14 November 2022

Bangkok Art Biennale 2022:
Chaos:Calm


Bangkok Art Biennale 2022

After Beyond Bliss (สุขสะพรั่ง พลังอาร์ต) in 2018 and Escape Routes (ศิลป์สร้าง ทางสุข) in 2020, the third Bangkok Art Biennale’s theme is Chaos:Calm (โกลาหล:สงบสุข). As in previous years, the Biennale (บางกอก อาร์ต เบียนนาเล่) is being held at multiple venues around the city, from galleries to temples. The event opened on 22nd October, and runs until 23rd February next year.

A video installation by Wantanee Siripattananantakul, The Web of Time, is one of the highlights of the 200 artworks on display. The half-hour, two-channel video, on show at Queen Sirikit National Convention Centre (QSNCC), comprises three short films linking human history and the natural world. As the Biennale catalogue explains, in one segment an African grey parrot “becomes like a medium casting a watchful eye on the events happening in the world.” The parrot and its silhouette observe news footage of recent protests, including a report by BBC correspondent Jonathan Head on anti-government demonstrations in Siam Square.

Andres Serrano was one of the featured artists in 2020, and this year’s event includes another controversial American photographer: Robert Mapplethorpe. A handful of Mapplethorpe’s portraits—though not his more explict works, of course—are on display in a self-contained gallery within the QSNCC exhibition. Works by the provocative British artists Jake and Dinos Chapman are on show in a similar space: etchings and meticulous miniature dioramas that continue their career-long fascination with Francisco Goya’s The Disasters of War (Los desastres de la guerra).

14 October 2022

6 Oct:
Facing Demons


6 Oct

Last year, Thammasat University cancelled the annual exhibition commemorating the 6th October 1976 massacre, so the organisers created a ‘museum in a box’. This year, Thammasat’s football pitch was mysteriously fenced off on the anniversary of the massacre, and the commemoration is taking place at the Kinjai Contemporary gallery in Bangkok instead.

Kinjai’s photography exhibition 6 Oct: Facing Demons (6 ตุลา เผชิญหน้าปิศาจ) is comprised almost entirely of previously unpublished news photographs of the massacre. This is refreshing, as it expands the historical record beyond the limited set of images that usually represent the event. Thus, Neal Ulevich’s famous photograph of a hanging man—which has arguably become a cliché—is not included in 6 Oct. In its place is another powerful, award-winning image, though one that’s much less known: a Village Scout hammering a wooden stake into a dead student’s body, photographed by Preecha Karnsompot.

Also, the 6 Oct archive photographs have all been enlarged and restored. Again, this is a significant development, as images of the massacre are usually poorly-reproduced prints. (When Preecha’s photograph was published in a book by the Thai Journalists Association—๔ทศวรรษภาพข่าว/‘four decades of Thai photojournalism’—the editors lamented that the images had to be sourced from reproductions.) The enlargements reveal previously hidden elements, which become new focal points (or what Roland Barthes called ‘punctums’), hence the exhibition’s strapline: ‘the devil is in the details’.

6 Oct 6 Oct
6 Oct 6 Oct

This is also an unusually provocative exhibition. A photograph of Crown Prince Vajiralongkorn (who is now King Rama X) at a Village Scout meeting is captioned “the King of Thai Politics”, implying a royal intervention. On an adjacent wall, an image of the massacre is juxtaposed with a photograph of the 2010 military crackdown, indicating that the cycle of Thai state violence continues. Also, the taboo against showing the front page of Dao Siam (ดาวสยาม) is now a thing of the past, as a reproduction of the newspaper is displayed on the street outside the gallery.

Continuing the themes of media and propaganda explored by Thasnai Sethaseree in Cold War, the exhibition brochure is designed to resemble a broadsheet newspaper. Chulayarnnon Siriphol has directed six short videos on different aspects of the exhibition, and a longer documentary titled ชวนอ่านภาพ 6 ตุลา (‘invitation to read images of 6th October’) in which Octobrists and current students interpret the photographs in the exhibition. 6 Oct opened on 1st October, and runs until 20th November (a week after the original closing date).

12 October 2022

Cold War:
The Mysterious


Cold War

Thasnai Sethaseree’s stunning exhibition Cold War: The Mysterious examines Thai politics and media in the Cold War era, focusing particularly on state suppression of the Communist insurgency in the 1970s. Thasnai has created a series of untitled paper collages, based on press photographs of the period, densely overlaid and partially obscured by brightly coloured paint.

For his Remembrance, 6 October 1976 series, he painted individual portraits of Manas Siansing, Watchari Petchsun, and other victims of the Thammasat University massacre. A painting of red droplets, symbolising blood, also commemorates the massacre.

