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.
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.
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.
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.
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.