08 May 2022

The Evil of Time's Growth


The Evil of Time's Growth

The Evil of Time’s Growth, a feature-length documentary marking the first anniversary of the Thalufah anti-government protest group, was screened at Cartel Artspace in Bangkok yesterday. It’s now available on the group’s Facebook and YouTube channels. The documentary, which is more than 2½ hours long, includes footage of Thalufah marches and demonstrations filmed throughout last year, and interviews with group members and supporters. The most violent incidents from the protests—rubber bullets fired by riot police, and arson by demonstrators—are not included.

Thalufah was founded by Jatupat Boonpattararaksa, and his interview was filmed in front of a large painting by Lucky Leg, which the artist donated to the group. The film was shown as part of The Battle Wound of Thalufah, an exhibition organised by the group, which opened on 31st March. Thalufah previously organised the Specter exhibition, which was later expanded. Rap Against Dictatorship’s single Ta Lu Fah (ทะลุฟ้า) was a tribute to the group, as was the zine Break Through published last year.

[The Evil of Time’s Growth’s Thai title, การเติบโตของปีศาจแห่งการเวลา, is the direct equivalent of the English version, and includes the Thai word ปีศาจ (‘evil spirit’). But when promoting the film, Cartel Artspace replaced the letter with , a typo that changed the word’s meaning to ‘court’. In the English title, Growth is stylised as “GROIIITH”, a reference to the three-finger salute adopted by the protest movement.]

05 May 2022

“The world’s smallest...”


Thumby

Earlier this year, TinyCircuits launched the Thumby, the smallest games console in the world, which has a ridiculously tiny ½" black-and-white OLED screen. (The product was crowd-funded, as was the tiny Projecteo slide projector in 2013.) Designed and manufactured in Ohio, the Thumby was inspired by the Nintendo Game Boy (model DMG-01) from 1989, though it’s a fraction of the size. The Game Boy Camera accessory was the world’s smallest digital camera in 1998, and NHJ’s Snap camera was advertised as such in 2004, though later microSD cameras such as JTT’s Chobi range (2011) and MellowCase’s model RX420 (2018) are even smaller. (Chinese copies of the Japanese Chobi cameras have model numbers Y2000 and Y3000; the MellowCase camera is also branded as MHDYT and NIYPS.) The smallest digital pico projector, Orimag’s model P6, was released in 2017.

The smallest digital cassette formats were both developed by Sony: the NT (audio) in 1992, and the MicroMV (video) in 2001. In digital audio, the smallest MP3 players are those produced by Samsung (model YP-T5 from 2004), Apple (the iPod Shuffle from 2005), and MobiBLU (model DAH-1500i from 2005), though they lack in-built speakers. The Russian Edic-mini’s premium Tiny range of digital audio recorders—notably the A31 (2009) and B22 (2012) models—are the smallest in the world. The UK tech company Zini produced a range of Zanco miniature cellphones, including the world’s smallest, the Tiny T1 (2018).

Miniaturisation was a key selling point for consumer technology long before the digital era, and there have also been similar trends in other fields, such as transport, though for very different reasons. There was a mid-century vogue for microcars and ‘bubble cars’, for example: the Messerschmitt KR200, BMW Isetta, and Austin Mini were popular following the 1956 Suez crisis, due to their fuel efficiency. The tiny Peel P50 was the smallest production car ever made, and at more than 100 miles per gallon, Peel claimed that it was almost cheaper than walking.

But technological miniaturisation isn’t primarily driven by economic factors. Instead, smaller gadgets are created because they’re more convenient, and because innovation makes them possible. Cameras, audio player/recorders, and other devices have been shrunk to pocket size thanks to the development of ever more complex transistors and integrated circuits, a trend that Gordon Moore noted in 1965. (‘Moore’s law’ states that processing power doubles every two years.)