Remembrance, 6 October 1976
Remembrance, 6 October 1976 Remembrance, 6 October 1976 RPropaganda Through Media

For the Dismantle (ปลด) group exhibition last year, Thasnai created collages of newspaper front pages dated 5th October 1976, the day before the Thammasat massacre. One of those works is included in Cold War, alongside seven collages of newspaper front pages dated 6th October 1976 (in a series titled Propaganda Through Media).

Most of the papers published on that day—เสียง ปวงชน (‘people’s voice’), ชาวไทย (‘people of Thailand’), Daily News (เดลินิวส์), Bangkok Daily Time (บางกอกเดลิไทม์), and Bangkok Post—were printed before the massacre began, though one title—Siam Rath (สยามรัฐ) managed to print a late edition that included coverage of the event. Infamously, it was the headline in that morning’s edition of Dao Siam (ดาวสยาม) that lit the touchpaper and provoked the massacre.

6th October 1976 Remembrance, 6 October 1976 6th October 1976 Remembrance, 6 October 1976
Propaganda Through Media 6 October 1976 Propaganda Through Media 6 October 1976
6th October 1976 Propaganda Through Media 6th October 1976 Propaganda Through Media

Cold War opened at MAIIAM in Chiang Mai on 12th March, and runs until Valentine’s Day 2023. This year, the Jim Thompson Art Center in Bangkok has held a series of exhibitions on the Cold War, beginning with Future Tense.

12 September 2022

Silhouette of Memory


Silhouette of Memory Silhouette of Memory

Pornchai Lerdthamsiri’s Silhouette of Memory (เงาภาพ) features oil and watercolour paintings spanning the last sixteen years of Thai politics, from the 2006 coup onwards. The exhibition is at Kinjai Contemporary in Bangkok from 2nd to 17th September. (The gallery is also home to the Museum of Popular History, a collection of memorabilia and ephemera from contemporary Thai politics.)

Pornchai illustrates the resurgence of the yellow-shirt movement and their occupation of Suvarnabhumi airport in 2008, and the Constitutional Court’s dismissal of PM Samak Sundaravej that same year, though his main focus is the red-shirt protests. He captures the optimism of the red-shirt rallies in the first few months of 2010, followed by their violent suppression by the military. In one painting, soldiers are shown firing from the SkyTrain platform at wounded civilians sheltering at Wat Pathum Wanaram. (Wittawat Tongkeaw’s painting Interregnum/สิ้นสุดพุทธาวาส was also inspired by the Wat Pathum Wanaram incident.)

Silhouette of Memory Silhouette of Memory

Alongside these older works in oil are fifty new watercolour paintings documenting the recent student protests against Prayut Chan-o-cha’s government. Whereas other artists—including Wittawat, Lucky Leg, Tawan Wattuya, and Jirapatt Aungsumalee—have painted portraits of individual protest leaders, Pornchai’s watercolours show the protesters en masse. He also depicts the use of water cannon and rubber bullets to disperse the protests.

22 August 2022

The Genius of Prince


Prince Vanity Fair The Genius of Prince

The US Supreme Court will rule later this year on a long-running copyright lawsuit between photographer Lynn Goldsmith and the Andy Warhol Foundation. Warhol was commissioned by Vanity Fair to create a portrait of Prince, and the magazine paid Goldsmith for the rights to use her black-and-white Prince photograph as the basis for Warhol’s painting. Both Warhol and Goldsmith were credited when the image was published in the November 1984 issue (on page 67), to illustrate an article titled Purple Fame.

The dispute stems not from that original publication, but from a commemorative magazine, The Genius of Prince, released in 2016 by the publisher of Vanity Fair. The cover illustration for The Genius of Prince was another Warhol portrait, also based on Goldsmith’s photo, and this time she wasn’t credited. Goldsmith sued the Warhol Foundation, though the Foundation counter-sued and argued that Warhol’s manipulation of her image was sufficiently transformative that it did not infringe her copyright.

The precedent for transformative works constituting fair use dates to a 1993 Supreme Court verdict that permitted The 2 Live Crew’s sampling of Roy Orbison’s single Oh, Pretty Woman. Even more directly relevant is the case of another photographer, Patrick Cariou, who sued the artist Richard Prince for copyright infringement. In that instance, most of Prince’s images were deemed fair use, though the legal status of five works remains unresolved, as the appeals court was unable to “make a determination about their transformative nature” and the case was ultimately settled out of court.

