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.

07 April 2022

The Greatest Movies of All Time


The Greatest Movies of All Time

The Greatest Movies of All Time, published in 2016, features a list of classic films selected by Lorri Lynn, Melody Bussey, and Peter Murray. The number of titles (eighty-eight) seems fairly arbitrary, and there are no foreign-language or silent films on the list. The introduction, which refers to “a lifetime all best movie designation” [sic], could have been written by AI software.

Each film has a double-page spread, with a single paragraph of rather simplistic text opposite a glossy full-page photograph. The photos are the book’s only redeeming feature, though their quality is variable: the stills and posters are well-reproduced, though many are merely DVD covers and one (The Unforgiven) is from the wrong film. The book is not recommended, and is included here only in the interests of completism, as Dateline Bangkok reviews every greatest-film list available in print.

05 April 2022

Heavenly Bodies:
Cult Treasures and Spectacular Saints from the Catacombs


Heavenly Bodies
Heavenly Bodies

Paul Koudounaris has written a trilogy of superb books on the display of human skeletons. The Empire of Death is a history of European ossuaries, while Memento Mori features secular and non-Christian memorials from around the world. Heavenly Bodies: Cult Treasures and Spectacular Saints from the Catacombs, published by Thames and Hudson in 2013, focuses on the skeletons discovered in Roman catacombs during the Counter-Reformation, which were distributed by the Vatican to churches in Germany, Switzerland, and Austria.

After the Reformation, replacement relics were required: “Large numbers of churches had been ransacked, ensuring that high volumes of new sacred bones were needed,” and the bodies from the catacombs became convenient “replacements for lost relics.” The skeletons were presumed to be those of Christian martyrs (though the wish was father to the thought) and were known as Katakombenbeiligen (‘catacomb saints’) to distinguish them from the saints canonised by papal decree.

The Katakombenbeiligen were decorated with gold and jewels and displayed in ornate reliquaries, venerated in much the same way as the relics of ‘real’ saints. That is, until archaeological evidence inevitably intervened, proving that most of the bodies dated from the time of Constantine, the first Roman emperor to convert to Christianity. These “glittering imposters”, as Koudounaris describes them, were eventually regarded as relics in that term’s pejorative sense, as obsolete. James Bentley’s book Restless Bones discusses holy relics in more depth, though it lacks the stunning photography of Heavenly Bodies.

“Pictures too horrific to print...”


The Times

For the first time, some UK newspapers have published photographs of casualties of the war in Ukraine, after bodies were discovered lying in the streets of Bucha. The area was recaptured by Ukrainian forces last week, though war photographers discovered evidence that Russian troops had killed hundreds of civilians, some of whom were also subjected to torture.

The first image from Bucha was published yesterday by The Sunday Times: a photograph by Ronaldo Schemidt of a dead man, lying face down, his hands tied behind his back. Images of other casualties, their hands similarly tied, appear today in the Irish Independent and The Times. Today’s Daily Mail prints a graphic close-up of a dead man’s bound hands.

The most widely reproduced image, taken by Schemidt, shows several bodies lying on their sides in the middle of the road. It appears on the front page of The Times today, and on the inside pages of The Daily Telegraph. The Financial Times front page shows a different view of the same scene, also taken by Schemidt. Picture editors must balance the instinct to reflect the reality of war with the sensitivites of their readers, and today’s Metro describes the Bucha photographs as “pictures too horrific to print”.

Previous wars have led to similar editorial dilemmas. A photo by Ken Jarecke of an Iraqi soldier’s charred body was rejected by all newspapers except The Observer (which printed it on 10th March 1991), and during the second Iraq war “a gruesome image of a young child’s head split open” was the subject of much debate in the media before finally being printed by The Guardian (on 28th March 2003). Following the 9/11 attack in 2001, the US media all agreed to avoid publishing any images of the victims—except the New York Daily News, which printed an image of a severed hand taken by Todd Maisel.

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.

#รัฐบาลเผด็จการ


Same Sky

Thai police have ordered Same Sky Books to remove a banner from its booth at the National Book Fair. The banner reproduced various anti-government social media hashtags, and the police singled out #รัฐบาลเผด็จการ (‘dictatorial government’) as particularly unacceptable.

The cloth banner, suspended from the ceiling, had been on display since the Book Fair opened at Bang Sue Grand Station in Bangkok on 26th March. The police asked Same Sky to remove it two days later. After some negotiation, the publisher reversed the banner yesterday, making the text unreadable and highlighting the act of censorship.

