Friends of BAB

ART AT HEART

Friends of BAB

Christine Wolfgang

14 January 2019

Looking after Thailand for the National Gallery in Singapore, Adele Tan knew the Thai scene well before actively participating in this first Bangkok Art Biennale within the curating team. A regular visitor to the city more than any other, she has been familiar with the Bangkok scene for many years.

“Every biennale would have its own history and then its own legacy thereafter,” the famous curator told Latitudes. “For Bangkok, this time, you saw the line-up, it was a wish that half of the representation would be given over to Thai artists. It was definitely also built as a platform to showcase young talent, particularly those who’ve not had the opportunity to show internationally, and to bring them in contact with artists in the region as well as globally. I don’t think the Biennale was made as an event for collectors. It was an event for the city, for the people. It was a way to get the common people involved in the showing and viewing of the art. But this is only the beginning, events like the BAB create a dynamic. I think that was something that Dr Apinan considered really well, because he contacted the temples as well as the shopping centers. He has also chosen quite judiciously some artists with that kind of spectacular power. Different sites activate different types of artist, so if you’re lucky enough to match to all the sites, you actually see quite a good spread. And there are plenty of outstanding young artists and curators in Thailand, looking forward for much more young blood to be injected in, the next round.”

Among all those artists and installations, Adele Tan recommends, “Definitely one of the temples, Wat Prayoon. But also the work at BACC, and then one of the off sites. Because I think they all bring together different relationships, either with the space or the artworks mixed to them. Finally, the Alliance française, where there are coincidentally two Chinese artists, Yan Pei-Ming and Tao Hui. The juxtaposition is really interesting: Yan Pei-Ming shows a painting of his mother and Tao Hui a portrait of a young Iranian woman, talking her hopes and dreams.”

In Thailand, the political context drives a lot of the artists to express in subtile ways… “They employ a certain kind of dexterity and behind this so-called ‘deference,’ they try to find ways to talk about quite difficult issues and at the same time pay homage to their own cultural traditions. People see that perhaps more strongly in the works installed out in the temples. I think that’s also taping into a certain kind of long-running strain of their own dedications, which they’ve not given up, which they refer to time and time again. Of course, like all contemporary artists they want to not only make beautiful aesthetically pleasing pieces, but they also want their works to be emotionally or intellectually meaningful.”

Most of the foreign artists also have a strong message to deliver.

“Apinan already set up the theme ‘beyond bliss’ before I came on board,” Adele continues, “I guess somehow it has also set the tone as he would like this kind of biennale to do. So there is quite a lot of work that talked about global conflict and ways to resolve it. You have probably seen the biennale works referring to the Rohingyas, for example in Marina Abramović section. Among these types of tensions in global relations, the Aurèle’s Lost Dogs are also one way of talking about it but using another kind of metaphor or symbol.”

Aurèle, the Last Lost Dog?

“The ‘Lost Dog’ is a metaphor of our own existence,” explains Aurèle from the beginning. For the Biennale, the artist created “MaLong,” a more spiritual version of the “Lost Dog” as a tribute to the temples and the golden Buddha at Wat Traimit. He says, “Only prayer can save us.”

Not far from the Mandarin Oriental, where “Ma Long” looks over the East Asiatic Building, other “Lost Dogs” send their message of hope and humanity at the P.Tendercool Gallery.

It all began with paintings, then a collaboration between Aurèle and François Russo resulted in a series of transverse pieces such as chairs and a set of spinoffs, and even a “Lost Dog” made of leather, directly inspired by the work of Xavier Veilhan. Along with these unique pieces, Aurèle has contributed elements from his personal collection as remnants of seven years spent in China.

The artist wanted this exhibition to evoke Thailand above all, and nothing could be better than the color gold to symbolize it. The designer loves this color, and like Yves Klein, left behind his IAY (International Aurèle Yellow) a few years ago.

Out of all his creations, we noticed a “Lost Dog” sculpted in an acacia trunk the artist found already cut and which he decided to use for what will probably be his last “Lost Dog.”

After 30 years of almost monomaniacal creation, the time has now become evident. “This dog is more than ever lost in pollution, wars, and disease. He has always fed a secret hope of leaving a better world for future generations. I used to be persuaded I was delivering the good news that the world would bounce back. Today, I find myself truly in a moment of prayer because I really don’t see how we can get through it.”

Continuing to make art as he has done for decades, Aurèle no longer sees the point. But he is far from stopping, he instead imagines what will come next.

Within the program of the Biennale, Aurèle strongly recommends the work by Huang Yong Ping and Nino Sarabutra at Wat Prayoon. He has also noted an interesting installation at the BACC with a set of remarkable pieces, including “Forest Floor” by Australian artist Fiona Hall, or “Diluvium” by Korean artist Lee Bul at the East Asiatic Building. Finally, he won’t forget a nod at his fellow French artist Sara Favriau.

Sara Favriau, Less Comparable

The winner of the Discovery Award by the Friends of the Palais de Tokyo and the award for Best Installation at the YIA (Young International Artists) Art Fair in 2014, Sara Favriau enthusiastically answered Dr. Apinan’s invitation for her first participation in a biennial exhibition.

Sara Favriau’s approach to material is fascinating. She sometimes works in plaster, sometimes in wood, which she sculpts and shapes by hand, revealing a certain fragility that can be surprising, but which wins us over.

For the BAB, the French artist has developed a series of sculpted tree trunks exhibited in the historic East Asiatic Building. Actually, it was when she first visited this place that Sara had the idea to create this on-site piece.

Entitled “Rien n’est moins comparable” (Nothing is Less Comparable), the work evokes both large columns and a forest of conifers. The installation is positioned as a landscape within the architecture and bears witness to the artist’s attachment to raw forms and natural materials.

Sara provides a rather passive outlook on this first edition while reminding us that participating in a biennial exhibition of contemporary art represents a “true commitment.” She also highlights the courage of the organizers, who managed to set up an event where “everything needed to be built.”

From the Bangkok Art Biennale, Sara particularly remembers the work of Indonesian artist Heri Dono, who is also being exhibited at the East Asiatic Building with “The Female Angels,” a series of hanging automatons that you can move by flipping a switch.

The Art of Being Vulnerable

It’s 1974. There is a gallery in Naples, and there is a young girl, age 23, standing in the middle of the space. In the front of her is a table with 76 objects. Some are for pleasure: a coat, a feather, some perfume. Some are for pain: a knife, an iron bar, a razor blade, a pistol with one bullet. There are instructions which say,
“I’m an object. You can use everything on the table on me. I’m taking all responsibility – even killing me. The time is six hours.”

The woman who has been mad enough, or brave enough, to achieve such a performance is one of the most emblematic artists of this Biennale 2018.
Marina Abramović began her conference by showing images taken at the MoMa in 2010. During 3 months, she sat from the opening to the closing of the museum, offering to passersby the opportunity to sit in front of her as long as they wish. Faces pass, full of emotion.

Then, Marina started to talk.
“Performance is a living form of Art. The audience and the performer make the piece together. All human beings are always afraid of very simple things: suffering, pain, mortality. I’m staging these kinds of fears in front of the audience. I’m using your energy, and with this energy I can go and push my body as far as I can. And then I liberate myself from these fears. And I’m your mirror. If I can do this for myself, you can do it for you.”

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