WHILE THE eventual outcome of the current conflict over subsidies to the Bangkok Art and Culture Centre by the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration remains uncertain, the potential of the Thai capital as a contemporary art hub in the region is being thrust into the spotlight with the opening this week of the first-ever international Bangkok Art Biennale (BAB).
Kicking off on Friday, the Biennale is fortunate to have plenty of private sponsorship for its three-and-a-half-month run, allowing it to showcase more than 200 art pieces by 75 international and Thai artists spread over 20 venues around the city from galleries, riverside temples and hotels to malls and historical buildings.
Yayoi Kusama’s sculpture “I Carry On Living with the Pumpkins” will be presented at Fashion Gallery of Siam Paragon. /courtesy of Bangkok Art Biennale
“Beyond Bliss” is the theme conceived by BAB’s chief artistic director Apinan Poshyananda and his curatorial team, who include Adle Tan from the National Gallery Singapore, Patrick D Flores from the University of the Philippines and Luckana Kunavichanyanont, the former director of BACC.
“Beyond Bliss may be paradoxical to the world we live in. It can be happiness that is followed by sadness or perhaps unhappiness that is finally prolonged happiness. At least, art can raise consciousness of what we’re facing,” says Apinan. “I’m sure a lot of people won’t like it and many people will love it. But it’s up to the viewer to choose what he or she favours or otherwise.”
Here are sneak previews of some of the works at a few of the venues.
Marina Abramovic will have her performances at BACC from Thursday to November 11. /courtesy of Bangkok Art Biennale
The Bangkok Art and Culture Centre is BAB’s main venue with 25 international and Thai artists showing here. Among them is a big name from the world of performance art, Marina Abramovic, who will explore the relationship between performer and audience, the limits of the body and the possibilities of the mind through her performance running from Thursday to November 11.
Her best-known and critically acclaimed work is 2010’s “The Artist is Present”, in which she sat silently at a wooden table across from an empty chair for seven hours a day, six days a week for three months at New York’s Museum of Modern Art as more than 1,000 people took turns sitting in the chair to gaze at her.
She credits the Aboriginal idea of “here and now” where everything is happening in the present time as being one of the major influences on her life’s work. She has yet to reveal what she will perform at BAB, though a restage of “The Artist is Present” is expected.
South Korean choreographer Jihyun Youn from Marina Abramovic Institute will convey the emotion of lament into measurable geometry through her daily eight-hour performance. Nationphoto/Wanchai Kraisornkhajit
Inspired by Abramovic’s performing method, the Marina Abramovic Institute (MAI) – a multidisciplinary collaboration of artists for immaterial art and long durational works – is bringing eight artists who will each present a daily eight-hour performance over the three-week period on the theme “A Possible Island?”
MAI artist, South Korean choreographer Jihyun Youn’s “Geometry of Lamentation” will convey the abstract of emotion into measurable geometry. Each day, she will sew white paper pieces into the traditional Korean dress known as a hanbok and wear a white mask while moving in a dance, the sequence of which is regenerated from the geometrical form of the Korean alphabet Hangeul.
“I will work on the emotion of lamentation and objects by putting myself as an object of lament,” says Youn.
Taweesak Molsawat will walk from his home in the Ram Indra area to the BACC during the performing period. Nationphoto/Wanchai Kraisornkhajit
To question the sense of being a human in this fast-changing world, Thai artist Taweesak Molsawat will walk from his home in the Ram Indra area to the BACC during the performing period. Each day, he will hold an object taken from his home and the walk, which will take about five hours, will be along different routes and live broadcast through Facebook, simultaneously playing on the TV screen at his performance space at BACC.
Myanmar artist Lin Htet’s performance will explore the identity of minority and Rohingya crisis. Nationphoto/Wanchai Kraisornkhajit
Myanmar artist Lin Htet will spend the entire three weeks within an enclosed structure made up of barriers and barbed wire as he comments on the ongoing Rohingya crisis.
Viewers are invited to join Indian artist Vandana in constantly gazing at a candle flame, challenging their minds to stay in the present and connecting with their inner selves.
Huang Yong Ping’s mythical creatures “Zou You He Che” /courtesy of Bangkok Art Biennale
At Sala Masikawan of Wat Pho, which is decorated with murals of Chinese tales, Chinese-French artist Huang Yong Ping who formed the avant-garde movement Xiamen Dada in China will present fantastic Chinese creatures with scrolls related to medicine in their mouths. Wisdom, faith and healing as a pursuit for happiness are shared by Buddhist and Chinese philosophies.