Ironically, of course, the authoritarian police action demonstrates the accuracy of the hashtag under dispute. Police also visited Same Sky’s booth at the 2014 Book Fair, forcing them to remove three t-shirts from sale. This year’s Book Fair runs until 6th April.

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.

18 March 2022

Mob 2020-2021


Mob 2020-2021

Supong Jitmuang’s documentary Mob 2020-2021 will be shown this afternoon at the Kinjai Contemporary gallery in Bangkok. The film is the first to provide a full record of the current student protest movement, and is simultaneously epic in scope (at almost two hours long) and intimately personal (Supong described it to me as a “handmade” film).

Mob 2020-2021 was previously screened online during the Short Film Marathon (หนังสั้นมาราธอน), as part of the 25th Short Film and Video Festival, on 19th November last year. Today’s screening will be its theatrical premiere, and free postcards will also be available.

06 March 2022

‘This madness must be stopped!’



On 2nd March, the offices of four local newspapers were raided by Russian police, who seized all copies before they could be distributed. Each paper had printed a front-page headline calling for an end to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine: “ЭТО БЕЗУМИЕ ДОЛЖНО БЫТЬ ОСТАНОВЛЕНО!” (‘this madness must be stopped!’).

Russian media is heavily censored, and state television—which broadcasts Kremlin propaganda—remains the most popular source of news. Even terms such as ‘war’ and ‘invasion’ are forbidden in coverage of the Ukraine conflict, making the headlines all the more courageous. The four newspapers are: Вечерний Краснотурьинск (‘Krasnoturyinsk evening news’), Вечерний Карпинск (‘Karpinsk evening news’), ПроСевероуральск (‘Severouralsk news’), and Глобуса (‘the globe’).

04 March 2022

Kleptopia:
How Dirty Money Is Conquering the World



A mining company has lost its libel case against a journalist who implied it had arranged the killings of several senior staff. In his book Kleptopia: How Dirty Money Is Conquering the World, Tom Burgis describes the mysterious deaths of former employees of the Eurasian Natural Resources Corporation, which was being investigated by the Serious Fraud Office in the UK. Burgis also wrote an eight-page cover story about the case for the FT Weekend Magazine—headlined Silent Witnesses—published on 2nd October 2020.

In Kleptopia, Burgis alleges that two former ENRC staff died in suspicious circumstances, describing them as “the deceased bearers of ENRC’s secrets”. James Bethel and Gerrit Strydom died in their separate hotel rooms on the same night in 2015, during a road trip. Malaria was recorded as the cause of both men’s deaths, though Burgis points out that their malaria parasites had different genotypes, making it impossible that they were both infected at the same time. As he writes in his magazine piece, this begs the question: “if malaria did not kill the two men, what did?”

A third man associated with ENRC, James Bekker, died when his parked car caught fire in 2016. His body was found on the back seat. In Kleptopia, Burgis implies that he was silenced: “Bekker knew... that the valuation must have been inflated. And he had started telling people as much.” In Silent Witnesses, Burgis alleges that Bekker was the victim of a contract killing: “local crime gangs claimed to have a source who said a contract on Bekker’s life had been paid out.”

ENRC sued Burgis and HarperCollins, who published Kleptopia, though the case was dismissed at yesterday’s High Court hearing in London, and any potential appeal was denied. The judge ruled that ENRC was not defamed by Burgis, as a corporation cannot be held legally responsible for murder. Speaking outside court, Burgis said: “I’m delighted that this attempt to censor Kleptopia has failed.”

02 March 2022

Homeland


Homeland

Rap Against Dictatorship released their latest music video, Homeland (บ้านเกิดเมืองนอน), yesterday. The song begins with a verse by Liberate P highlighting the generational divide between the nationalist establishment and the progressive youth movement. This is summarised by an algebra metaphor with a double meaning: “a negative X in a formula with a positive Y”.

Hockhacker (making a welcome return to the group, after taking time out to start a family) refers to a “village chief executive”, using ‘village’ as a microcosm. The song is even more confrontational than Rap Against Dictatorship’s previous single, Reform (ปฏิรูป), including insults such as “psychopath”.

There is also a line about the 6th October 1976 massacre, with Thailand described as “this land where they swing chairs on faces”. This is Rap Against Dictatorship’s fourth reference to the massacre, after their videos for Burning Sky (ไฟไหม้ฟ้า), To Whom It May Concern (ถึงผู้มีส่วน เกี่ยวข้อง), and My Country Has (ประเทศกูมี).

24 February 2022

“Harry tried to keep his legal fight over bodyguards secret...”


