Bangkok Art Biennale : Beyond Bliss

Bangkok Art Biennale : Beyond Bliss


Bangkok Art Biennale:

Beyond Bliss

Catherine Vanesse

17 October 2018

By hosting the first edition of the Bangkok Art Biennale, the Thai capital is placing itself as a top artistic destination on the Asian and international scene.

The Bangkok Art Biennale (BAB) officially begins on October 19 and is set to be the biggest contemporary art event ever organized in thailand.

Until February 3, 75 artists will be taking over some twenty-odd emblematic locations of the capital city: public spaces, exhibition halls, luxury hotels, shopping centers, and even Buddhist temples.

“Most large European cities have their own biennale beyond their tourism offerings, and we wanted to make Bangkok an artistic destination, not only through its museums and religious sites, but with installations in public spaces, art galleries, and historic sites,” explains Dr. Apinan Poshyananda, the Artistic Director of the Bangkok Art Biennale. “We want to show the world that contemporary art is thriving in Thailand and that art isn’t only religious.”

“The biggest contemporary art fairs take place in Hong Kong, Singapore, and Taiwan. It’s clear that Asia has caught the interest of the entire world, and geographically speaking, Thailand enjoys a great location. The biggest obstructions sometimes come from the authorities, who try tirelessly to promote a country that supposedly hasn’t changed in 200 years. The various biennales may change this perspective,” says Myrtille Tibayrenc, the Artistic Director of the Toot Young Art Center in Chiang Mai.

Yuan Goang Ming - Tomorrowland -Taiwan - BACC
Wisut Ponnimit
Alex Face - Memory House - Thailand - Bank of Thailand Learning Center

Besides 35 Thai artists, the BAB will be hosting 40 foreign artists, including Marina Abramovic (from the former Yugoslavia), Yayoi Kurama (Japan), Yan Pei Ming (China/France), Huang Yong Ping (China/France), Aurèle (France), Yoshitomo Nara (Japan), Choi Jeong Hwa (South Korea), AES+F (Russia), and even Art Labor (Vietnam), among others.

In total, 28 countries will be represented. “This is a wonderful showcase for Thailand as well as an open window onto the world for the country. Holding a biennale puts Bangkok on par with other large capitals as a true platform for contemporary art. It is a strong signal that will attract visitors and art professionals,” says Fabian Forni, the Cooperation and Cultural Action Advisor at the French Embassy, who is organizing the famous Galleries’ Night, which will close the biennale on February 1 and 2.

At the same time, several other events have already been scheduled, including the Street Urban Culture Highlight from November 15 to December 1, carried out as part of the Franco- German Cultural Fund, as well as Ghosts: 2561, a series of artistic performances and video projections on the very Thai-based theme of ghosts from October 11 to 28, and farther away from the capital, Khon Kaen Manifesto, a more rural and “underground” event focusing on communities, being supported in part by MAIIAM.

Some of these events are sponsored by the BAB and organized along with it, while others are being set up more independently as alternatives. The essence of a biennale also lies in all these “off” events, and there will be many satellite events in public spaces and art galleries already established in the capital city.

“There has never been an event of this scale. It’s a great opportunity for those who don’t know about contemporary art to discover it, giving them a new experience where art meets the public,” says the famous photographer Manit Sriwanichpoom.

Natee Utarit - The Introspection - Thailand - One Bangkok
Yoshitomo Nara - Your Dog - japan - One Bangkok
Yayoi Kusama - Japan - Central World

Art and the Sacred

In order to reach the public even better and to give a unique touch to the world of biennales, the BAB will be present in certain religious sites in the capital. And not just any sites, but three of the most famous and visited temples in Bangkok: Wat Arun, Wat Pho, and Wat Prayoon.

“Art in temples is nothing new – it’s always existed. People go to temples and learn the teachings of Buddha through mural paintings. It’s a simple way to communicate. By asking artists to create installations in these temples, we want to show how contemporary art remains linked with science, literature, and culture. We simply ask the artists to make it so that their work remains harmonious with traditional art,” says Dr. Apinan.

