18 September 2021

Specter

Specter
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 police officers.

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. The exhibition also includes portraits of protest leaders Panusaya Sithjirawattanakul (who attended the opening), Arnon Nampa, and Chaiamorn Kaewwiboonpan by Sina Wittayawiroj.

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.

02 September 2021

A Minor History

A Minor History
Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s new exhibition A Minor History (ประวัติศาสตร์กระจ้อยร่อย) opened yesterday at 100 Tonson Foundation in Bangkok. The work is a video triptych, filmed at a derelict cinema in Kalasin and other locations along the Mekong river. Apichatpong has previously written of his attachment to stand-alone cinemas in an essay for Unknown Forces (สัตว์วิกาล), reprinted with an English translation in Once Upon a Celluloid Planet (สวรรค์ 35 มม). The Mekong directly inspired his films Mekong Hotel (แม่โขงโฮเต็ล) and Cactus River (โขงแล้งนำ), though he has also filmed numerous other projects in the region.

A Minor History also includes a short story in text form, which describes a dream featuring Patiwat Saraiyaem (using his nickname, Bank). Patiwat is an actor and mor lam singer who was jailed for his performance in the play เจ้าสาวหมาป่า (‘the wolf bride’) and was subjected to further lèse-majesté charges after he took part in an anti-government protest on 19th September last year. He previously appeared in Apichatpong’s segment of the portmanteau film Ten Years Thailand, and Wittawat Tongkeaw recently painted his portrait, titled The Unforgiven Blues (หมอลำแบงค์).

A Minor History was originally scheduled to open on 19th August, though it was delayed due to the coronavirus lockdown. Attendance is currently by appointment only, again due to the coronavirus pandemic, and the exhibition will close on 14th November. A second phase opens on 25th November, and runs until 27th February next year. 100 Tonson, previously a commercial gallery, became a non-profit foundation last year.

Apichatpong’s latest feature film, Memoria, won the Jury Prize at this year’s Cannes Film Festival. The film received a standing ovation, after which Apichatpong memorably declared: “Long live cinema!” With coronavirus vaccines in short supply and the registration system in disarray, he also used his Cannes acceptance speech as an opportunity to call on the Thai government to “please wake up, and work for your people, now.”

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).

12 July 2021

Dark

Dark
Dark
Dark
Jirapatt Aungsumalee’s exhibition Dark opened at VS Gallery in Bangkok yesterday. Anuwat Apimukmongkon’s A Blue Man in the Land of Compromise is also on show at the same gallery, though the city began another lockdown today, due to the coronavirus pandemic. Because of this, Dark has been extended from 11th September to 13th November.

Dark features portraits of anonymous military officers and state bureaucrats against black backgrounds, their faces obscured and their positions only identifiable from their uniforms. As the catalogue puts it, these figures occupy seats of power interchangeably, like a horrific game of musical chairs (“ณ ที่นั่งแห่งอำนาจอย่างกับเกมเก้าอี้ดนตรีสยองขวัญ”).

There are also equally dark paintings inspired by the recent anti-government protests. These are titled ประกาย (‘spark’) and สีสัน (‘colourful’), suggesting that the protesters and their symbols—such as Panusaya Sithjirawattanakul (ประกาย I) and an inflatable yellow duck (สีสัน I)—offer a ray of light in the darkness.

11 July 2021

A Blue Man in the Land of Compromise

A Blue Man in the Land of Compromise
The Death in 2020-2021
A Blue Man I
Anuwat Apimukmongkon’s exhibition A Blue Man in the Land of Compromise opened this afternoon at VS Gallery in Bangkok, though the city begins another lockdown tomorrow, due to the coronavirus pandemic. (The exhibition was originally scheduled to run from 24th April to 20th June. It has now been extended to 13th November.)

