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. The best books on the incident are Alan Klima’s The Funeral Casino, William A. Callhan’s Imagining Democracy, and Charnvit Kasetsiri’s พฤษภา-พฤษภา (‘May-May’). I discussed the cinematic representation of ‘Black May’, from documentaries to short films and feature films, in Thai Cinema Uncensored.

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 SouthDeep 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 SouthDeep South Deep SouthDeep 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 SouthDeep South Deep SouthDeep 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.

19 April 2022

Golem 2022:
Embodying the Monster


Embodying the Monster
Embodying the Monster

Ruangsak Anuwatwimon’s new exhibition Embodying the Monster opened in Bangkok last month. The show is 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 whose specimens he has cremated have all been affected by human behaviour, and his monstrous golem therefore literally and figuratively embodies the relationship between humanity and nature.

The sculpted body parts on display include the sixth cervical vertebra (from the base of the neck), made from the ashes of a Yorkshire pig; a nose, from the ashes of a brown rat; and a vitreous humour (the clear gel that the eyeball is mostly comprised of), from the ashes of a golden coin turtle. The centrepiece is a mandible (lower jaw), made from the ashes of five species: a dog, a suckermouth catfish, an American cockroach, a brown rat, and a hemlock plant.

Embodying the Monster Embodying the Monster

Embodying the Monster opened on 17th March (slightly delayed from 11th March) at SAC Gallery, and will close on 4th June. Ruangsak has previously created heart sculptures for his Ash Heart Project (made from the ashes of various species), and his sculpture Transformations is a whale heart made from human ashes. Uncanny, which is also part of the Golem 2022 project, runs concurrently with Embodying the Monster from 23rd April to 19th May at Gallery VER, also in Bangkok.

16 April 2022

The Battle Wound of Thalufah


The Battle Wound
The Battle Wound
The Battle Wound

The protest group Thalufah organised demonstrations near Prayut Chan-o-cha’s residence on Vipavadee Rangsit Road last year. The Battle Wound of Thalufah, a new exhibition at Cartel Artspace in Bangkok, features t-shirts worn by the protesters and art installations created by the group. One of the t-shirts appears to be bloodstained, and gas masks are also on display—visible reminders that riot police used rubber bullets and tear gas against the demonstrators. (Similarly, Sirawith Seritiwat’s bloodstained shirt was shown along with anti-government t-shirts at the Never Again exhibition in 2019.)

Thalufah was founded by Jatupat Boonpattararaksa, who has been convicted of lèse-majesté (article 112), and the exhibition features t-shirts with various anti-112 slogans. (A similarly uncompromising slogan also appears as graffiti in the photobook EBB by BEKOS.) In one corner, a television is tuned to channel 10, though it has no signal. Next to it are reproductions of a poster from The X Files, modified with screengrabs from a leaked video (which was also referenced in Nawat Lertsawaengkit’s painting Yellow! and Badmixy’s music video Next Love).

Behind a curtain, the two-minute video Sadistic Patriot plays on a loop, intercutting TV news footage of the military at a state occasion with hardcore clips from online pornography. A card on the wall explains that, while the state demands respect for Thailand’s tripartite motto, there is no reciprocation. According to Thalufah, this results in a coercive relationship between people and state, and “เป็นเหมือน Sex ที่เจ็บปวด” (‘it’s like painful sex’), hence the porn clips. (Thunska Pansittivorakul has also used porn as political satire, in films such as Santikhiri Sonata/สันติคีรี โซนาตา.)

Thalufah previously organised the Specter exhibition, which was later expanded. The Battle Wound of Thalufah opened on 31st March, and was originally scheduled to close on 30th April, though the event has now been extended. A feature-length documentary made by Thalufah, The Evil of Time’s Growth (การเติบโตของปีศาจแห่งการเวลา), will be shown at the gallery and streamed online via Facebook and YouTube on 7th May.

09 April 2022

Natural History


Death Denied

Damien Hirst’s fourteen-foot tiger shark, The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living, was arguably the most iconic artwork of the 1990s. (When his dealer Charles Saatchi sold it in 2004, Hirst replaced the dilapidated shark with a fresh one.) The shark was one of many dead animals that Hirst preserved in formaldehyde, in a series titled Natural History, and this menagerie has now been reassembled at the Gagosian Gallery in London.