To the Thai people, these temples represent many things: wisdom, the first Thai University, astrology, cosmogony, medicine, cultural exchange, and so on. These locations demand deep reflection, as explained by Thai artist Tawatchai Puntusawasdi: “I often go to Wat Pho. This place is very important to me and to the Thai people. When Dr. Apinan asked me to create an artwork in the temple, at first I was full of fear! I was afraid of showing what I could create, of putting myself in danger, that people would react badly because it is such a traditional place where everything is already perfect.”

Born in Bangkok in 1971, Tawatchai studied classical art before working under Montien Boonma and focusing more on contemporary art.

“I’ve done a lot of research to deal with this fear and to come up with an idea. In the end, I’m going to do a sculpture inspired by the wall frescoes of Wat Pho, a sort of transformation of 2D art into 3D. The work will play with the shadows and call on the imagination of the public,” says the artist, who recently took part in the 21st Sydney Biennale.

Tawatchai - Thailand - Wat Pho
Phaptawan Suwannnakakudt - Artpieces - Thailand Australia - Wat Pho
Pannapan Yodmanee - Singapore biennale 2016 - Thailand - Wat Pho

“I think that this gives it a very Thai touch – a unique aspect by using places like Wat Arun and Wat Pho, setting the Bangkok Biennale apart from others in the world,” explains Sanitas Pradittasnee, the artist and architect landscaper in charge of an installation at Wat Arun, along with those by Komkrit Tepthian and Sakarin Krue-On.

For several years, Sanitas has studied Khao Mo, which are sorts of miniature mountains usually found in royal palaces and temples. For the BAB, Sanitas plans on setting up transparent red screens around the Khao Mo located near the temple. “Khao Mo could be considered as a mountain of beliefs. People can move around both outside, which I associate with materialism, and inside the installation, inviting them to look within themselves,” explains the young woman.

Sanitas Pradittasnee - Experiment_outside in - Thailand - Wat Arun
Sakarin Krue-On - Tatien - Thailand - Wat Arun

In order to travel to another world, the artist Torlarp Larpjaroensook presents a sort of spaceship made up of old cupboards, dressing tables, and wardrobes at Wat Prayoon. “I grew up on a boat in the region of Ayutthaya. This work is inspired by my grandmother and my childhood. The idea is that in every drawer, you can imagine you’ll discover memories and remembrances of the past,” explains Torlap.

“People sometimes think they don’t get art, but art is not separate from ordinary people. Temples are full of art, but people aren’t always aware of it,” adds the artist, who works out of Chiang Mai, where he owns the Seescape Gallery.

With passion and enthusiasm, he adds, “I was really excited when BAB organizers contacted me. I’ve already been to other biennales as a visitor, and I’ve always wondered why Thailand never had its own. Usually, you see big names in the world of art, but I’m just a local artist, so taking part in this first edition is a dream come true.”

Along with Torlarp Larpjaroensook, Wat Prayoon will host works by Montien Boonma, one of the biggest Thai contemporary artists, as well as those by Arnont Nongyao, Kamol Phaosavasdi, Nino Sarabutra, Krit Ngamsom, and Italian artist Paolo Canevari.

Torlarp Larpjaroensook -Spiritual Space Ship - Thailand -Wat Prayoon
Krit Ngamsom -Turtles - Thailand - Wat Prayoon

Transition or explosion?

With the recent closure of the Bangkok Biennial and the opening on November 2 of the Thailand Biennale in Krabi, this year the kingdom is launching several other efforts to promote and get people talking about contemporary art through independent, public, and private initiatives. Besides attracting collectors and the media, these events are meant to be open to the widest audience possible – people who often think of art as being inaccessible and relegated to museums and galleries.

Although organizing several biennales in the same period or in such a short time can be a concern, Dr. Apinan instead sees this as a positive sign: “People used to complain that there was no biennale, and now we have three in the same year. I think this is a good thing.”

