In one painting, the man wielding the chair appears in silhouette. In a painting by KKTKKKH, the corpse hangs not from a tree as in the photograph, but from an ornate lamp post with a kinnaree finial. A painting by Rattapob Sirichom shows a crowd of onlookers and a tree trunk. Finally, a painting of a folding chair with a guillotine blade presents the chair as a weapon.

18 September 2021

Specter

Specter
Specter
Specter Specter
Specter
Specter
Specter
Specter
Specter
Specter
A new exhibition marking the 45th anniversary of the 6th October 1976 massacre opened today at Angoon’s Garden in Bangkok. Specter (ปีศาจ), organised by the protest movement Thalu Fah, runs until 14th October. Its full title, ปีศาจแห่งกาลเวลา (‘devil of time’), comes from a novel by Seni Sawaphong. Like last year’s Unmuted Project, Specter includes some risqué artworks, and its opening was monitored by the police.

Most provocatively, a crown has been added to Gustav Corbet’s L’Origine du monde (‘the origin of the world’), turning Corbet’s painting into a pejorative (‘cuntface’). To avoid official scrutiny, the work is signed with a pseudonym, Luckyleg. The same anonymous artist also created portraits of protest leaders including Panusaya Sithjirawattanakul (who attended the opening) and Arnon Nampa.

Figures from Neal Ulevich’s iconic 6th October photograph inspired many of the artworks, including paintings of the hanging corpse, the man wielding the chair, and the laughing boy. Another 6th October press photo is exhibited on the floor, and a mannequin and folding chair are suspended from a tree. There is also a small painting of Choomporn Thummai and Vichai Kasripongsa, the two men whose extrajudicial hangings precipitated the 6th October massacre.

11 September 2021

Pink Man Story

Pink Man Story
Pink Man Story is a lavish and complete retrospective of Manit Sriwanichpoom’s long-running Pink Man (พิ้งค์แมน) series, photographs featuring the incongruous figure of Sompong Tawee in a bright pink suit, a symbol of consumerism and superficiality. A small exhibition of Pink Man photos was due to be held at BACC earlier this year, though it was cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic.

For the group exhibition History and Memory (ประวัติศาสตร์ และ ความทรงจำ), Manit created Horror in Pink (ปีศาจสีชมพู), digitally inserting Sompong into news photographs of three Thai massacres. In the exhibition catalogue, Manit explained that he was inspired by the inexplicable election of Samak Sundaravej, and his artist’s statement is reprinted in Pink Man Story: “Was this not the same Samak who back in October 1976 went on radio to urge that brute force be used against pro-democracy protesters, in the events that culminated in the most horrifying massacre in Bangkok history? I asked myself: Has everyone forgotten? Does ‘October 6’ mean nothing to us now?”

Pink Man Story includes a detailed analysis of Horror in Pink by art critic Iola Lenzi—A Man for Our Times—in which she discusses the “historical amnesia” that inspired the series. It also reprints Ing Kanjanavanit’s essay Poses from Dreamland (ท่าโพส จากแดน ช่างฝัน), which was first published in the catalogue for Manit’s Phenomena and Prophecies (ท้าและทาย) exhibition. (Ing’s essay has been somewhat over-edited in Pink Man Story: its first page is mistakenly printed twice, and half of the original text has been removed.)

04 September 2021

Wildtype 2021

Wildtype 2021
Official Trailer
Rajprasong
Prelude of the Moving Zoo
The Bangkok Bourgeois Party
Please... See Us
Wildtype 2021, a weekend of film screenings curated by Wiwat Lertwiwatwongsa, takes place today and tomorrow on YouTube. The screenings will also be shown at Ar(t)cade, a venue at the Arcade Market in Phayao. Both days include Politix, a selection of short films commenting on Thai political events.

This evening’s Politix strand begins with Veerapong Soontornchattrawat’s Official Trailer (อนุสรณ์สถาน), which intercuts footage of the 6th October 1976 massacre with clips from Love Destiny (บุพเพสันนิวาส), a popular historical lakorn. This is followed by a film referencing another massacre: Nil Paksnavin’s Rajprasong (ราชประสงค์), which ends with a black screen and the jolting sound of eighty-seven gunshots, representing the victims of the 2010 military crackdown in downtown Bangkok. (Rajprasong was previously shown at Histoire(s) du thai cinéma, another two-day film event programmed by Wiwat.)