Sony Ruvi

The most famous subminiature cameras, and those with the highest optical quality, were produced by Minox in Germany. Their first model, from 1936, had a stainless steel body. After World War II, Minox released the model A, with the same design as the original in a lighter aluminium body. This was followed by the slightly larger model B, with an in-built light meter. At the other end of the quality spectrum, in the UK, Corona’s Midget camera (1935) was given away with breakfast cereal. The world’s smallest camera, the Petal, was released in Japan in 1947. This minuscule camera, made from chrome-plated brass, is barely larger than a coin. The original circular model was followed by the Everax A (engraved with a floral motif) and the octagonal Sakura Petal. In the 1950s, Tougodo’s Hit range became a generic term for all Japanese subminiature cameras (known in Japan as mame kamera or ‘bean cameras’), though the Hit and its imitators were all inferior copies of more advanced cameras produced by Jilona (the 1937 Midget), Akita (the 1939 Mycro), and Toyo (the 1948 Tone).

The world’s smallest movie camera, the Bolsey 8, was released in 1956. With its stainless steel body, this is a beautiful machine, and it’s smaller than any subsequent movie camera or camcorder. Sony’s Ruvi (model CCD-CR1), from 1998, is the smallest camcorder in the world. It used Hi8 videotape, in a reusable cartridge that also contained the tape mechanism. The smallest movie projectors were manufactured by Kern of Switzerland in 1926—the Micro-Ciné and Presenta Pocket Ciné—both of which projected 9.5mm film cartridges using a bulb powered by an external battery pack.

The Sony M-909 microcassette unit (1991) is often said to be the world’s smallest tape player/recorder, though Dictaphone’s picocassette Exec (model 4250) from 1985 was even smaller. Unlike the M-909, the Exec also has a built-in speaker. The picocassette is the smallest cassette ever made, and in 1987 Bandai produced the smallest tape cartridge, played in a Leadworks miniature Wurlitzer jukebox replica (model 1015). Prior to audio cassettes and cartridges, in 1962 the Lincoln Memocord was advertised as the smallest reel-to-reel recorder.

Bolex 8 Petal

When it comes to handheld televisions, two manufacturers dominated the market: Sony and Casio. The Sony Watchman (model FD-210) was launched in 1982, with a black-and-white CRT screen, and Casio introduced the first LCD screen only a year later (model TV-10). In 1992, Casio’s CV-1 model was the smallest TV thus far, though it needed an external battery and an earpiece antenna. Seiko released its TV watch in 1982, a breakthrough in wearable technology with a tiny 1¼" screen, though it required a separate tuner unit and an earpiece antenna. (Model numbers—DXA-001 and DXA-002 in Japan; T001-5000 and T001-5019 elsewhere—varied according to which accessories were included.) Another TV watch, NHJ’s VTV-101 (and its European model, VTV-201) from 2004, also needed an earpiece antenna. The world’s smallest self-contained TV was released in China less than a decade ago, branded as both MyTech (model MT-101) and Leadstar (model LD-777).

The first transistor radio, Regency’s TR-1, was launched in the US in 1954, but Japanese radios quickly dominated the market after the release of Sony’s TR-63 in 1957 (and the model TH-666 from Hitachi in 1959, which was briefly the world’s smallest). The TR-63 sold millions of units, and miniature Japanese transistor radios were hugely popular in the 1960s, a trend initiated by Standard’s Micronic Ruby range in 1962. (Like the Bolsey 8, Ruby radios were packaged in silk-lined boxes to equate them with items of jewellery.) Various companies have staked their claim to ‘the smallest radio in the world’. In 1953, in the immediate pre-transistor era, the Emerson model 747 tube set was accurately advertised as the smallest radio. The same claim was made for two crystal sets—Midway’s Tinytone (1955) and Planatair’s model 76404 (circa 1960)—and Sinclair’s Micromatic transistor unit (1967), though all lacked in-built speakers. (The Micromatic design was copied by the Canadian firm Clairtone in 1968.) The Motz (2010) range of tiny wooden radios and MP3 players made in Korea by Pyramid are smaller than all of these, and they include speakers.