The Mail on Sunday

Prince Harry yesterday launched a third lawsuit against the publisher of The Mail on Sunday, after the newspaper accused him of attempting to suppress coverage of his legal case against the Home Office over payments for police protection. The article under dispute, by Kate Mansey, was headlined “REVEALED: How Harry tried to keep his legal fight over bodyguards secret”.

The article was published on 20th February, on page 13. The lead is as follows: “Prince Harry tried to keep details of his legal battle to reinstate his police protection secret from the public, The Mail on Sunday can reveal.” The story is still available on the Mail’s website, and Mansey’s tweets promoting it have not been deleted, despite yesterday’s libel action against the publisher, Associated Newspapers.

Harry previously sued The Mail on Sunday for libel in 2020, after it alleged that he had ceased contact with the Royal Marines. His wife Meghan sued the newspaper for breach of privacy and copyright in 2019, when it published extracts from a letter she had written to her father.

In both cases, the Sussexes received undisclosed damages from the publisher. Meghan was paid only a nominal sum of £1 for breach of privacy, though the legal precedent was more significant: the judge ruled in her favour without a trial, his verdict was upheld on appeal, and Associated Newspapers covered her substantial legal costs.

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.

20 February 2022

Memory of Filmmaking


Memory of Filmmaking

Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s new film Memoria will have its Thai premiere on 24th February. The screening at Bangkok’s SF World cinema will be followed by a Q&A with Apichatpong and actor Tilda Swinton. The following day, Apichatpong will take part in another Q&A when Memoria is shown at the Thai Film Archive in Salaya, before it goes on general release on 3rd March.

On 26th February, the Film Archive will host a masterclass by Apichatpong, Memory of Filmmaking, moderated by Sompot Chidgasornpongse (a key member of his Kick the Machine production team) and Nottapon Boonprakob (director of Come and See/เอหิปัสสิโก). Apichatpong has previously given similar presentations at the Film Archive—ตัวตน โดย ตัวงาน (‘self-expression through work’) in 2011—and elsewhere: What Is Not Visible Is Not Invisible at BACC in 2017, Indy Spirit Project at SF Cinema City in 2010, and Tomyam Pladib (ต้มยำปลาดิบ) at the Jim Thompson Art Center in 2008.

Memoria received its world premiere at last year’s Cannes Film Festival, where it won the Jury Prize. The second phase of Apichatpong’s exhibition A Minor History (ประวัติศาสตร์กระจ้อยร่อย ภาคสอง)—subtitled Beautiful Things (สิ่งสวยงาม)—opened at 100 Tonson Foundation in Bangkok on 18th February, and runs until 10th April.

07 February 2022

บันทึกการเมืองด้วยเส้นสายลายการ์ตูน 3



More than a decade ago, veteran political cartoonist Sakda Saeeow was accused of lèse-majesté and subjected to a three-year police investigation, after one of his cartoons was misinterpreted. The case—which has not been fully disclosed until now—stemmed from a newspaper cartoon published in Thai Rath (ไทยรัฐ) on 9th March 2009, showing Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva as a puppet of his deputy, Suthep Thaugsuban. (Suthep was known to be the Democrat Party’s fixer, pulling the strings behind the scenes.)

The butt of the joke was Sondhi Limthongkul, portrayed as a toad complaining that he had been sidelined despite his PAD protests paving the way for Abhisit’s premiership. (This is a reference to the Thai idiom ‘คางคกขึ้นวอ’, literally ‘a toad carried on a palanquin’: rising above one’s station.) But it was the drawing of Suthep that caused the controversy. A reader reported the cartoon to the police, alleging that Suthep’s face resembled that of King Rama IX. As Sakda explained today, he was falsely accused of depicting “ในหลวงชักใยอภิสิทธิ์” (‘the King manipulating Abhisit’).

Under Thai law, defamantion is a criminal offence, and lèse-majesté (royal defamation) charges can be filed by anyone. The police examined all of Sakda’s work published six months before and six months after the cartoon in question. (He often caricatured Abhisit as a puppet, usually controlled by an unseen figure.) The political editors of four newspapers were also called to give evidence, and they all confirmed that the cartoon depicted Suthep, not Rama IX.

Even benign illustrations of King Rama IX were considered taboo, to the extent that children’s picture books—such as The Story of Tongdaeng (เรื่อง ทองแดง)—showed him only in silhouette. Somewhat trepidatiously, Stéphane Peray (known as Stephff) drew a respectful cartoon of the King ascending to heaven, published in The Nation newspaper to commemorate his death (reproduced in Red Lines). A hundred years ago, the political climate was very different: เกราะเหล็ก (‘armour’) printed a highly unflattering front-page caricature of Rama VI by cartoonist Sem Sumanan on 22nd November 1925 (reprinted in Woman, Man, Bangkok), and the newspaper was closed down—though it was back on sale six weeks later.