The highlight of the evening is a more recent film, Sorayos Prapapan’s Prelude of the Moving Zoo, which begins subversively with a cylinder recording of the royal anthem, accompanied by footage of penguins seemingly standing to attention. (It was previously shown at ANIMAL KINgDOM, also programmed by Wiwat; and it was selected for the 24th Short Film and Video Festival.)

Wildtype concludes tomorrow, and the second Politix strand includes Prap Boonpan’s The Bangkok Bourgeois Party (ความลักลั่นของงานรื่นเริง), in which a group of yellow-shirted Bangkokians murder a man merely because he disagrees with their ideology. Less than a year after it was first shown, this dystopian satire became a reality when Narongsak Krobtaisong was beaten to death by PAD guards in 2008.

Chaweng Chaiawan’s Please... See Us, which highlights the displacement of ethnic minorities, will also be shown tomorrow. This new film includes an extended sequence in which a pig is killed and dismembered, the helpless animal being a metaphor for the plight of ethnic minorities in Thailand. It will also be shown later this month as part of Signes de Nuit, hosted by Documentary Club.

13 July 2021

Dismantle

Dismantle
God Is Dead
Who Will Stop the Rain 5th October 1976
Dao Siam What a Wonderful World
The Sound of Silence 5th October 1976
Daily News Have You Ever Seen the Rain
The group exhibition Dismantle (ปลด) opened yesterday at Joyman Gallery in Bangkok. It will run until 22nd August, although access will be limited as the city entered another lockdown today, due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Each of the works on display makes a strong political statement, though the most provocative are Kespada Moonsuwan’s oil painting God Is Dead (a head shrouded in red silk) and Narath Boriboonhiranthana’s holographic video projection I Will Wear Red at Your Funeral (a woman dancing in front of an upturned urn; ฉันหวังให้คุณตายและฉันจะใส่ชุดสีแดงในงานศพของคุณ). Both works refer to the same person, who is, of course, not mentioned by name.

The gallery is dimly lit, and the walls are painted black, making the black labels accompanying each exhibit almost illegible. This is presumably intentional, as the explanatory texts are sometimes incendiary. In his artist’s statement, Kesapada says: “I WOULD LIKE TO SEE THE RUMOR TURNING TO THE REAL STORY” [sic], a reference to a recent viral rumour. In her statement, Narath is equally blunt: “I HOPE YOU DIE, AND I AM GOING TO WEAR A RED DRESS IN YOUR FUNERAL” [sic].

Thasnai Sethaseree, a lecturer at Chiang Mai University who publicly defended two students after they created a banner representing the Thai flag, has produced a series of four painted collages for the exhibition. Each painting reproduces the front page of a Thai newspaper dated 5th October 1976, the day before the 6th October massacre. Thasnai has covered the headlines in bright colours and given them optimistic titles taken from vintage pop songs, to show how the news coverage of the period ignored the impending political crisis.

The four collages are: Have You Ever Seen the Rain, based on the front page of Daily News (เดลินิวส์); Who Will Stop the Rain, based on เสียง ปวงชน (‘the people’s voice’); What a Wonderful World, based on Dao Siam (ดาวสยาม); and The Sound of Silence, based on ชาวไทย (‘people of Thailand’). Other Thai newspaper front pages from October 1976 are reprinted in Prism of Photography (ปริซึมของภาพถ่าย).

10 July 2021

Comrade Aeon’s Field Guide to Bangkok

Journalist Emma Larkin’s first novel, Comrade Aeon’s Field Guide to Bangkok, was published in May. (Born in Thailand, Larkin uses a pen name to avoid scrutiny from the authorities while she reports from Myanmar.) The eponymous Aeon is a former Communist insurgent, who fled to the jungle following the 6th October 1976 massacre.

Aeon has since returned to Bangkok, though he (like the city) remains haunted by state violence against civilian protesters. Working as a history teacher, he sees first-hand how 6th October has been whitewashed from the national curriculum—a point made by Vasan Sitthiket in his video Delete Our History, Now! (อำนาจ/การลบทิ้ง)—and searches for what little evidence remains, “the seldom-seen photographs of semi-conscious students burned on funeral pyres made of tyres, and dead bodies hung from the tamarind trees on the parade ground.”