The centrepiece, The Death in 2020-2021 [sic], is a vast, 10m-long canvas depicting the eponymous blue man amongst a sea of dead bodies. An inflatable yellow duck is also present, in reference to the protesters who used inflatable ducks to defend themselves from water cannon last October and November. The blue man also appears in a group of smaller paintings, this time in various sexual positions. In A Blue Man I, he is at the centre of an orgy, a representation of corrupt decadence similar to Vasan Sitthiket’s Ten Evil Scenes of Thai Politic [sic].

Unlike Manit Sriwanichpoom’s equally incongruous pink man (พิ้งค์แมน), the blue man’s colour has a symbolic meaning in Thailand, and he wears an ornate crown (of gold leaf). An artist’s statement affixed to the gallery wall offers some context: “With a knife in his hand, a blue man wounds people who denied him, also anyone who have no faith in his love” [sic]. This allusion to lèse-majesté is reinforced by the exhibition’s title, as Rama X described Thailand as “the land of compromise” during a walkabout on 2nd November last year.

26 June 2021

The L/Royal Monument

The L/Royal Monument
Intersection of Wills
Interregnum
Captain Justice / The Unforgiven Blues
Creation-Conclusion / Jojo and the Bookstalk
The Masterpiece
Prior to 2014, Wittawat Tongkeaw was known primarily for his landscape paintings, though since the coup his art has become increasingly political. The works in his new exhibition The L/Royal Monument (นิ/ราษฎร์) at Subhashok Arts Center in Bangkok, displayed in four themed sections, provide a commentary on modern Thai politics expressed through coded metaphors and symbolism.

The exhibition’s first room, Interlude, draws on Wittawat’s background as a landscape painter, though these landscapes have political subtexts. Two of the paintings refer to the 2010 massacre of red-shirt protesters: Intersection of Wills (ราษฎร์​ประสงค์) shows Ratchaprasong, the focal point of the protest, and Interregnum (สิ้นสุดพุทธาวาส) depicts a relief sculpture from Wat Pathum Wanaram, a temple sheltering six protesters who were killed by military snipers. Like Pachara Piyasongsoot’s Anatomy of Silence (กายวิภาคของความเงียบ), these paintings represent politically-loaded locations; to use Dutch painter Armando’s term, they are ‘guilty landscapes’. The theme of this first room is transition, symbolised by expansive sunsets and tiny details (a traffic light about to turn green). The political significance of this transition is suggested by the exhibition’s other rooms.

The second room, Imagining Law-abiding Citizens, features paintings of four pro-democracy campaigners, all of whom have been charged with lèse-majesté. They include Captain Justice (ทนายอานนท์), a portrait of Arnon Nampa, who led protests last year calling for reform of the monarchy; and The Unforgiven Blues (หมอลำแบงค์), a portrait of Patiwat Saraiyaem, an actor who was jailed for his performance in the play เจ้าสาวหมาป่า (‘the wolf bride’) and later appeared in Ten Years Thailand. Each portrait has a blue background, in an allusion to that colour’s idiomatic and symbolic meanings: blue indicates the artist’s sadness at the persecution of the four subjects, though it also traditionally represents the monarchy, as in Wittawat’s previous exhibition, 841.594.

The other two rooms, Memorabilia and The Artist’s Trial, feature installations and projections. In the latter room is Jojo and the Bookstalk (โจโจ้ผู้ฆ่ายักษ์), a precarious pile of books and journals, the texts that led to Wittawat’s political awakening, known in Thai as ta sawang. The book stack includes the notorious banned issue of Same Sky (ฟ้าเดียวกัน). Two other installations in the same room are especially provocative: Creation-Conclusion (เริ่ม-จบ) is a painting of the sky on an upturned easel, and The Masterpiece (มาสเตอร์พีซ) is a weather-beaten painting hung back-to-front. The Thai word for ‘sky’ (fah) is a metaphor for the monarchy, and the upturned easel resembles a guillotine. The subject of the back-to-front portrait can be guessed from its propagandistic original title, พระเกียรติคุณ กว้างใหญ่ไพศาล (‘his honour spread far and wide’), which is still faintly visible on the reverse.