Sakda’s cartoon was reprinted in บันทึกการเมืองด้วยเส้นสายลายการ์ตูน 3 (‘a cartoon record of politics’), the third volume of his political cartoon anthologies, though its notoriety has not been revealed until now. (The book also includes cartoons mourning the victims of the 2010 military crackdown and, as the months go by, Abhisit’s caricature bears an increasing resemblance to Hitler.) In a more famous instance of state censorship, Sakda (who uses the pen name Sia) was summonsed by the NCPO junta on 4th October 2015, the day after Thai Rath published his cartoon mocking Prayut Chan-o-cha’s speech at the UN General Assembly.

30 January 2022

“I’ve killed too many communists...”


Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives
Anatomy of Time
The Edge of Daybreak

Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s most celebrated work, Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives (ลุงบุญมีระลึกชาติ), was also his first political statement on film. Boonmee—a former military officer who fought the student Communists radicalised after the 6th October 1976 massacre—is dying of kidney disease, and wonders aloud whether he is being punished: “I’ve killed too many communists.” His sister tries to reassure him—“But you killed with good intentions... You killed the commies for the nation, right?”—though Boonmee is unconvinced, and the conversation peters out; a brutal guerrilla war has become a faded memory, both for Boonmee and the country as a whole.

Two recent Thai films also portray former military men on their deathbeds. In the opening line of Taiki Sakpisit’s The Edge of Daybreak (พญาโศกพิโยคค่ำ), a man narrates his role in the anti-Communist purge: “I was leading my unit into the woods to catch the students.” Similarly, Jakrawal Nilthamrong’s Anatomy of Time (เวลา) begins with a flashback in which a military officer leads an attack on Communist insurgents. In both films, the unnamed men remain largely bedridden, tended by nurses and family members, though their violent reputations have not been forgotten: in The Edge of Daybreak, the man is smothered with a pillow; and in Anatomy of Time, the man’s nurse wishes him a “slow and painful” death. (On the other hand, like Boonmee’s sister, one of his military colleagues believes he “made many sacrifices for the country.”)

In all three films, the men’s karma is directly cited as the reason for their sickness. In an extended flashback in Anatomy of Time, the man’s wife asks: “Dad, is it true that we all have to pay for our sins?” Her father explains that, according to Buddhist teachings, karma does indeed exist. Likewise, Boonmee tells his sister: “You know, this is a result of my karma.” In The Edge of Daybreak, the man’s family believe that they are cursed and, as if to confirm this, the exquisite black-and-white camerawork lingers on images of decay, such as rotting food and their crumbling home. The legacy of violent suppression is also a curse on the country itself, and these three films offer a reckoning with Thailand’s past and a commentary on its continuing military rule.

23 January 2022

10 ราษฎร


Family Club

Five plainclothes police officers made an unannounced inspection of the new 1932 People Space Library at Wat Thong Noppakhun in Bangkok today. They confiscated a copy of 10 ราษฎร (‘10 people’), which features portraits by Chalermpol Junrayab of ten activists charged with lèse-majesté.

One of the officers returned the book a few hours later, claiming that he had merely taken it for his young son to read. 10 ราษฎร is part of a series of eight children’s picture books investigated by the Ministry of Education last year.

‘When an ox comes to the palace, it does not become a king...’



Turkish journalist Sedef Kabaş was arrested in the early hours of yesterday morning, on a charge of insulting President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. The charge stems from her appearance as a panelist on the discussion show Demokrasi Arenası (‘democratic arena’), a weekly forum for political debate on Tele 1 TV. (Tele 1 had its broadcasting licence suspended for five days in 2020, along with another pro-opposition channel, Halk TV.)

When Kabaş appeared on the show on 14th January, she quoted a Turkish proverb: ‘Öküz saraya çıkınca kral olmaz. Ama saray ahır olur.’ (‘When an ox comes to the palace, it does not become a king. Instead, the palace becomes a barn.’) This coded reference to Erdoğan was the trigger for her arrest.

Erdoğan has previously filed defamation charges against the Turkish magazines Cumhuriyet (in 2004 and 2014), Penguen (in 2014), and Nokta (in 2015). In 2006, he sued the artist Michael Dickinson over the collages Good Boy and Best in Show. In 2016, he sued a German comedian who recited a poem mocking him. (The poem was read out in solidarity in the German parliament, and The Spectator launched an anti-Erdoğan poetry competition that was won by Boris Johnson.) In 2020, he filed charges against the French magazine Charlie Hebdo.