15 August 2022

Uninspired by Current Events:
Sorry Stories


Uninspired by Current Events

Saratta Chuengsatiansup, the artist behind the Uninspired by Current Events page on Facebook, has released a book of his work. Uninspired by Current Events: Sorry Stories reproduces some of the digital artworks he has been posting daily since last year, alongside a handful of new images.

Despite the ironic disclaimer in its title, Uninspired by Current Events provides a topical, satirical commentary on Thai news and politics. The book also features short poems, in both English and Thai, to accompany each illustration, and the poetry is as sharp and subversive as the images themselves.

14 August 2022

WeVo


WeVo

An exhibition in Bangkok yesterday and today marked two years since the formation of WeVo (We Volunteer), a group of volunteer guards who provide protection for protesters at anti-government rallies. The guards, led by Piyarat Chongthep, have previously been labelled agitators, and they were accused of using violent tactics—throwing firecrackers and other projectiles—to repel riot police (on 28th February last year, for example).

The 2nd Anniversary of We Volunteer (งานครบรอบ 2 ปีกลุ่ม We Volunteer) exhibition was held at the Jam Factory. Rubber bullets fired by riot police were on display, as was the mock guillotine previously seen at Democracy Monument on 18th July last year. Supong Jitmuang’s documentary Mob 2020-2021 was shown at the event yesterday.

10 June 2022

A Conversation with the Sun


A Conversation with the Sun
A Conversation with the Sun

Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s new exhibition A Conversation with the Sun opened at Bangkok CityCity Gallery on 28th May. The centrepiece is a two-channel video installation, with a smaller image projected onto the center of another. The footage, which the gallery calls “a personal memory archive,” was filmed by Apichatpong over the course of several years. A white scrim on motorised rails glides slowly up to and away from the screen, partially obscuring the image. A Conversation with the Sun runs until 10th July.

30 May 2022

Bai Pid


Bai Pid Tears of the Black Tiger

Bai Pid (ใบปิด), an exhibition of Thai film posters, opened at the Woof Pack building in Bangkok last week. Organised by Doc Club and Pub (the boutique cinema and bar at Woof Pack) and the Thai Film Archive (the film museum at Salaya, near Bangkok), the exhibition features more than fifty vintage Thai posters, and some of the original paintings that they were based on. Most of the works are included in a large, glossy catalogue, Thai Cinema Poster Exhibition, edited by Chonnatee Pimnam and Suparp Rimtheparthip.

Bai Pid opened on 25th May, and runs until 17th July. It includes painted reproductions of posters for classic Thai films—notably A Man Called Tone (โทน) and Monrak Lukthung (มนต์รักลูกทุ่ง)—and Thai releases of American movies, such as จอว์ส (the Thai-language title of Jaws). A painting by Banhan Thaitanaboon based on his Tropical Malady: The Book poster (unveiled at the 2018 Bangkok Art Book Fair) is also on show, and Banhan designed the Bai Pid exhibition poster.

Tone

The highlight of the exhibition is surely Somboonsuk Niyomsiri’s original painting for his Tears of the Black Tiger (ฟ้าทะลายโจร) poster, previously on display at the Film Archive’s Wisit Sasanatieng retrospective. Somboonsuk (also known as Piak Poster) directed more than two dozen films, including a A Man Called Tone, though he also had a prolific career as a poster artist. (A Man Called Tone will be screened at Doc Club and Pub on 5th June.) Wisit, director of Tears of the Black Tiger, created the posters for the 2008 and 2009 Bangkok International Film Festival.

The poster artists who emerged after Somboonsuk were either taught by him or influenced by his style. He ran his studio like a Renaissance workshop, creating posters bearing the master’s signature yet produced with the assistance of apprentice artists under his supervision. For the Monrak Lukthung poster, for example, Somboonsuk painted the two lead actors (Mitr Chaibancha and Petchara Chaowarat, Thai cinema’s greatest stars) while his assistants worked on the background. The poster for A Man Called Tone also bears Somboonsuk’s signature—effectively a brand logo for his studio—though it was painted entirely by Banhan.

There have only been two previous exhibitions of Thai poster art: Thai Film Posters (ใบปิดหนังไทย, 1984) in Bangok, and Eyegasm: The Art of Thai Movie Posters (2012) in Palm Springs, California. Gilbert Brownstone’s Affiches de cinéma thaï (‘Thai film posters’), published in three languages (French, English, and Thai) in 1974, was the first book on the subject. There’s a short essay on Thai film posters in Thai Cinema, and vintage posters are illustrated in Dome Sukwong’s A Century of Thai Cinema and Philip Jablon’s Thailand’s Movie Theatres.