The L/Royal Monument opened at SAC Gallery in Bangkok on 22nd June, and was originally scheduled to run until 18th September but has now been extended to 31st October. Its opening coincides with the anniversary of Thailand’s 1932 transition to constitutional monarchy and, as Wittawat writes in the exhibition brochure, the “physical components—names, plaques, monuments” commemorating this have been systematically removed from public spaces.

21 June 2021

Reincarnations III

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

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

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

11 May 2021

Artn’t

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

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

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

29 April 2021

Pink Man Story

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

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

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

01 April 2021

“Thailand’s complainer-in-chief...”

Chian Mai University
Chiang Mai University’s Faculty of Fine Arts has been criticised for censoring political artworks created by a pair of students. The row is centred on a banner representing the Thai flag, with the central blue stripe replaced by transparent material. The flag’s blue stripe symbolises the monarchy, thus the banner could be interpreted as a republican statement. It was removed by the dean of the Faculty on 22nd March.

Two days later, the University issued a statement in support of the dean, noting that the banner was a potentially illegal alteration of the flag. On 26th March, Srisuwan Janya, head of the Constitution Protection Association pressure group, filed a complaint with Chiang Mai police accusing the artists of violating the Flag Act of 1979. Lèse-majesté charges are also likely. The Flag Act prohibits “any act in an insulting manner to the flag, the replica of the flag or the colour bands of the flag”. Srisuwan, a self-appointed moral guardian, was dubbed “Thailand’s complainer-in-chief” by the Bangkok Post in a headline on 18th March 2019.

The banner is similar to an artwork by Mit Jai Inn shown at last year’s Status in Statu exhibition. Mit’s installation, titled Republic of Siam, was a large roll of fabric with a pattern of red and white stripes: like the student’s banner, it resembled a Thai flag without the blue stripe.

22 March 2021

Derivatives and Integrals

Derivatives and Integrals
Derivatives and Integrals
Derivatives and Integrals
Derivatives and Integrals (อนุพันธ์ และปริพันธ์) opened at Cartel Artspace in Bangkok on 5th March, and runs until 10th April (extended from 28th March). The exhibition includes a copy of the banned book The King Never Smiles on a small Buddhist altar, though the cover photograph has been replaced by a photo of Stephen King. All ‘sensitive’ text on the book jacket has been covered by the logo of the anonymous artist กูKult, whose exhibition this is. (The artist is due in court today, charged under the Computer Crime Act and the lèse-majesté law.)

On closer inspection, the book on the altar is not actually The King Never Smiles: inside the dust jacket is another hardback of the same size, the first volume of Continuous Multivariate Distributions. (Revealing this feels a bit like pulling back the curtains on the Wizard of Oz, though of course that’s also what the exhibition is doing.)

Propping up the altar is another book, a Thai self-help guide, though a simple equation has been written on its cover (one interpretation of which could involve regnal numbers and a gun calibre). The exhibition’s full title is a more complex algebraic expression, \frac{df\left({x}\right)}{dx}\Bigg\vert_{x=c}\wedge\int_{a}^{b}f\left({x}\right)dx.

25 January 2021

1410

1410
1410
1410
Like several other Thai filmmakers, Yuthlert Sippapak has become more politically engaged as a result of the long-running political crisis that has polarised Thai society for more than a decade. (This political consciousness is known in Thai as ta sawang.) When I interviewed Yuthlert for my book Thai Cinema Uncensored, he said: “I never gave a shit about politics. But right now, it’s too much.”

Yuthlert’s ta sawang moment came when the military withdrew its support for his film Fatherland (ปิตุภูมิ). Far from the propaganda vehicle the military was expecting, the film instead exposed military corruption in southern Thailand. As Yuthlert told me: “Money is power. And the person who created the war is the military. I said that, and I don’t want to take that out. That’s the truth. And they don’t want the truth. I want the truth.”