20 January 2022

The Monarchy and Thai Society



Thai police raided the offices of Same Sky Books this morning, looking for copies of Arnon Nampa’s booklet The Monarchy and Thai Society (สถาบันพระมหากษัตริย์กับสังคมไทย). (Its English title comes from an authorised online translation by PEN.) Around thirty officers searched the premises; they didn’t find any copies of the booklet, though they obtained a court order to confiscate Same Sky editor Thanapol Eawsakul’s mobile phone and computer instead.

10,000 copies of the booklet were seized from Same Sky last year, and their offices were also raided in 2020. Thanapol was one of many anti-military intellectuals subjected to ‘attitude adjustment’ in 2014, and he was also questioned by the military in connection with the distribution of Thaksin and Yingluck Shinawatra calendars in 2016.

The Monarchy and Thai Society is one of three booklets written by anti-government protesters, published in the colours of the Thai flag. The others are The Day the Sky Trembled (ปรากฏการณ์สะท้านฟ้า 10 สิงหา; also translated by PEN) and บทปราศรัยคัดสรรคดี 112 (‘speeches on 112’).

Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations


Familiar Quotations

John Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations was first published in 1855, with expanded editions released every ten years or so. Its chief competitor—The Oxford Dictionary of Quotations, edited by Alice Mary Smyth—first appeared almost ninety years later. (My first edition copy of Smyth’s book was published with corrections in 1942.)

Bartlett’s serves as a comprehensive cultural history, covering not only literature (Hamlet: “To be, or not to be: that is the question”) but also political speeches (the Gettysburg Address: “government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth”), interview soundbites (Princess Diana: “There were three of us in this marriage, so it was a bit crowded”), and film dialogue (Casablanca: “Round up the usual suspects”). The eighteenth edition, edited by Geoffrey O’Brien, was published in 2012.

I have a rather niche non-transferable skill: correctly predicting the pull quotes that will be reported by news organisations after interviews and speeches. It’s also highly satisfying, when conducting interviews for publication, if the interviewee says something that makes an ideal pull quote. Effectively, Bartlett’s collects the pull quotes that stand the test of time, and a new (nineteenth) edition will be released later this year.

Many reference books have migrated online, where they can be more easily searched and updated. But print editions of dictionaries of quotations remain necessary, as online quote databases are filled with paraphrases and misattributions. (This has been parodied in an online meme: a fake quote from Abraham Lincoln warning people not to believe what they read on the internet.)

In a 1993 Quote... Unquote newsletter, Nigel Rees described the problem of “Churchillian Drift”, whereby quotations are commonly misattributed by default to either Winston Churchill or George Bernard Shaw. But even when their attributions are correct, most quotation websites provide no context whatsover: publication dates and sources are rarely cited, making annotated dictionaries such as Bartlett’s essential resources.

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.

07 January 2022

#WhatsHappeningInThailand
และแล้วความหวังก็ปรากฏ


#WhatsHappeningInThailand

#WhatsHappeningInThailand และแล้วความหวังก็ปรากฏ (‘and then hope appeared’) is the first book to document the anti-government protest movement that began in Bangkok last summer. Journalist Karoonporn Chetpayark gives her reflections on covering the demonstrations, accompanied by Asadawut Boonlitsak’s photographs of the protests. The book covers a period of exactly a year, from the rally at Democracy Monument on 18th July 2020 to the first anniversary of that event last year, when protesters were met with a much more violent police response.

05 January 2022

VideoHound’s Golden Movie Retriever 2021:
The Complete Guide to Movies on All Home Entertainment Formats


VideoHound

VideoHound’s Golden Movie Retriever 2021: The Complete Guide to Movies on All Home Entertainment Formats, edited by Michael J. Tyrkus, is the final edition of the last remaining film guide in print. VideoHound’s Golden Movie Retriever first appeared in 1990 and was updated annually, though the 2022 edition was cancelled by the publisher. With reviews of almost 30,000 films released on video, and over 2,000 pages, the 2021 edition was approaching the physical limits of a manageable single-volume book. In fact, the total number of films in recent editions had been gradually declining, as obscure older films were deleted to make room for new releases.

