Experience the Intangible "In Situ"

Explore the period of King Rama IV through the minds, ears, and eyes of contemporary multidisciplinary collaborators

Audience Interaction with 'The Ghost of Wang Na' (2019-03-03/2019-03-03) by Tul Waitoonkiat and MarmosetsThe Front Palace: Wang Na

The Power of the Intangible

Some of the most sensory elements of our heritage, such as music and language, are intangible and it is that very nature that makes them a powerful - if difficult - method of transmission. We sought to explore how a museum could display such subjective and sensory experiences in a way that resonated with a contemporary audience, triggering within them a connection to the past. 

Long Shot of Tul and Marmoset's 'Ghosts of Wangna' (2019-03-03/2019-03-03) by Pakon MusikaboonlertThe Front Palace: Wang Na

Tul Waitoonkiat, lead singer of the rock band Apartment Khunpa, teamed up with electronic composer Marmosets to rearrange a song composed by Second King Pinklao, interweaving traditional Thai instruments with contemporary electronic tools to create a song entitled “Ghosts of Wang Na."

As an introspective observer of human behavior and way of life, Tul questions whether our past is real or merely an illusion. What's gone is gone, but we still see traces of the past through architecture, folktales, literature, songs, or even textbook materials. And history may be, and can be distorted or interpreted differently from one person to the next.

Visitors can wear the provided headphones to experience the sounds on site, or scan the QR code printed on the handouts distributed to the public.

A Ranad (Thai Xylophone) (2019-03-03/2019-03-03) by Pakon MusikaboonlertThe Front Palace: Wang Na

“We first borrowed a ranad (Thai xylophone) from the permanent collection of the museum to produce the melody before modulating it with elements of electronic sound for a distorted effect,” says Tul.

Takeaway Postcards and Earphones for 'Ghosts of Wangna' (2019-03-03/2019-03-03) by Pakon MusikaboonlertThe Front Palace: Wang Na

Ghost of Wang Na was inspired by passions that Tul and Marmosets share – song and music. Music is universal. It is agalico, timeless. The beauty of music and lyrics composed in the past originated, existed, and eventually ceased. They explore how these emotions can be triggered by a musical piece, and how the reactions differ from one person to another, dictated by their unique past, taste, and lifestyle.

Gold Leaves on the Installation for 'Ghosts of Wangna' (2019-03-03/2019-03-03) by Pakon MusikaboonlertThe Front Palace: Wang Na

Music from the past may be reused, modified through sampling, or rearranged to be more upbeat than the original versions. An intangible sense of being could be sparked, zapping through our minds, and dashing towards the microphone, drum machine, sampler-eventually freeing itself from the speakers. Of course, no one can see such an intangible being.To listen is more than just to hear.

-Tul Waitoonkiat

Mural in Buddhaisawan Chapel (2019-03-03/2019-03-03) by The CloudThe Front Palace: Wang Na

Buddhaisawan Chapel and the memories which lay dormant within its murals

One of the first structures built within the Front Palace during the reign of King Rama I, Buddhaisawan Chapel contains murals, considered a masterpiece of the early Rattankosin Period.

In this series of murals, artists recount the life of the Lord Buddha, integrating artistic motifs, details, and local flora into the story that reflect the artists' own personal context. The resulting murals thus contain not only the Buddha's story but also the memories of the individual artists.

Kitichate's Postcard (2019-07-22/2019-07-22) by Kitichate SridithThe Front Palace: Wang Na

Kitichate Sridith, a botanist and educator, grew up in the Bangkok Noi area surrounding the former Front Palace. Kitichate spent days examining the flora within the mural art of Buddhaisawan Chapel, reviving dormant memories of what existed here and what has been lost.

Take-home postcards were created, showcasing the different types of vegetation within the mural paintings and the stories each plant and flower holds.

Peonies Within the Mural Art of Buddhaisawan Chapel (2019-03-03/2019-03-03) by Wisanu ChoonhachindaThe Front Palace: Wang Na

Working with plants and flowers, I believe that the murals of Buddhaisawan Chapel serve not only as an archive of trees and plants that have since disappeared from the site, but also as a personal history of the artists' own experience of the space as reflective of the world around him.

- Kitichate Sridith

Plum Blossoms within the Mural Art of Buddhaisawan Chapel (2019-03-03/2019-03-03) by Wisanu ChoonhachindaThe Front Palace: Wang Na

Unseen Plants of Precedence: Plum Blossoms and Peonies

Identifiable by its characteristic round petals, the plum blossom grows only in the more temperate climates of higher altitude, and is therefore, a tree that we can suspect no historical visitor to this space would have ever seen in the flesh.

