Thai Contemporary Artistic Practices in Transition

Explore the contemporary art world in Thailand from the late 1980s

By Bangkok Art and Culture Centre

Bangkok Art and Culture Centre

The story of metamorphosis in the farm by Montien BoonmaBangkok Art and Culture Centre

This exhibition seeks to chronologically explore the contemporary art world in Thailand from the late 1980s — a period which arguably marked the beginning of a significant transition — well into the 2000s as the modern art movement in the country is believed to reach its zenith. Artistic phenomena of great magnitude were witnessed during that time as people started to challenge the artistic power structure in traditional institutions and conventional art practices. In doing so, independent art spaces were created, accompanied by greater connections with transnational art networks, and, most importantly, the production of unconventional artworks from avant-garde artists at the time. This, in turn, resulted in what seemed like “RIFTS” in Thai art scene which have continued to exert their influence until the present day. 

Song for the Dead Art Exhibition by Kamol PhaosavasdiBangkok Art and Culture Centre

"Song for the Dead Art Exhibition" (1985), by Kamol Phaosavasdi 

"Song for the Dead Art Exhibition" narrates the transition into contemporary art as it rejects aesthetic conventions, yet expresses opposition to modern art and, at the same time, questions such a prominent art institution as Bhirasri Institute of Modern Art. In this piece, Kamol created an installation from scrap metal from old buildings and incorporated a live performance with the postmodern art manifesto being read aloud, interestingly marking the end of the modern art era. The exhibition presents a series of artworks comprising of videos of the installations, photographs, metal scrap, image of Marilyn Monroe, and a wall full of book pages pertaining to postmodern art and the artistic movements at the time. Though appearing at first glance to be a random mixture of eclectic objects, Kamol’s works actually represent assemblages of elements embedded with their own unique details and meanings.

Song for the Dead Art Exhibition by Kamol PhaosavasdiBangkok Art and Culture Centre

Song for the Dead Art Exhibition, Kamol Phaosavasdi, From the collection of: Bangkok Art and Culture Centre
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Manual Traces in the Paddy Field with Fish Net and Spade by Montien BoonmaBangkok Art and Culture Centre

"Manual Traces in the Paddy Field with Fish Net and Spade" (1991), by Montien Boonma (Exhibition copy courtesy of Montien Atelier by Estate of Montien Boonma)

Montien was among pioneering artists who created works of conceptual art that reflect the Thai identity and Buddhist philosophy, while evoking sensory experience in audience. One of the critical turning points in his artistic endeavors was the exhibition Story from the Farm in the late 1980s after his return from France. Montien created artworks using rural tools and local materials that had not been accepted as art media at the time, including soil, wood, hoe, fish net, and rice bunch. In his work "Manual Traces in the Paddy Field with Fish Net and Spade", the artist used soil as pigment and his hands as a paintbrush to create wave - like pattern, as well as pressing farming tools with clay to make different prints on paper. Moreover, the hand impressions on this artwork reflects physical exertion of Thai farmers and traces left by ordinary people.

Manual Traces in the Paddy Field with Fish Net and Spade by Montien BoonmaBangkok Art and Culture Centre

Manual Traces in the Paddy Field with Fish Net and Spade by Montien BoonmaBangkok Art and Culture Centre

The story of metamorphosis in the farm by Montien BoonmaBangkok Art and Culture Centre

"The story of metamorphosis in the farm" (1989), by Montien Boonma  (Exhibition copy courtesy of Montien Atelier by Estate of Montien Boonma )

"The story of metamorphosis in the farm" was outstanding not only because of the materials used, but also because it was selected to be displayed in the 8th Sydney Biennale together with works from other prominent conceptual artists in the international art arena. This marked a significant leap forward for Thai artists and the Thai art scene. Apart from defying conventional contemporary art practices in Thailand, these two artworks also capture the way in which objects that may appear to be simple were skillfully managed, reflecting the artist’s complex thought process.

The story of metamorphosis in the farm by Montien BoonmaBangkok Art and Culture Centre

The story of metamorphosis in the farm by Montien BoonmaBangkok Art and Culture Centre

Time and Experience by Kamin LertchaiprasertBangkok Art and Culture Centre

"Time and Experience" (1990), by Kamin Lertchaiprasert 

"Time and Experience" does not only reflect his life and work as it is also his first art object ever created after he began treating art as a ritualistic practice, an approach to art creation that he has adopted and performed to these days. For this series of artworks, Kamin rejected the conventional way of painting and instead painted the canvas with his hands. After that, he smeared his feet with the remaining acrylic paint on his hands, and made his footprint on paper. The artist displays 365 hand-painted pieces on the floor, and another 365 foot-printed pieces on the wall, deliberately juxtaposing the cultural meanings of what are considered “high” and “low”. Therefore, as we take a step on the floor, we are required to deeply explore the temporal evidence in the present moment, and the difference between the floor and artworks.