The annual film guide format was pioneered in 1958 by Steven H. Scheuer, who reviewed 5,000 titles in his TV Movie Almanac and Ratings. A decade later, in 1969, came Scheuer’s first competitor, Leonard Maltin’s TV Movies, and after another decade Leslie Halliwell launched his Halliwell’s Film Guide. This triumvirate ruled the roost for another decade, until smaller guides such as Elliot’s Guide to Films on Video (by John Elliot) and The Virgin Film Guide were published in the late 1980s and early ’90s. (The Virgin guide was notable for its lengthy reviews of significant films. On the other hand, Elliot even stooped to reviewing some of the more outré ‘video nasties’.)

The next wave of film guides was dominated by major magazine publishers. The Empire Film Guide followed the Virgin formula, while the Time Out Film Guide and the Radio Times Guide to Films both aimed to be as comprehensive as possible. Time Out found room for more independent and arthouse titles, while the Radio Times adopted an even-handed reviewing style, perhaps to differentiate itself from the more opinionated Halliwell’s Film Guide. The Radio Times Film Guide also had a little-known predecessor: Derek Winnert’s Radio Times Film and Video Guide, which was pulped after a plagiarism lawsuit from the publishers of Halliwell’s.

After the boom came the bust, and—like other printed reference books—the annual film guide eventually became an endangered species. 1992 saw the final edition of Scheuer’s book (retitled Movies on TV and Videocassette). The Virgin and Empire guides ended in 2005 and 2007, respectively. The last Halliwell’s Film Guide came out—somewhat contentiously—in 2007, and the brand died an ignominious death the following year with The Movies That Matter. Maltin’s book was last updated in 2014 (retitled Leonard Maltin’s Movie Guide). Time Out’s guide ceased publication in 2012, and the Radio Times’s followed suit in 2017.

31 December 2021

Leave the Gun, Take the Cannoli:
The Epic Story of the Making of ‘The Godfather’


Leave the Gun, Take the Cannoli

There are six books on my shelves about the making of The Godfather: The Godfather Family Album, The Official Motion Picture Archives, The Annotated Godfather, The Godfather Notebook, The Godfather Book, and now Mark Seal’s Leave the Gun, Take the Cannoli: The Epic Story of the Making of ‘The Godfather’. As Seal acknowledges in his preface, “The Godfather has spawned its own massive field of study, a trove of books, articles, documentaries...” Some familiar production anecdotes are inevitably duplicated throughout these six books, though each title also provides ample original material, and each has a different approach to the making of the film.

What distinguishes Seal’s new book? Firstly, it has an extended interview with Francis Ford Coppola (who admits that, “at the root of it all, I was terrified”). Also, one chapter quotes extensively from a stenographer’s transcript of a six-hour pre-production meeting. This document is a valuable primary source, as it accurately records exactly what was said at the time, such as Coppola’s explanation of the film’s opening line: “Just starting with, ‘I believe in America,’ because it’s what the whole movie is about.” Previously, Seal wrote a Vanity Fair article on the making of the film for the magazine’s 2009 Hollywood issue, and an oral history of Pulp Fiction for the 2013 Hollywood issue.

29 December 2021

Ratchadamnoen Route View 2482+


Ratchadamnoen Route View 2482+

Suwaporn Worrasit’s short film Ratchadamnoen Route View 2482+ was screened at the Thai Film Archive in Salaya on Christmas Day, as part of the 25th Thai Short Film and Video Festival. The film shows builders constructing a reproduction of Democracy Monument, intercut with an anti-government protest at the real Democracy Monument in Bangkok on 20th September 2020. The title refers to 1939 (2482 in the Buddhist Era), the year that the monument was commissioned.

The reproduction of the monument was built for Bangkok World, a new tourist attraction due to open next year. Suwaporn’s film features exceptional footage of labourers carefully installing and painting the concrete reproduction, creating a scale model of the original. However, Democracy Monument is more than a mere architectural landmark; for decades, it has been a focal point for political rallies, and borne witness to military crackdowns. After the 14th October 1973 massacre, the bodies of the victims were placed on the monument. In 2010, red-shirt protesters wrapped it in banners painted with blood.

Once it’s completed, Bangkok World’s Democracy Monument will be a pristine simulacrum—the Disneyland version of Bangkok’s heritage—though it will reveal none of the original monument’s political and social significance. While it’s under construction, surrounded by bamboo scaffolding, the reproduction is a metaphor for the country’s unfinished transition to democracy. Similarly, vintage photographs of Democracy Monument under construction appeared in the June 2012 issue of Sarakadee (สำรคดี) magazine and in Chulayarnnon Siriphol’s short film Karaoke: Think Kindly (คาราโอเกะ เพลงแผ่เมตตา), again symbolising the incomplete nature of Thai democracy.