22 May 2022

Lost, and Life Goes On


Lost, and Life Goes On
Lost, and Life Goes On

Amnesty International Thailand has organised a new exhibition commemorating the thirtieth anniversary of ‘Black May’, the massacre of anti-coup protesters that took place in Bangkok in 1992. Chamlong Srimuang led a crowd of more than 200,000 protesters at Sanam Luang on 17th May 1992, and the following morning the army fired live rounds into the crowd. The protest spread to Democracy Monument on Ratchadamnoen Avenue, and the nearby Royal Hotel became a field hospital for the injured. After two more days of clashes, King Rama IX held a televised meeting with Chamlong and coup leader Suchinda Kraprayoon, after which Suchinda resigned as Prime Minister. This was the King’s most direct public intervention in politics, and footage of the two men kneeling in front of him created the impression that royal authority superseded political leadership.

The official death toll from ‘Black May’ was fifty-two, though there were persistent rumours of dozens more bodies piled into military trucks in the dead of night. (Such accounts are at the heart of Emma Larkin’s novel Comrade Aeon’s Field Guide to Bangkok.) The exhibition Lost, and Life Goes On (เลือนแต่ไม่ลืม), which opened yesterday at Palette Artspace in Bangkok, focuses on these missing victims who remain unaccounted for. In a video installation by Setthasiri Chanjaradpong, สุดปลายสาย (‘the end of the line’), a woman phones a suspected victim who never answers the call. The video periodically shows a live feed from a camera in the gallery, as if to say that anyone could disappear, as Thailand is still ruled by a coup leader.

Remember
Unexpected, Unfound, Unclear

The exhibition, which runs until 29th May, also includes a series of three Risograph prints by Thisismjtp: Unexpected (a reference to the violence of ‘Black May’), Unfound (referring to the missing victims), and Unclear (the state of limbo that still exists thirty years later). There are also portraits of eighteen victims by Thai Political Tarot (collectively titled Remember), newspapers from the period, and paintings based on news photographs. The opening day saw the premiere of a new half-hour documentary directed by Sumeth Suwanneth (also titled Lost, and Life Goes On), featuring interviews with relatives of victims of the massacre.

The only previous exhibition on ‘Black May’, Ratchadamnoen Memory (organised by the Campaign for Popular Democracy, and held at the Imperial Queen’s Park Hotel), took place a few months after the event. Audio recordings of the massacre were played during the recent Traces of Ratchadamnoen (ล่องรอยราชดำเนิน) exhibition. Vasan Sitthiket’s painting Death for Democracy 1992 (ตายเพื่อประชาธิปไตย 2535) was included in his BACC retrospective, and สร้างสาน ตำนานศิลป์ 20 ปี (‘creating a chronicle of 20 years of Thai art’) features other paintings inspired by the massacre.

04 May 2022

Shadow Dancing:
Where Can We Find a Silver Lining in Challenging Times?


Shadow Dancing

The group exhibition Shadow Dancing: Where Can We Find a Silver Lining in Challenging Times? opened on 17th March at the Jim Thompson Art Center in Bangkok. It’s the second in a series of exhibitions that explore the aftermath of the Cold War, after last year’s Future Tense. This time, the emphasis is on Taiwan and Thailand, and the highlights are two video installations: Paths to Utopia by Ting-Ting Chen and ANG48 by Chulayarnnon Siriphol.

Ting-Ting Chen is Taiwanese, though the various elements of her Paths to Utopia installation have a global and specifically Thai focus. The video was inspired by the movie The Beach, which portrayed Thailand as both a tropical paradise and as the centre of a violent drug trade. (When The Beach was released in Thailand, a group of MPs called for it to be banned, and there were protests at its Thai premiere.) The artist juxtaposes idyllic shots of Phi Phi island (where The Beach was filmed) with a collage of news footage of anti-government protests, showing that achieving utopia is a contested process and that picture-postcard scenery doesn’t reveal the whole truth.

Chulayarnnon’s ANG48 is a two-channel video installation whose full title is ANGSUMALIN48 / ANG48 / Alliance of Nippon Girls 48 (อังศุมาลิน 48 หรือ เอเอ็นจี 48 หรือ พันธมิตรสตรีนิปปอง 48). Like Paths to Utopia, it was also inspired by an existing movie—Sunset at Chaophraya (คู่กรรม)—and clips from that film are repurposed to create a new narrative. (Sunset at Chaophraya, based on a classic Thai novel, has been remade numerous times, though ANG48 uses footage from the original 1988 film version. On the Art Center’s website, one letter—อ—is missing from the full title of Chulayarnnon’s video.)