Time and Experience by Kamin LertchaiprasertBangkok Art and Culture Centre

Reading for one Female corpse by Araya RasdjarmrearnsookBangkok Art and Culture Centre

"Reading for one Female corpse" (1997), by Araya Rasdjarmrearnsook  

For this artwork, Araya was reading a Thai Classical literature "Inao" to the unclaimed, anonymous female corpse. The current exhibition features a video accompanying her first short story "Nuek Theung Yai (Thinking of Grandma)", recounting a mysterious, yet ordinary, event in her family after the passing of her grandmother. The display of "Motion Pictures" alongside "Words" is akin to a conversation of artistic practice which is part of Araya's art - creating process.

Reading for one Female corpse by Araya RasdjarmrearnsookBangkok Art and Culture Centre

Short Story "Thinking of Grandma" by Araya RasdjarmrearnsookBangkok Art and Culture Centre

Gallery View by Pinaree SanpitakBangkok Art and Culture Centre

"Kiwi works I", "Kiwi works II" (1985), "Womanly Stroke" (1998), "Solid as a rock" (1990) and "One of those nights" (1991), "The vessel / and everything in between"(2002 – 2004), by Pinaree Sanpitak 

Pinaree was among a few artists whose works explore the corporeality of femininities and materiality of bodies and organs through painting, photography, sculpture, and installation. Her works are astoundingly imbued with simplicity and ethereality, yet conveys a sense of strength and toughness through the use of materials, colors, and textures. Pinaree is inspired by shapes, natural materials, personal anecdotes, and sensory experiences. This exhibition displays a collection of her works which encompasses a progression of themes since the beginning of her artistic career until the 2000s. "The artworks Kiwi works I and II", her graduate thesis while studying in Japan, show the artist’s keen interest in natural shapes and materials. Pinaree’s later paintings "Solid as a rock" and "One of those nights", however, were influenced by a scene and a round curve of the female breast. This theme was carried on to the creation of "Womanly Stroke" which used soft and curved lines to represent the female body.

From Left: Kiwi works I , Kiwi works II , Womanly Stroke by Pinaree SanpitakBangkok Art and Culture Centre

Left: Solid as a rock, Right: One of those nights by Pinaree SanpitakBangkok Art and Culture Centre

The vessel / and everything in between by Pinaree SanpitakBangkok Art and Culture Centre

"The vessel / and everything in between"(2002 – 2004), by Pinaree Sanpitak 

"The vessel / and everything in between", a water container which embodies the notion of abundance. The assemblage of these lines reflects the artist’s language as she recounts stories of nature, femininity, daily life, and social limitations which are harmoniously blended together in a simple yet tenacious and stable form.

Gallery View by Prasong LuemuangBangkok Art and Culture Centre

"Dancing in Silence" (1987), "The prophecy" (1987), "Festival"(1988), by Prasong Luemuang 

Prasong’s early works during the late 1980s and the early 1990s marked a critical turning point in Thai neotraditionalism by proposing the notion of “Lanna-ness”. For the very first time, the idea of locality was brought up in national art competitions in Thailand.  Moreover, his works reflect the connection of traditional and contemporary art techniques. Each of his three exhibits on display has won national art awards, especially The Prophecy which won first prize in Thai traditional painting from the 11th Bua Luang Painting Exhibition, while Dancing in Silence and Festival won second and first prizes, respectively, from the National Exhibition of Art. Prasong’s works which represent the identity of “Lanna-ness” can be considered a pivotal part in the negotiation of “Conventional Thai Art”, both in terms of contents and techniques.