The exhibition isn’t a complete retrospective of the Natural History works—which is just as well, as Hirst has created (or supervised the creation of) plenty of very similar pickled sharks, cows, and sheep over the years. So, in place of The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living is another tiger shark of the exact same size, this time titled Death Denied. Instead of Away from the Flock—a lonely sheep—there is I Am: another lonely sheep.

The show has received one-star reviews from The Guardian and The Times; perhaps pickling is passé. But even though Hirst is repeating himself, the shark still has a powerful presence. Natural History opened on 9th March and closes on 31st July. The early works from the series were included in Hirst’s monograph I Want to Spend the Rest of My Life Everywhere, with Everyone, One to One, Always, Forever, Now.

30 March 2022

Scene through Wood:
A Century of Modern Wood Engraving


Scene through Wood
The Traveller

The technique of wood engraving was pioneered by Thomas Bewick in the late eighteenth century. Utilising more precise tools than woodcut printing, and using the end-grain rather than the side-grain, Bewick’s engravings were—according to Susan Doyle’s comprehensive History of Illustration—“capable of far more detail than earlier woodcuts”.

As William M. Ivins writes in Prints and Visual Communication, “the development of this technique under the hands of Bewick and others constitutes a very important part of the story of prints during the nineteenth century. It brought the wood-block back into books, and gave the greater public for the first time copious illustrations for its texts.” In A History of Book Illustration, David Bland agrees that the Bewick method “rescued the woodcut from oblivion and made it a suitable method of illustrating the mass-produced book”.

Scene through Wood: A Century of Modern Wood Engraving, an exhibition marking the centenary of the Society of Wood Engravers, was held at the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford in 2020 (after a slight delay due to the coronavirus pandemic), and is now on show at the Dorset Museum in Dorchester. Curated by Anne Desmet, the exhibition features more than 200 wood engravings, organised thematically, from the Ashmolean and various private collections.

The exhibition (running from 9th February to 1st May) is accompanied by a scholarly catalogue featuring artist biographies and an extensive bibliography. The first book on the subject, A History of Wood Engraving by Douglas Percy Bliss, focuses largely on European woodcuts. A later book with the same title, by Albert Garrett, is more comprehensive. Arthur M. Hind’s classic A History of Engraving and Etching covers all forms of engraving, though makes only passing mention of Bewick’s innovation.

24 March 2022

Bangkok Street Art and Graffiti:
Hope Full, Hope Less, Hope Well


Bangkok Street Art and Graffiti Headache Stencil

Rupert Mann’s Bangkok Street Art and Graffiti: Hope Full, Hope Less, Hope Well, published last month, is the first comprehensive survey of street art in Bangkok. (Alisa Phommahaxay’s more limited Bangkok Street Art was published in 2019.) The book contrasts the insular graffiti tagging scene of the early 2000s with the emergence of more character-based street art in the early 2010s. Similar divisions persist over the increasing commercialisation of street art, and Mann addresses the nuances of these debates and places them in historical context. It is also available in a Thai edition, titled สตรีทอาร์ตกับกราฟฟิตีในกรุงเทพฯ และ ณ โฮปเวลล์ ความหวังที่หายไป.

The book’s main focus is the artistic takeover of Hopewell, the site of an abandoned elevated road and rail line. (Hopewell’s huge concrete pillars now stand as monuments to overambition, lethargy, and corruption.) The most interesting chapter covers political dissent, led by Headache Stencil’s pieces denouncing Prawit Wongsuwan (the deputy PM with a suspicious penchant for luxury watches) and Premchai Karnasuta (the head of ITD—which secured some of the country’s most lucrative infrastructure contracts—who organised an illegal hunting party), and includes a discussion of censorship and its circumvention.

20 March 2022

Bangkok Street Art:
Regard sur la scène urbaine thaïlandaise


Bangkok Street Art
Headache Stencil

Alisa Phommahaxay’s Bangkok Street Art: Regard sur la scène urbaine thaïlandaise (‘a look at the urban Thai scene’) was the first book on Bangkok street art and graffiti. It profiles seven artists, including Alex Face (“probably the most well-known Thai street artist in the world”), though it also features work by plenty of others (there are six pages devoted to Headache Stencil, for example).

The pocket-sized Bangkok Street Art was published in 2019, as part of the Opus Délits (‘criminal works’) series of monographs on urban artists. A second and more substantial book on the subject, Rupert Mann’s Bangkok Street Art and Graffiti: Hope Full, Hope Less, Hope Well (สตรีทอาร์ตกับกราฟฟิตีในกรุงเทพฯ และ ณ โฮปเวลล์ ความหวังที่หายไป), was published this year.