The novel is set in 2009, when red-shirt protesters instigated violence during the Songkran holiday. As one character says, “Did you hear they attacked the Prime Minister’s car?”—Abhisit Vejjajiva’s motorcade was mobbed, an incident recreated in Wisit Sasanatieng’s film The Red Eagle (อินทรีแดง). The red-shirt protests culminated in another state crackdown, in 2010, though the novel focuses on the aftermath of the 1992 ‘Black May’ massacre.

In the days following ‘Black May’, there were credible rumours of military vehicles disposing of hundreds of bodies, who were omitted from the official tally of victims. Larkin recounts the “talk of an army truck driving into a bone mill on the outskirts of Bangkok late one night, the cargo heaped under its tarpaulin conspicuously absent when it drove out again, and reports of military helicopters flying east from the city towards the border with Burma, dropping bodies into the impenetrable jungle below.”

The story’s starting point is a fictional incident that seems to confirm these rumours: bodies found in a sunken shipping container and buried in wasteland. The novel presents these grisly discoveries as proof of “an operation to deal with the ‘excess collateral damage’ resulting from the crackdown on protesters at Sanam Luang”, though a government spokesman dismisses the matter out of hand: “Gazing wearily at the nation, he appeared to ad lib as he took off his spectacles and said in a more casual, almost avuncular tone, ‘So, it’s best that you all go about your business now and forget this incident.’”

Larkin was inspired by two works of political history: William A. Callahan’s Imagining Democracy (now scarce, but the best account of ‘Black May’ in English) and Thongchai Winnichakul’s Moments of Silence. (Aeon “tracked down some of the leaders of the right-wing gangs that had massed in Sanam Luang”, in an echo of the Silence of the Wolf chapter in Thongchai’s book.) Comrade Aeon’s Field Guide to Bangkok is one of several recent novels set in times of Thai political conflict, including Sunisa Manning’s A Good True Thai, Duanwad Pimwana’s ในฝันอันเหลือจะกล่าว (‘indescribable fiction’), Uthis Haemamool’s ร่างของปรารถนา (‘shadow of desire’), and Jakkapan Kangwan’s Altai Villa (อัลไตวิลล่า).

01 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.

20 April 2021

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.

15 March 2021

Micro Politics

Micro Politics
Micro Politics, published in 2018, is a collection of four contemporary Thai plays and theatre performances: The Disappearance of the Boy on a Sunday Afternoon (การหายตัวไปของเด็กชายในบ่ายวันอาทิตย์) by Thanaphon Accawatanyu, A Nowhere Place (ที่ ไม่มีที่) by Pradit Prasartthong, Bang La Merd (บางละเมิด) by Ornanong Thaisriwong, and Hipster the King by Thanaphol Virulhakul. The scripts are printed in both Thai and English, and the book also includes interviews with each playwright.

The four works were all performed in the aftermath of the 2014 coup, at a time of increased political repression. Military officers attended and videotaped almost all performances of Bang La Merd, in an act of intimidation through state surveillance. As the publishers explain in their introduction, the collection is “a chronicle of social changes during those trying times, reflecting on the effects of the regime on individuals, questioning the events, and offering insights towards political problems in Thailand.”

02 February 2021

A Good True Thai

Sunisa Manning’s debut novel, A Good True Thai, is set during one of Thailand’s brief spells of democratic rule, a period bookended by the massacres of 14th October 1973 and 6th October 1976. The book’s title is a reframing of the traditional notion of ‘Thainess’, the insistence that ‘good’ Thais (khon dee) value nation, religion, and monarchy above all else, while progressives are regarded as unpatriotic.

The novel’s three central characters (friends Det and Chang, and their mutual love interest, Lek) are university students caught up in the intense political atmosphere of the period. For example, Lek reacts to the infamous Dao Siam (ดาวสยาม) newspaper’s headline accusing Thammasat students of lèse-majesté: “It must be a mistake! Lek brandishes the page at her brother... No wonder the city roils. They think the students have staged a hanging of the Crown Prince.”

A Good True Thai was published in October 2020, when a new generation of students were demonstrating against the military and the monarchy: as it was in the 1970s, ‘Thainess’ is currently being challenged and redefined. Although it was written before the recent protests, the book is therefore extremely timely.

A Good True Thai has superficial similarities with other novels set during periods of political instability. Uthis Haemamool’s ร่างของปรารถนา (‘shadow of desire’), for example, takes place against a backdrop of the 1991, 2006, and 2014 coups. Duanwad Pimwana’s ในฝันอันเหลือจะกล่าว (‘unspoken dreams’) is set during the PDRC protests. At the other end of the ideological spectrum, Win Lyovarin’s Democracy, Shaken and Stirred (ประชาธิปไตยบนเส้นขนาน) traces sixty years of Thailand’s modern political history.