Dancing in Silence by Prasong LuemuangBangkok Art and Culture Centre

Festival by Prasong LuemuangBangkok Art and Culture Centre

The prophecy by Prasong LuemuangBangkok Art and Culture Centre

Gallery View by Tawatchai PuntusawasdiBangkok Art and Culture Centre

"Unstraight Ladder" (2002), "Unstraight Ladder (sketch)"(2002), "Twin Desk" (2009) and "Rulers", by Tawatchai Puntusawasdi 

Tawatchai's artworks prod us to explore the world of perception and question our perceived reality through a combination of mathematical calculations, perspective, and craftsmanship. The artist created a series of tilted sculptures to explain the imperfection of our visual perception. His sculpture "Unstraight Ladder" was created based on a very rough sketch on paper "Unstraight Ladder (sketch)". Though the original sketch was two dimensional and badly proportioned, the artist still managed to turn it into a tangible three-dimensional artwork. "Twin Desk" is a table-like sculpture with the same function as a real piece of furniture. Though it appears as if it were distorted and compressed into two-dimensional object, this artwork manages to prop up on its own without toppling. and "Rulers" was happened when he brought rulers to comparison, he found that the scales on his individual rulers are indeed different, hence his realization that even certified scales are not always accurate and reliable.

Twin Desk by Tawatchai PuntusawasdiBangkok Art and Culture Centre

From Left: Unstraight Ladder Sketch, Unstraight Ladder by Tawatchai PuntusawasdiBangkok Art and Culture Centre

Rulers by Tawatchai PuntusawasdiBangkok Art and Culture Centre

The sweetness of life by Chatchai PuipiaBangkok Art and Culture Centre

"The Yenarkat
Pavilion, 1999" (2019) "The sweetness of life" (1999), by Chatchai Puipia 

"The sweetness of life" (Painting) was part of his exhibition of a lifetime On the Way to See Buddha, Encountered Gauguin Passing by, I Think Twice (1999), which narrates the story of his life and work as inspired by the book Noa Noa: The Tahiti Journal of Paul Gauguin, a detailed journal of Gauguin’s experience in Tahiti. The present exhibition displays Chatchai’s works using the structure of a pavilion — similar to the one used by the artist himself in the past to create artworks — with decorative objects including Prasong Luemuang’s painting of the revered monk Khruba Siwichai, a hammock, a foot sculpture, sketches, and pages from the Thai edition of Noa Noa: The Tahiti Journal of Paul Gauguin.

Left: Wish you were here , Right: Siamese smile in a potty by Chatchai PuipiaBangkok Art and Culture Centre

Sunflowers by Chatchai PuipiaBangkok Art and Culture Centre

From Left: Paradise Perhaps, 3 bending gaga by Chatchai PuipiaBangkok Art and Culture Centre

Document materials by Chatchai PuipiaBangkok Art and Culture Centre

Hearts by Chumpon ApisukBangkok Art and Culture Centre

"Hearts" (2000 – 2007) The documentation of performance works, by Chumpon Apisuk

Chumpon is one of the pioneers of performance art in Thailand and Southeast Asia, and also a prominent figure in establishing new, independent art spaces. Moreover, Chumpon has also been involved in social and political movements, earning him the reputation of being an artist-activist. His live performances are simple yet powerful, using body language to reflect social phenomena and ways in which the artist interacts with different objects. Videos documenting his performances of Hearts in different times and locations, including Japan, South Korea, Malaysia, the US, Poland, and Spain, have been compiled for display on six screens at the exhibition. In this performance, the artist uses heart-shaped balloons as a symbol of love and hope in desperate times, while his breath, which represents the state of being alive, is constantly blown into the balloons until they burst. This is aimed to provoke a startle response which prods viewers to ponder deeply over different global crises, from natural disaster in Taiwan and political violence in Myanmar and Pakistan, to the genocide in Timor and Kosovo. These are just examples of the many incidents that took place around the world in the 2000s, the same period that the artist performed "Hearts".

Pink Man Begins by Manit SriwanichpoomBangkok Art and Culture Centre

"Pink Man Begins" (1997), by Manit Sriwanichpoom  

Manit Sriwanichpoom is a founder of one of the very first photo galleries in Thailand. His professional experience in mass communication and documentary production coupled with his personal interest have influenced his fascination with political history and relevant contemporary events in society, especially the aftermath of the end of the Cold War in Indochina and the influence of globalization on urban landscape. This, in turn, prompted the creation of an iconic figure in his oeuvre Pink Man. The exhibition features a series of his photographs entitled Pink Man Begins which have never been put on display before, complemented by video documenting his performance works. These exhibits show the beginning of Manit’s famous Pink Man series, with the artist’s friend Sompong Thawee playing the “Pink Man”, a character cladded in a garish pink suit. Carrying a satirical tone aimed to criticize capitalism and consumerism in Thai society, these three videos also depict the atmosphere of Bangkok’s business district two months before the baht was floated which eventually resulted in the “Tom Yum Kung” financial crisis in 1997.