28 December 2021

Long Live the People


Long Live the People

Thai band Dezember released their new single, Long Live the People, on Christmas Eve, and the accompanying music video on Christmas Day. The title and one of the lyrics—“จำเอาไว้เราไม่ใช่ฝุ่น” (‘remember, we are not dust’)—both come from a speech by Parit Chirawak at Sanam Luang on 20th September last year. The video ends unambiguously with a falling guillotine blade.

The lyrics also include “ขอเวลาอีกไม่นาน” (‘give us a little more time’), a line from Returning Happiness to the Thai Kingdom (คืนความสุขให้ประเทศไทย), a propaganda song released by the junta. Chulayarnnon Siriphol used the same line as the title of a video installation and exhibition catalogue, and it was sampled by Thunska Pansittivorakul in his documentary Homogeneous, Empty Time (สุญกาล).

Another lyric from Long Live the People, “7-8 ปีแล้วนะไอ้สัตว์” (‘it’s been 7-8 years, ai hia’), is essentially an update of the 2018 concert title จะ4ปีแล้วนะไอ้สัตว์ (‘it’s been 4 years, ai hia’). In both cases, ai hia is a strong insult aimed at the Prayut Chan-o-cha.

The King of Bangkok


The King of Bangkok

The King of Bangkok, the English-language edition of the Italian graphic novel Il Re di Bangkok, was published last month. A Thai edition was released last year, retitled ตาสว่าง (ta sawang). The book was written by Claudio Sopranzetti and Chiara Natalucci, with illustrations by Sara Fabbri, and is the product of meticulous ethnographic and archival research into Thai political and cultural history. The English edition features several new appendices, including a timeline of political events giving extra context to the narrative.

There is also an extensive interview with the authors, in which they discuss their goal of counteracting the ‘Teflon’ effect, whereby Thailand’s violent political climate is so successfully expunged from its international image by the Ministry of Tourism, “one of the most effective propaganda machines in the country.” The interview also touches on the book’s slightly censored Thai translation: “The solution we finally adopted in Thai was to cover three particularly sensitive sentences with a black line, a strategy used by progressive Thai filmmakers to pass state censorship while indexing its presence and effects.”

The Reproduction of a Catastrophic Reminiscence


The Reproduction of a Catastrophic Reminiscence

Kulapat Aimmanoj’s short film The Reproduction of a Catastrophic Reminiscence was shown at the Thai Film Archive on 18th December, on the first day of the 25th Thai Short Film and Video Festival. The film is a drama—largely a two-hander—in which two young anti-government protesters argue about their tactics. Non is no longer an activist, though the more radical Mhee reminds him what they are fighting for. With its theme of personal and ideological tensions between protest leaders, Kulapat’s film is similar to Aomtip Kerdplanant’s 16 ตุลา (‘16 Oct.’)—which was screened at the Archive on Christmas Day—and Sunisa Manning’s novel A Good True Thai.

Kulapat also released a black-and-white version, The Reproduction of a Catastrophic Reminiscence: Noir, online earlier this year. The film begins with a reporter on Facebook Live describing the use of tear gas against protesters at major intersections in Bangkok. This respresentation of political protests via simulated media coverage also occurs in Kongdej Jaturanrasmee’s feature film Snap, and I wrote about the use of similar distancing devices in Thai Cinema Uncensored.

23 December 2021

Wisit Sasanatieng


Tears of the Black Tiger

The Thai Film Archive will show a complete retrospective of Wisit Sasanatieng’s films next month. The season includes rare 35mm screenings of his classic Tears of the Black Tiger (ฟ้าทะลายโจร), marking the twentieth anniversary of one of the key films of the Thai New Wave. (Tears of the Black Tiger has been shown quite frequently over the years—at Alliance Française in 2020, at BKKSR in 2017, at TCDC in 2016, at BACC in 2012, and at the Film Archive in 2013 and 2009—though I last saw it in 35mm at Warwick Arts Centre on its original UK theatrical release.)

Each of Wisit’s films will be screened twice in January 2022: Tears of the Black Tiger on 15th and 22nd, Citizen Dog (หมานคร) on 22nd and 28th, The Unseeable (เปนชู้กับผี) on 11th and 28th, The Red Eagle (อินทรีแดง) and Senior (รุ่นพี่) on 5th and 19th, and Reside (สิงสู่) on 11th and 30th. All screenings are free. The season was originally scheduled for May this year, though it was postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic. The Film Archive also held a smaller-scale Wisit retrospective in 2010.