The myth about Tha Tian – one of Bangkok’s oldest communities next to Wat Pho and opposite Wat Arun – has inspired Thai artist Sakarin Krue-On to produce a short film on the battle of giants.
Sakarin Krue-On’s Tha Tian Art Project “The Guardian Giants VS The Super Magnificent Man” /courtesy of Bangkok Art Biennale
Legend says that the giant guardian statues that now stand in front of the mondop of Wat Pho used to be actual giant warriors. They got into a battle with their counterparts from across the river at Wat Arun. The fighting was so fierce that it levelled all of the area subsequently known as Tha Tien, and the Lord Shiva was so mightily displeased at the destruction that he turned all of the giants into eternal stone security guards for the temples. And that’s why the battlefield came to be known as Tha Tian – it literally means “wiped-out pier”.
Sakarin’s version is a playful critique on recent angry arguments by so-called giants that resulted in depression and disillusionment. The film will be screened at both Wat Pho and Wat Arun.
Komkrit Tepthian’s three-metre-tall fibreglass sculpture “Giant Twins” /courtesy of Bangkok Art Biennale
The myth of the giant warriors and the legend of Siamese twins Chang and Eng also inspired Thai artist Komkrit Tepthian to create the three-metre-tall fibreglass sculpture “Giant Twins” made out of Lego parts. The conjoined twin figures consisting of a giant and a hybridised stone Chinese warrior are his reinvention of a Sino-Siamese mixture.
Sanitas Pradittasnee’s project “Across the Universe and Beyond” /courtesy of Bangkok Art Biennale
Inspired by the temple’s khao mor – a rock garden modelled after the mythical mountain Sumeru that is believed to be the centre of the universe, landscape architect Sanitas Pradittasnee will create a contemporary version of the sacred enclosure to remind people how small we are in this universe.
Montien Boonma’s “Zodiac House” /courtesy of Bangkok Art Biennale
The riverside temple is home to several works dealing with spiritualism. The installation art “Zodiac House” by late artist Montien Boonma, who is considered the father of Thai contemporary interactive art, is being recreated at the temple’s Sala Kanparien (Sermon Hall), and viewers are invited to go inside his six figures symbolising different aspects of a church chapel. They are infused with scented herbs and a view of the stars is rendered through pinprick holes in the ceiling.
Nino Sarabutra invites visitors to walk barefoot on her porcelain skulls. /courtesy of Bangkok Art Biennale
Another Thai ceramic artist Nino Sarabutra invites visitors to journey, barefoot on a bed of miniature porcelain skulls to stimulate contemplation of their existence through her site-specific work “What Will You Leave Behind?” exhibited around the principal stupa.
Yayoi Kusama’s sculpture “I Carry On Living with the Pumpkins” (Silver) will be presented at Siam Paragon. /courtesy of Bangkok Art Biennale
Bangkok will be dipped in polka dots and pumpkins by Yayoi Kusama, the eccentric Japanese purveyor of optical delusions.
Her two fibreglass sculptures “I Carry On Living with the Pumpkins” (Red) and “I Carry On Living with the Pumpkins” (Silver) will captivate visitors with dazzling colours at Siam Paragon’s Fashion Gallery, while, her installation “Inflatable Pumpkins Balloons” will be displayed at CentralWorld.
Happy Happy Project: Love Me Pig I” made from synthetic textile by Choi Jeong Hwa will be displayed at Siam Center. /courtesy of Bangkok Art Biennale
Choi Jeong Hwa, a bad boy of South Korean art who has always created site-specific installations from mass-produced everyday objects, will present his “Happy Happy’’ project at Siam Center, Siam Discovery and Central Embassy.
Yoshitomo Nara’s “Your Dog” and “Miss Forest” /courtesy of Bangkok Art Biennale
Yoshitomo Nara will display his white gigantic dog sculpture “Your Dog”, similar to the one shown at Patong Beach in 2005 after the tsunami disaster, in a public space at One Bangkok. Another of his sculptures, the bronze “Miss Forest”, which is inspired by nature and the supernatural, will stand at Nai Lert Park Heritage Home.
SEEING IS BELIEVING
Bangkok Art Biennale 2018 runs from Friday to February 3 at 20 locations around Bangkok.
Find out more at www.BKKArtBiennale.com or download the application “BAB 2018”.