21 February 2022

A Minor History, Part II:
Beautiful Things


Break Out of the Loop of National Conflict into Peaceful Nature A Minor History

Phase two of Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s A Minor History (ประวัติศาสตร์กระจ้อยร่อย ภาคสอง) exhibition opened on 18th February at 100 Tonson Foundation in Bangkok, and runs until 10th April. The second phase was originally due to begin on 25th November last year, though part one was extended until Boxing Day due to coronavirus restrictions. Like the first phase, part two—subtitled Beautiful Things (สิ่งสวยงาม)— features a vertical video installation with scrolling text documenting fragments of Apichatpong’s interior monologue.

Alongside the video and photographs by Apichatpong are two works by other artists, Methagod and Natanon Senjit. Methagod’s small sculpture Thep Nelumbo Nucifera is decorated with images of lotus flowers, whose seeds remain dormant for extended periods before sprouting. As curator Manuporn Luengaram writes in the exhibition press release, the sculpture therefore “reminds us of the perpetual resurrection of Thailand’s youth movements despite being time and again suppressed.”

Natanon’s Break Out of the Loop of National Conflict into Peaceful Nature, painted on two large boards, depicts the Mekong riverbank crowded with anti-government protesters, royalists, and military officers. One corner shows the murder of Porlajee Rakchongcharoen, who was also the subject of Pin Sasao’s installation ถังแดง​: ความตายของบิลลี่ (‘red barrel: the death of Billy’). This echoes the underlying theme of A Minor History: the Mekong as a site for the disposal of the bodies of murdered political dissidents.

Last October, 100 Tonson also showed Apichatpong’s video installation Silence, commemorating the 45th anniversary of the 6th October 1976 massacre. His new feature film Memoria opens in Thailand this week, after its premiere at last year’s Cannes Film Festival.

11 January 2022

10th April


Banner
The Men in Black

The new Jim Thompson Art Center opened in Bangkok last year, and its inaugural exhibition, Future Tense: Imagining the Unknown Future, Contemplating the Cold War Past, explores the legacy of the Cold War era in contemporary Southeast Asia. The exhibition opened on 27th November 2021, and runs until 28th February.

Future Tense includes Parinot Kunakornwong’s installation 10th April (๑๐ เมษายน), which examines the military massacre of red-shirt protesters on 10th April 2010. In a corner of the gallery is The Men in Black, a group of polystyrene mannequin heads in balaclavas representing the armed agitators who infiltrated the 2010 protests. (A powerful photograph of a ‘man in black’ was one of five images by Agnes Dherbeys censored from a BACC exhibition about the protests in 2010.)

To Service

Parinot attended a commemoration at Democracy Monument on the anniversary of the massacre last year. (His installation includes To Service, a candle and red-shirt scarf from the event.) He wiped a wet towel around the monument and collected soil samples from the area: traces from the site of the massacre, the residue of history. These were then photographed with a scanning electron microscope, to produce abstract images (The Cleaner, Banner, and O) exhibited alongside the physical artefacts themselves (Towel and Samples). The process is a combination of art and science, ritual and remembrance.

The shootings on 10th April 2010 were the prelude to a military crackdown resulting in the loss of almost 100 lives. Tawan Wattuya painted portraits of the victims for his Red Faces series, shown at the Khonkaen Manifesto (ขอนแก่น แมนิเฟสโต้) and Amnesia exhibitions in 2019. A book commemorating the victims, วีรชน 10 เมษา คนที่ตายมีใบหน้าคนที่ถูกฆ่ามีชีวิต (‘heroes of 10th April: the faces of the dead live on’), was published in 2011.

22 December 2021

Surrealism Beyond Borders


Surrealism Beyond Borders

The Surrealism Beyond Borders exhibition, currently on show at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, will transfer to London’s Tate Modern next year. Curated by Stephanie D’Alessandro and Matthew Gale, it’s the first exhibition to consider Surrealism from a global perspective. As the foreword to the exhibition catalogue explains, it “moves away from a Paris-centered viewpoint to shed light on Surrealism’s significance around the world from the 1920s until the late 1970s.”