Wisit’s latest film, The Whole Truth (ปริศนารูหลอน), premiered on Netflix earlier this month. He has previously directed the short film Norasinghavatar (นรสิงหาวตาร), the music video เราเป็นคนไทย (‘we are Thai’), and segments of the portmanteau films Sawasdee Bangkok (สวัสดีบางกอก) and Ten Years Thailand. He also wrote the scripts for Slice (เฉือน), Nang Nak (นางนาก), and Dang Bireley’s and Young Gangsters [sic] (2499 อันธพาลครองเมือง); and he designed the posters for the 2008 and 2009 Bangkok International Film Festivals.

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.)

The Madman's Library:
The Strangest Books, Manuscripts and Other Literary Curiosities from History



The Madman’s Library: The Strangest Books, Manuscripts and Other Literary Curiosities from History includes hundreds of examples of odd, unusual, and unconventional books. There are fascinating and lavishly illustrated chapters on, for example, microbooks and elephant folios, literary hoaxes, and texts written on 3D objects. The highlight is a chapter on books bound in human skin (anthropodermic bibliopegy) and written in blood, which is the first illustrated survey of the subject. Author Edward Brooke-Hitching is one of the ‘elves’ (researchers) from the excellent TV series QI.

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.”

17 December 2021

The Whole Truth


The Whole Truth

Wisit Sasanatieng’s new film The Whole Truth (ปริศนารูหลอน) premiered on Netflix earlier this month. It’s the director’s fourth supernatural horror film, meaning that ghost films now make up the majority of his filmography. His two most recent films, Reside (สิงสู่) and Senior (รุ่นพี่), were also about ghosts, though The Whole Truth is more satisfying than either of them. His first ghost film, The Unseeable (เปนชู้กับผี), climaxed with a series of plot twists revealed in rapid succession, tying up all the loose ends at the last minute. Fortunately, the twists in The Whole Truth make more sense, and the ending is genuinely touching.

Two teenagers have to stay at their grandparents’ house after their mother is injured in a car crash, but after they arrive, a mysterious peephole appears, through which they see the apparition of a dead child. The film’s title is a pun on ‘whole’ and ‘hole’, as the hole is a portal revealing the whole truth of the family’s past. The figures on the other side of the hole are surprisingly clichéd, though: another long-haired ghost slowly crawling towards us, two decades after Ring (リング).

Wisit is a superb visual stylist, which is evident throughout The Whole Truth, especially in the establishing shots. He occasionally places the camera directly overhead, most effectively during a party sequence in a circular room, and these crane shots hint at the unsettling history behind the veneer of the grandparents’ neat and tidy house.

The film is most remarkable for its social commentary. Thai studios and TV networks generally err on the side of caution, partly to avoid Thailand’s criminal defamation law. Netflix, on the other hand, has produced several recent Thai dramas that tackle issues such as corruption and discrimination head-on. One of the plot twists in The Whole Truth concerns social attitudes towards disability, and the film is also a thinly-veiled dramatisation of the Vorayuth Yoovidhya hit-and-run case.

Driving while intoxicated, Vorayuth killed police officer Wichian Klanprasert in 2012, though the police investigation into the case was suspiciously delayed. This caused understandable public outrage, as it sadly demonstrates that, in Thailand, ‘influential’ families are above the law. After the car crash in The Whole Truth, the young son of another wealthy family brags about his immunity from prosecution: “The district police is on my father’s payroll anyway.” When confronted by the children’s grandfather, he boasts: “Thai law can’t touch me, don’t you know that?”

Other recent Thai Netflix productions have dealt with similar scandals. Minnie and the Four Bodies (มินนี่ 4 ศพ), an episode from the second season of Girl from Nowhere: The Series (เด็กใหม่ 2) was inspired by the case of Thephasadin Na Ayudhya, who killed nine people while driving underage in 2010 yet avoided jail thanks to her aristocratic connections. The episode features a similar crash, after which the young girl driver’s father is seen bribing the police chief, and the girl is tortured in a cathartic dream sequence. The show’s prologue gets straight to the point, describing Thailand as “a country where there’s no place for the poor, and no consequences for the rich”.

Another Thai Netflix drama series, Bangkok Breaking—directed by Kongkiat Khomsiri, who made the intense thriller Slice (เฉือน)—deals with corruption among the ‘body snatchers’ who transport accident victims to hospital. The show’s Thai title, มหานครเมืองลวง, translates as ‘city of deception’, which would surely have been changed by the censors if it was submitted for theatrical or video release.

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.