Minox A

The smallest record players were sold as toys. The Poynter toy company released its Mighty Tiny children’s record player in 1967, promoted as the world’s smallest. Then, in 1987, the same company beat its own record, with a miniature plastic replica Victrola gramophone. The Soundwagon, made in Japan by Tamco (based on a 1976 Sony design), was sold as a toy, though the packaging for its 2018 relaunch—Stokyo’s Record Runner, also made in Japan—states that it’s not suitable for children. (It also includes a disclaimer that the product may scratch records—these devices were nicknamed ‘vinyl killers’, with good reason.) The Record Runner was promoted as the world’s smallest record player, though it’s bigger than Poynter’s Victrola. The smallest records in the world were produced almost a century ago, in 1924, for Queen Mary’s doll’s house. These 1⅓" shellac discs were played on a unique 1:12 replica HMV gramophone.

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.

27 April 2022

“Conspiracy to corrupt public morals...”


Ladies Directory Classified

Alfred Barrett’s lonely hearts magazine The Link, founded in 1915, was certainly ahead of its time. It published personal ads, though as its masthead proudly proclaimed, they were “NOT MATRIMONIAL” in nature. So if people weren’t looking for a spouse, what could they be looking for...? The Metropolitan Police pondered that very question, after R.A. Bennett—editor of another magazine, the moralistic Truth—sent copies of The Link to Scotland Yard.

Bennett suspected that some of The Link’s classified ads were coded messages written by gay men. One example, which he underlined with a literal blue pencil, was by someone “anxious to correspond with friend. Must be same sex, affectionate, and amiable”. Homosexuality was illegal in Britain at the time, and the police seized not only copies of The Link but also letters sent to the box numbers advertised. Barrett was convicted of conspiracy to corrupt public morals in 1921, and sentenced to two years’ hard labour.

Forty years later, in 1961, another publisher was convicted of the same offence. Frederick Shaw’s Ladies Directory, founded in 1959, was a catalogue of ads placed by prostitutes (the equivalent of the ‘tart cards’ left in phone boxes). Shaw himself had sent his publication to the Director of Public Prosecutions, seeking guidance on its legality. He got his answer when the DPP charged him with conspiracy to corrupt public morals, and after his conviction he served nine months in prison. The charge—which set a legal precedent—related specifically to issues 7-10 of the Ladies Directory. (My copy of number 8 is an undated and unpaginated A5 booklet.)

In 1965, Way Out led a revival of the lonely hearts magazine, and soon inspired imitators such as Exit and numerous others. In his authoritative Encyclopedia of Censorship, Jonathon Green noted that these titles “were not prosecuted, and more respectable magazines began to run lonely hearts columns that might have been indictable in earlier years.” H.G. Cocks, however, in his book Classified: The Secret History of the Personal Column, demonstrates that these titles were indeed prosecuted for conspiracy to corrupt public morals: “The way the police in Britain investigated smalltime magazines like Exit and Way Out while their American counterparts merely shrugged as their own swinging industry exploded, tells us everything about the differences between the two countries.” (Classified’s coverage of the investigation into Exit and Way Out sets it apart from other books on censorship in Britain.)

The last major conviction for consiracy to corrupt public morals came in 1970, when three publishers of the underground magazine International Times received suspended sentences. In 1969 (issues 51-56), IT published a column of gay personal ads (Males), and this gave the Metropolitan Police the excuse they needed to prosecute the magazine, after several previous speculative raids on its offices. In an echo of the investigation into The Link fifty years earlier, and notwithstanding the legalisation of homosexuality in 1967, the police seized hundreds of letters sent in reply to the ads. The editors of a more famous underground title, Oz, were acquitted of conspiracy to corrupt public morals in 1971, though after a prolonged trial they were found guilty of obscenity (a verdict later overturned on appeal).

23 April 2022

Deep South


Deep South Deep South

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

Deep South Deep South

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

Deep South Deep South

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

Golem 2022:
Uncanny


Uncanny
Uncanny

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

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

Uncanny Uncanny

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

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.

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.