“Three biennales in the same year doesn’t really help with credibility on the international level, but at the same time, all the satellite events are interesting,” says Eric Booth, the cofounder of MAIIAM.

From her point of view as an artist, Sanitas Pradittasnee considers this juxtaposition of events as a sign of a transition period. “For people who are not part of the world of art, this may be confusing, but we’re moving in the right direction, with lots of works and artists to discover. This year will bring change in the future, I believe.”

In the late 1980s and early 1990s, Thailand saw the emergence of its first contemporary artists such as Montien Boonma, Mit Jai Inn, Vasan Sitthiket, Manit Sriwanichpoom, Ing K, Sutee Kunavichayanont, Navin Rawanchaikul, Rirkrit Tiravanija, Apichatpong Weerasethakul, and so on. In 1992, the first annual contemporary art meeting took place in Thailand, the Chiang Mai Social Installation (CMSI), which saw works set up in public spaces until 1998.

“There was an initial boom in the early 1990s, but with the political and economic instability the country went through, conditions weren’t always favorable. We hope that the BAB will give new life to contemporary art. Art’s place should be considered with regard to the political and economic context of a country. If the economy is good and politics are stable, art will follow,” explains Dr. Apinan.

For Manit, several factors explain the emergence of contemporary art in the 1990s and its renewed interest in the past ten years, owing in part to a change and an openness in art schools in Thailand (even the most traditional University of Silpakorn offers a contemporary art degree), and also to the opening of places like the BACC in 2008 and several art galleries.

“Galleries have sprung up like mushrooms. Some have closed, but there are always new ones that open. This proves there’s public interest and interest by contemporary art professionals, even though they don’t always know where the market is and that it grows slowly,” he says.

“There aren’t enough collectors in Thailand. With the BAB, we hope to incite art lovers to start collecting more, even though in the event we especially want visitors to appreciate the works and for local galleries and artists to gain recognition internationally. We’ll see how this first edition goes, but I think that won’t stop in 2022. We’re going to need more than three editions!” says Dr. Apinan.

A French Touch

Being involved since the event was announced, the French Embassy is intervening on several levels of the BAB, not least of which is due to the large presence of French artists.

With four artists, France is indeed the biggest foreign contingent. Visitors can discover the sculptural work of Sara Favriau in the historical East Asiatic building, works from the founder of the Xiamen Dada movement, Huang Yong Ping at Wat Pho and the Bank of Thailand Learning Center (BOT), Aurèle’s Lost Dog at the Mandarin Oriental, and finally, a monumental work by Yan Pei Ming created for the new Alliance Française, the official opening of which will take place just before the BAB’s opening, on October 18.

The Biennale is set to be full of events sponsored by the French Embassy, including a street art project split into three parts in the course of November and, as a climax, the now famous, Galleries’ Night, which will take place on the first weekend of February, closing up the BAB. “Galleries’ Night and other events make up several ways of bringing French expertise to the region’s contemporary art – a real interconnection between the official sites of the BAB and galleries,” summarizes Fabian Forni.

BAB in a Box

The main information center for BAB 2018 will be the BAB Box, where more than 10 artworks will be exhibited, including a canvas painting by Basquiat. As a landmark in the center of the city, this first building of megaprojects One Bangkok provides information on artworks, transportation guide and map of the exhibiting venues.

One last thing: the BAB app will allows to access infos and organize visits itineraries.

Mr. Wirasak Kowsoorad, Minister of Tourism and Sports concludes: “We look forward to Bangkok becoming a hub that connects international arts and cultures, as well as a top tourist destination recognized by travelers around the world. People will now recognize Thailand with the Bangkok Art Biennale, on top of our natural attractions and historical places.”

October 19 – February 3, 2019

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Jean Michel Basquiat - USA - One Bangkok
Huang Yong Ping - Dragon boat - China in France - Bank of Thailand Learning Center
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