Chulayarnnon often creates fictional characters, or appropriates them from existing sources, giving them new biographies—most elaborately in his Museum of Kirati exhibition and the accompanying book Kirati Memorial (หนังสืออนุสรณ์กีรติ). In ANG48, he conjures up a new science-fiction backstory for Angsumalin, the heroine of Sunset at Chaophraya, which he combines with his short film Birth of Golden Snail (กำเนิดหอยทากทอง). That film was banned from the Thailand Biennale, and ANG48 includes clips from it alongside a new voice-over by the female protagonist, who explains that Thai soldiers forbade her from making Japanese desserts: “from now on the mochi I made would be a forbidden sweet. No consumption, production, or sale... I was very sad but had to keep my feelings inside.” This metaphor for the censorship of Birth of Golden Snail is followed by a shot of the rejection letter from the Biennale.

Like Planetarium, his segment of 10 Years Thailand, ANG48 is a summation of Chulayarnnon’s recent video works. Along with clips from Birth of Golden Snail, it also incorporates footage from his music video The Internationale, his short film Golden Spiral, and his Parade of Golden Snail (ขบวนแห่หอยทากทอง) performance. Birth of Golden Snail will be available to stream from 4th to 6th May, and ANG48 on 6th May, both as part of the online event Re/enacting History and Decolonizing Genteel Romance in Thailand and Asia. Shadow Dancing closes on 5th June.

23 April 2022

Deep South


Deep South Deep South

The group exhibition Deep South (ลึกลงไป ใต้ชายแดน) opened at VS Gallery in Bangkok on 31st March, and runs until 11th June. Like the landmark Patani Semasa (ปาตานี ร่วมสมัย) exhibition and catalogue, Deep South aims to destigmatise Thailand’s southernmost provinces of Pattani, Yala, and Narathiwat: in the exhibition brochure, curator Anuwat Apimukmongkon notes that many Bangkokians “dare not visit these cursed areas,” due to the ongoing separatist insurgency. In addition to paintings and installations by seven artists, the exhibition also features five news photographs of the 2004 Tak Bai incident, tinted red and displayed on the walls, floor, and ceiling.

Deep South Deep South

More than eighty protesters were killed at Tak Bai, most of whom died of suffocation after being crammed into military trucks. Video footage of the massacre was banned from television by Thaksin Shinawatra, who was Prime Minister at the time. Defying the ban, the journal Same Sky (ฟ้าเดียวกัน) distributed a VCD of Tak Bai footage, and this inspired Thunska Pansittivorakul to direct his political documentary This Area Is Under Quarantine (บริเวณนี้อยู่ภายใต้การกักกัน). As he told me in an interview for my book Thai Cinema Uncensored: “Something happened in that VCD that touched me, the first time that I watched it. It’s something that I never knew from other media.”

Deep South Deep South

Other artists have also created works commemorating the events of Tak Bai. Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s Photophobia incorporates press photographs of the incident, as does Black Air by Pimpaka Towira, Akritchalerm Kalayanamitr, Koichi Shimizu, and Jakrawal Nilthamrong. In Jehabdulloh Jehsorhoh’s Violence in Tak Bai (ความรุนแรงที่ตากใบ), white tombstones mark the graves of each victim. Jakkhai Siributr’s 78 and Zakariya Amataya’s Report from a Partitioned Village (รายงานจากหมู่บ้านที่ถูกปิดล้อม) both include lists of the victims’ names.

Golem 2022:
Uncanny


Uncanny
Uncanny

Uncanny, the companion exhibition to Ruangsak Anuwatwimon’s Embodying the Monster, opened today in Bangkok. Both are part of his ongoing Golem 2022 project, for which he is gradually creating the bones and organs of a mythical golem figure, constructed from the ashes of dead animals and plants. The species he has cremated have all been affected by human behaviour, and his golem therefore literally and figuratively embodies the relationship between humanity and nature.

Uncanny reveals the process by which the golem is being brought to life. The gallery has become a contemporary Frankenstein’s laboratory, with a 3D printer manufacturing body parts from ashes. Specimens of endangered animals, the raw materials for Ruangsak’s monster, are displayed in jars. The finished products are carefully catalogued, ready to be assembled.

Uncanny Uncanny

The assembly and articulation of the skeleton will take place in four stages, as performance art, on 27th April and 6th, 27th, and 28th May. Uncanny runs at Gallery VER until 19th May. Embodying the Monster is at SAC Gallery, also in Bangkok, until 5th June. Ruangsak has previously created heart sculptures—Transformations and the Ash Heart Project—from the ashes of various species, including humans.