The 400-page catalogue, published in October, includes essays on Surrealism in Egypt, Cuba, Japan, Mexico, Syria, China, Germany, Brazil, Turkey, the Philippines, and Thailand. (Apinan Poshyananda also covered Thai Surrealism in Modern Art in Thailand.) While not as definitive as Gérard Durozoi’s monumental History of the Surrealist Movement (Histoire du mouvement surréaliste), the Surrealism Beyond Borders catalogue is unique in its extensive international coverage of Surrealist art. (Maurice Nadeau wrote the first history of Surrealism in 1944, Histoire du surréalisme, though it was not translated into English until twenty years later, as The History of Surrealism.)

With its expansion of Surrealism’s geographical boundaries, Surrealism Beyond Borders follows in the footsteps of the Futurism and Futurisms (Futurismo e futurismi) and International Pop exhibitions and catalogues, which undertook similar internationalisations of Futurism and Pop Art, respectively. Earlier, Norma Broude’s book World Impressionism examined the worldwide impact of Impressionism, and Robert Rosenblum’s Cubism and Twentieth-Century Art considered Cubism from an American and pan-European perspective. (Incidentally, the first two editions of Rosenblum’s book, published by Abrams with tipped-in colour plates, are superior to the subsequent reprints.)

21 December 2021

แบบเรียนพยัญชนะไทย ฉบับการเมืองไทยร่วมสมัย



แบบเรียนพยัญชนะไทย ฉบับการเมืองไทยร่วมสมัย (‘Thai consonant textbook: contemporary politics edition’), PrachathipaType’s parody of an alphabet picture book, was launched at the Bangkok Art Book Fair last month. (In an installation at CityCity Gallery, people sat at wooden desks and posed as students reading copies of the book.) The project is a collaboration with Rap Against Dictatorship, who released a song—กอ เอ๋ย กอ กราบ (‘k is for krap [prostration]’)—and animated video based on PrachathipaType’s illustrations. (The song’s lyrics are printed at the back of the book.)

Each of the forty-four Thai consonants is represented by images satirising the government, the monarchy, and the justice system. Specific themes include mismanagement of the coronavirus pandemic, state budget allocations, and the Constitutional Court’s dissolution of popular political parties. Thammanat Prompao, surely the most disreputable Thai politician in recent memory, is namechecked for his insistence that the 3kg of heroin he was convicted of smuggling into Australia was actually flour. (Incredibly, the Constitutional Court ruled that he could still serve as a cabinet minister, as his crime was committed outside Thailand.)

18 December 2021

Seeing in the Dark


Seeing in the Dark

Taiki Sakpisit’s exhibition Seeing in the Dark opened at AC Gallery in Bangkok on 14th December and closes today. The exhibition includes regular screenings of Taiki’s video installation of the same name, which was filmed at Khao Kho, a mountainous region in northern Thailand. Khao Kho has a potent political legacy: Phibun Songkhram hid the country’s gold reserve—and the Emerald Buddha statue—from the Japanese there during World War II, and the area was a base for Communist insurgents throughout the 1970s.

Seeing in the Dark opens with contemplative, static images of Khao Kho, including the entrance to the cave where Phibun stored the nation’s treasures. There are also shots of the Sacrificial Monument compound, which memorialises the ‘sacrifices’ of the soldiers who fought the Communists, rather than the thousands of insurgents who were killed. Taiki’s earlier short films Shadow and Act and A Ripe Volcano (ภูเขาไฟพิโรธ) feature similarly meditative shots of locations with loaded political histories, and Shadow and Act has a direct link with Phibun, as it was partially filmed at the photography studio where his official portraits were taken. Shadow and Act, A Ripe Volcano, and The Age of Anxiety (รอ ๑๐) will be screened at the Thai Film Archive on Christmas Eve as part of the 25th Thai Short Film and Video Festival.

On its website, Thailand’s Ministry of Tourism notes that Khao Kho was once “a red area smoldering in the smoke of war from different political ideologies. Khao Kho was considered a forbidden land that ordinary people should not get too close to because it was considered extremely dangerous. But as time passed, the conflict ended and Khao Kho transformed into one of Phetchabun’s most striking and beautiful tourist areas.” A similar reputational whitewashing took place at other sites of anti-Communist violence, such as Santikhiri and Nabua, a process examined in Thunska Pansittivorakul’s film Santikhiri Sonata (สันติคีรี โซนาตา), Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s short film A Letter to Uncle Boonmee (จดหมายถงลงบญม), and Pachara Piyasongsoot’s exhibition Anatomy of Silence (กายวิภาคของความเงียบ).