Since then, Yuthlert has turned to political activism, campaigning against Prayut Chan-o-cha’s government. On 27 August 2019, he criticised the Constitutional Court on Twitter—“สงสัยว่าศาลรัฐธรรมนูญ เสือกอะไรกับประชาชน ก็ได้เหรอ?” (‘what gives the Constitutional Court the right to intrude on its citizens?’)—and he was summonsed to apologise for contempt of court.

Last year, he faced a Computer Crime charge after criticising minister Puttipong Punnakanta via another Twitter account on 20 April 2020: “รัฐมนตรีเฟคนิวส์ อยู่เบื้องหลังสาเหตุของการตายของม้าในประเทศไทย” (‘the minister of fake news is behind the horse deaths in Thailand’). That tweet was from his NMG (No More General) campaign against Prayut.

Yuthlert’s latest provocation is 1410, a proposed new political science-fiction film starring Chaiamorn Kaewwiboonpan, whose hit single 12345 I Love You was appropriated by anti-government protesters. Yuthlert held a press conference with Chaiamorn on 18th January at the Jam Factory in Bangkok, announcing a plan to crowdfund the budget for 1410 through online donations.

He is also currently working on two political satires: Seven Boy Scouts (a horror film in which the evil characters share their nicknames with Thai politicians) and The Last Dictator (อวสาน ร.ป.ภ; a comedy in which a filmmaker dying from COVID-19 vows to assassinate a coup leader). Whereas Seven Boy Scouts is almost complete, The Last Dictator seems to be on the back burner. Yuthlert is also working on another (shorter) edit of Fatherland, for a future Netflix release, though real-life political protests are taking up most of his time.

1410’s title is a reference to the 14th October 1973 student protest that led to the (brief) restoration of democracy, though Yuthlert hasn’t revealed any specifics about its characters or plot. The tagline for the film’s teaser poster is “ภาพยนตร์บันทึกอดีตอันเลวร้าย ถ่ายทอดความเสื่อมทรามของปัจจุบัน เพื่อต่อต้านเผด็จการโสมมในอนาคต” (‘a film about a terrible past and a worsening present, to prevent corrupt dictators in the future’).

A 1410 exhibition is on show at the Jam Factory from 18th to 27th January. A large mural (with stylised typography by PrachathipaType) features the slogan “ศักดินาจงพินาศ ประชาราษฎร์จงเจริญ” (‘may feudalism be defeated; may the people prosper’), and a dartboard uses Headache Stencil’s portrait of Prayut as a bullseye. This is Yuthlert’s third appearance at the Jam Factory: he was a guest speaker at the Uncensored event there in 2019; and The Land We Call Home, an exhibition of Sira Twichsang’s photos from Fatherland, was held there in 2014.

09 December 2020

Our Daddy Always Looks Down on Us

Our Daddy Always Looks Down on Us
Our Daddy Always Looks Down on Us
Our Daddy Always Looks Down on Us
Our Daddy Always Looks Down on Us
Our Daddy Always Looks Down on Us
Jirat Prasertsup’s exhibition Our Daddy Always Looks Down on Us (คิดถึงคนบนฟ้า) opened on 5th December (Thai Father’s Day and the late King Rama IX’s birthday) at Cartel Artspace in Bangkok, and runs until 24th January 2021. Appropriating indirect royal iconography recognisable to generations of Thais (a pair of glasses; a squeezed toothpaste tube), the exhibition parodies the propaganda and myth-making associated with the Thai state.

The gallery has been fitted with a false ceiling, with one tile missing: visitors climb a stepladder to poke their heads into the loft space and peer at a large bust of a dog (Tongdaeng?). This installation constitutes almost the entire exhibition, though there are also some small line drawings near the skirting boards. (The beatific smiles in the drawings are reminiscent of Joan Cornella’s satirical cartoons.)