Pink Man Begins by Manit SriwanichpoomBangkok Art and Culture Centre

Exotic 101 by Michael ShaowanasaiBangkok Art and Culture Centre

"Exotic 101" (1997), by Michael Shaowanasai 

Michael is the first Thai artists who brought up the issue of gender. He often uses his own body in an attempt to contrast with images of masculine, feminine, and queer archetypes  to critique Thai normative gender and sexuality since the late 1990s — a period when such ideas were not widely discussed in public spaces. His work "Exotic 101" represents another provocative objet d’art that exemplifies Thailand’s duality as, on one hand, Thai society is known for being strict and religious and, on the other hand, the country is infamous for its sex industry which is a lucrative source of national income. The artist created a single-channel video installation to symbolize sex education in Thailand, while using Thai-accented English to teasingly ridicule Thainess as a rather bizarre culture.

Exotic 101 by Michael ShaowanasaiBangkok Art and Culture Centre

Navin Gallery Bangkok Taxi Gallery, Bangkok, Thailand. by Navin RawanchaikulBangkok Art and Culture Centre

"Navin Gallery Bangkok" (Taxi Gallery), Bangkok, Thailand, in collaboration with the taxi driver Chawee Sitabut & invited artists (1995 – 2000), by Navin Rawanchaikul 

Navin is known for portraits painted in a comic - or movie billboard-style. Through dynamic art practices, his oeuvre often explores questions about art space and people’s daily lives. His art projects help to integrate art space with quotidian activities, allowing people to interact with objet d’art in public venues. His work Navin Gallery exemplifies his artistic practice as this landmark project has travelled far and wide, prompting important contemporary art movements both domestically and internationally for over 20 years. This exhibition presents the documentation of artwork installation of Navin Gallery Bangkok (Taxi Gallery), Bangkok, Thailand which involved the collaboration with the taxi driver Chawee Sitabut and other invited artists during the 1990s. During that time, the Thai art scene still lacked public art institutions, hence the artist’s decision to turn a typical taxi into a mobile art gallery. For this reason, a simple car was then transformed into an art space. This exhibition comprehensively presents the documentation of artwork installation, from the car’s roof painted with a replica of the mural of Bowon Niwet Temple originally painted by Khrua In Khong, recorded footages, costumes, photographs, personal journal of Chawee Sitabut, the taxi driver, and a fax from Rirkrit Tiravanija.

Navin Gallery Bangkok Taxi Gallery, Bangkok, Thailand. by Navin RawanchaikulBangkok Art and Culture Centre

untitled, jed sian samurai by Rirkrit TiravanijaBangkok Art and Culture Centre

"untitled (2004), jed sian samurai 2019", by Rirkrit Tiravanija 

"untitled (2004), jed sian samurai 2019" which is featured in this exhibition has been inspired by untitled, his first solo exhibition in Thailand in 2004. For that exhibition, Rirkrit made Thai coconut chicken soup using the recipe of his grandmother, who happened to be a prominent cookbook writer in Thailand. The artist used seven pots to cook right in front of his audience, turning it into a real-time experience, transforming the formality of art gallery into a welcoming kitchen and living area where the exhibition visitors can participate in the cooking and share a meal together as part of the art installation.

untitled, jed sian samurai by Rirkrit TiravanijaBangkok Art and Culture Centre

Credits: Story

Exhibition Name: RIFTS: Thai contemporary artistic practices in transition, 1980s – 2000s

Curators: Chol Janepraphaphan and Kasamaponn Saengsuratham

Viewing Period: 30 August - 24 November 2019, at Main Gallery on 9th floor, Bangkok Art and Culture Centre, Thailand

Organized by: Bangkok Art and Culture Centre
Principal Supporter: Thai Beverage Public Company Limited
Project Supporters: Innovation Plus Company Limited, Subhashok the Arts Centre, Index Creative Village, Lit Bangkok Hotel, Saliot Lighting Innovation, and Antalis (Thailand Ltd.)
Photos: Bangkok Art and Culture Centre

Bangkok Art and Culture Centre
Address: 939 Rama 1 Road, Wangmai, Pathumwan, Bangkok 10330, Thailand
Opening Time: Tuesday - Sunday, at 10.00 - 19.00 hrs. (closed on Mondays), last admission to Main Gallery at 18.30 hrs.

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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