Khao Kho, Santikhiri, and Nabua are—to use Dutch artist Armando’s term—‘guilty landscapes’. Seeing in the Dark revisits these ‘guilty landscapes’, tranquil spaces that bear silent witness to historical violence. As Max Crosbie-Jones writes in his cover story for the current issue of Art Review Asia, Taiki’s film channels “the presence of places upon which the inexorable movement of Thai history has left an indelible stain.” An ominous rumble on the soundtrack hints at the continued presence of this past menace, and the film ends with footage of anti-government protests from October 2020, a reminder that Thailand is still “smoldering in the smoke of war from different political ideologies.”

11 December 2021

Unforgetting History


Unforgetting History

Ceramicist Sirisak Saengow’s first solo exhibition opened yesterday at Cartel Artspace in Bangkok, and runs until 20th January 2022. The show features painted tiles, ceramic sculptures, and installations, all of which address dark moments from Thailand’s modern history that those in authority would prefer us to forget.

The exhibition title, Unforgetting History, recalls Thongchai Winichakul’s book Moments of Silence, which is subtitled The Unforgetting of the October 6, 1976, Massacre in Bangkok. As in Wittawat Tongkaew’s 841.594, shown at Cartel last year, the exhibition is dominated by the colour blue, which has a symbolic meaning in Thailand on the country’s tricolour flag.

History of Guns

Occupying one wall of the exhibition, History of Guns consists of twenty-five rifles arranged in a triangle, with a pistol at its apex. These unglazed ceramic weapons are all stamped with numbers referring to the dates of violent episodes in Thai political history. The pistol, which is streaked with blue paint, is stamped 090689 (9th June 2489 BE, the day in 1946 that King Rama VIII was shot). A blue rifle is stamped 170298 (17th February 2498 BE, the day in 1955 that three men were executed for Rama VIII’s murder).

Stamps on the other rifles refer to military crackdowns in Bangkok. These are: 141016 (14th October 2516 BE, the 1973 massacre of anti-dictatorship protesters), 061019 (6th October 2519 BE, the 1976 massacre of Thammasat University students), 100453 (10th April 2553 BE, the shooting of red-shirt protesters at Phan Fah in 2010), and 190553 (19th May 2553 BE, the 2010 killing of red-shirt protesters at Lumpini and Ratchaprasong).

Other artists and filmmakers have also used numerical codes to refer to notorious dates in Thai history. In the music video Remember (วน), directed by Thunska Pansittivorakul, a man wears a jumpsuit with the number 1721955, another reference to the execution of the men convicted of Rama VIII’s murder. That number also appears as a password in Thunska’s film Supernatural (เหนือธรรมชาติ), and his new film Danse Macabre (มรณสติ) features two men with the numbers 1702 and 1955 on their respective running shorts. Similarly, the title of Arin Rungjang’s video and installation 246247596248914102516... And Then There Were None refers to 24th June 2475 BE (the 1932 revolution), the death of Rama VIII, and the 14th October 1973 massacre.

Censored

On another wall, a mosaic forms a surprisingly direct message that is only readable from a distance, as the letters are blurred in an act of self-censorship. (While the text is not immediately understandable, the impulse to self-censor certainly is.) The text is inverted in another mosaic underneath.

Blue Dust

In one corner of the gallery are sixteen tiles, collectively titled Blue Dust, a series of paintings of anti-government and monarchy-reform protesters being arrested by riot police last year. The police appear as blue figures, while the protesters are stippled like specks of dust, which also has a metaphorical meaning in Thailand. Riot police are also coloured blue in The Adventures of Little Duck (เป็ดน้อย), a children’s picture book under investigation by the Ministry of Education.

Unforgetting History Unforgetting History
Unforgetting History Unforgetting History

In another corner is an untitled installation recreating the artist’s desk. Strewn around the desk are ceramic renderings of various banned books, including The King Never Smiles (with a pixellated cover), the Thai translation of The Devil’s Discus, and the Same Sky (ฟ้าเดียวกัน) journal. These are surrounded by blue bullet casings and photographs of the 6th October 1976 massacre, which, like the books, are also realistically painted ceramic objects. There is also a folding chair, which has become an iconic symbol (or cliché) of the massacre. The King Never Smiles—or rather, its modified dust jacket—also featured in the Derivatives and Integrals (อนุพันธ์ และปริพันธ์) exhibition at Cartel earlier this year.