The book has more in common with films such as Anocha Suwichakornpong’s By the Time It Gets Dark (ดาวคะนอง) and Pasit Promnampol’s พีเจ้น (‘pigeon’). Both Manning’s book and Anocha’s film are self-referential, featuring protagonists who are also writing a book and making a film, respectively. Pasit’s short film, like Manning’s novel, dramatises a student’s decision to join the Communist insurgency.

16 October 2020

Uncensored 2

Uncensored 2
Spanky Studio
Deja vu
By the Time It Gets Dark
Horror in Pink
Kraipit Phanvut
Headache Stencil’s Uncensored, held last year in Bangkok, was a one-day exhibition of anti-government art and music. The sequel, Uncensored 2, opened on 14th October at the Number 1 Bistro in Chiang Mai.

14th October is a symbolic date for two reasons. On 14th October 1973, a student protest at Democracy Monument in Bangkok led to the resignation of the military government, and a period of democratic rule. On 14th October this year, another student protest, at the same historic location, called not only for a return to democracy but also for reform of the monarchy.

The protesters marched from Democracy Monument to Government House, and the government declared a state of emergency at 4am yesterday morning. Defying the declaration (which prohibits gatherings of more than four people), at least 20,000 protesters regrouped yesterday evening at the Ratchaprasong intersection in downtown Bangkok (the site of a violent military crackdown in 2010). Panusaya Sithjirawattanakul, Arnon Nampa, Parit Chirawak, and other protest leaders were arrested early yesterday morning and denied bail.

This evening, when the police preemptively sealed off Ratchaprasong, the protesters assembled in Siam Square. Downtown BTS and MRT stations (including BTS Siam) were closed to prevent people joining the rally, and riot police used water canon to disperse the protesters.

Uncensored 2 includes a collage by Spanky Studio featuring the Dao Siam (ดาวสยาม) newspaper masthead. (A Dao Siam headline, falsely accusing Thammasat University students of lèse-majesté, provoked paramilitary groups into storming the campus in 1976, with deadly consequences.) The collage also includes a photograph taken by Kraipit Phanvut during the Thammasat massacre, showing a police colonel (Salang Bunnag) aiming his pistol while nonchalantly smoking a cigarette. In the collage, a clown’s head has been superimposed over the officer’s face. Headache Stencil also appropriated the photo in Déjà vu (เดจาวู), replacing the pistol with a futuristic ray gan (reproduced in the November issue of A Day magazine.)

The film By the Time It Gets Dark (ดาวคะนอง) also recreated the photograph of the police colonel, and Manit Sriwanichpoom used it in his Horror in Pink (ปีศาจสีชมพู) collage series. (A more famous photograph from the Thammasat massacre, taken by Neal Ulevich, has also been appropriated by artists and filmmakers.) Uncensored 2 closes on 21st October.

09 October 2020

Status in Statu

Status in Statu
A Massacre
Republic of Siam
The group exhibition Status in Statu opened at Bangkok’s WTF Gallery on 6th October, on the anniversary of the 6th October 1976 massacre. The timing was intentional, and the exhibition includes an installation that refers directly to the violence of that event.

For A Massacre, Nutdanai Jitbunjong has hung a wooden folding chair from the ceiling; the chair is an iconic signifier of the massacre, thanks to Neal Ulevich’s photograph of a vigilante preparing to hit a corpse with a folding chair. Nutdanai’s chair is made from tamarind wood, as the dead man in Ulevich’s photo was hanged from a tamarind tree.

Status in Statu was organised by a progressive art collective from Khon Kaen, and Nutdanai’s installation was previously shown at the Khonkaen Manifesto (ขอนแก่น แมนิเฟสโต้) exhibition in 2018. (Tawan Wattuya’s Red Faces portraits from that exhibition were also subsequently shown in Bangkok.)

Status in Statu runs at WTF until 30th October. It’s one of several recent exhibitions (the others being Act สสิ Art, Unmuted Project, and Do or Die) to feature previously-taboo references to the monarchy: Mit Jai Inn’s installation is a large roll of fabric with a pattern of red and white stripes. The hidden meaning of the piece comes from its title, Republic of Siam: it could be interpreted as an alternative Thai flag, with one colour missing (blue).