Its relative rarity has imbued in it an association of luck' or 'status,' that historical painters may have seen depicted in the paintings of the Chinese and Japanese courts, or in religious manuscripts of the time.

Its inclusion here - as a special and an almost mythical flower amongst the more tropical plants of Thailand - can be seen as allegorical, whereby the plum blossom represents, or is associated with, a non-ordinary being such as a royal, amongst what would have been considered the more ordinary.

Peonies Within the Mural Art of Buddhaisawan Chapel (2019-03-03/2019-03-03) by Wisanu ChoonhachindaThe Front Palace: Wang Na

And in keeping with the socio-cultural norms of the time-whereby to articulate a name might reduce its bearer of their power--we see how a painter's botanical knowledge allows him to respectfully symbolize his patron, rather than depict him in form.

Peonies or 'botan' ('pud-taan' in the Thai pronunciation) blossoming at the foot of the Buddha

Durians, Coconuts, and Yangna Trees of Buddhaisawan Chapel (2019-03-03/2019-03-03) by Wisanu ChoonhachindaThe Front Palace: Wang Na

Durian, Yang Na, and Coconuts

Trees visible in this painting include:
Coconut trees (Cocos nucifera L.); a Durian tree with hanging fruits (Durio zibethinus L.); and a "Yang Na Tree" with its distinct white trunk and "black hole" due to resin extraction by fire (Dipterocarpus alatus Roxb. ex G. Don).

Coconut and Durian were two of the most common species of fruit trees found in the Bangkok Noi area.

The districts across the river from the Front Palace had once been the center of fruit production for the Kingdom, and as such, fruit such as durian were plentiful in this area throughout the Ayutthaya and early Rattanakosin periods; and even as recently as 50 years ago.

Mural paintings were a means by which painters could document history,and for those of us in modern-day Bangkok, we see evidence of vegetation that no longer exist in the present-day through the work of such painters.

Explore Buddhaisawan Chapel

Experience the Intangible "In Situ" Part 0 (2019-04-22) by Sirikitiya JensenThe Front Palace: Wang Na

Experience the Intangible "In Situ" Part 1 (2019-04-22) by Sirikitiya JensenThe Front Palace: Wang Na

Decoding and Deciphering Names

In traditional Thai culture, a person's name is not a mere designation but a term that provides insight into one's socio-religious context, as well as one's aspirational qualities. A King's name thus reflects his authority as the head of state, and embedded within it are the blessings, lineage, and qualities required to rule the country.

Reproduction of Tamrapichaisongkram, An Ancient Doctrine Concerning Battle Strategy (2019-03-03/2019-03-03) by Wiriya ChopkatanyooThe Front Palace: Wang Na

This chart, found in the Tamrapichaisongram, depicts the elements used in determining an auspicious and victorious name.

This doctrine explains how battlefield categorization corresponds to eight creatures (mouse, tiger, garuda, elephant, etc), and so a victorious name is based upon the day of week on which someone is born, then corresponds to a creature on the chart, as well as a set of letters which are associated with desirable attributes.

Simplified Naming Chart Based Upon Tamrataksa, with King Rama V's Name as an Example (2019-03-03/2019-03-03) by National Library of ThailandThe Front Palace: Wang Na

Tamrataksa became the dominant text in the Rattanakosin period, guiding naming tradition, most notably used for naming King Rama IV's children.

The individual is assigned one of eight compass points in line with the eight creatures, which correspond to the days of the week. These all remain fixed in their boxes. Eight further attributes (such as loyalty, health, wealth, etc) rotate around it, and their correspondence depend on one's birthday.

Therefore, from this simplified chart, one can see which letters one should use in their name in order to ensure the embodiment of desirable attributes, and which mythological animals one is associated with.

Reproduction of Tamrapichaisongkram, An Ancient Doctrine Concerning Battle Strategy (2019-03-03/2019-03-03) by Wiriya ChopkatanyooThe Front Palace: Wang Na

King Rama V is used as an example. Born on a Tuesday, King Rama V is associated with a mythological animal, the lion; and to further ensure strength in his name, a set of letters associated with a desired trait were given as options to be included in the name.

Below the chart, we see King Rama V's princely name which was given to him by King Rama IV, both the letter chosen, as well as the corresponding mythological animal, "lion", integrated into the name.

อาคเน or Southeast of the chart from Tamrapichaisongram, we see the lion which is King Rama V's associated mythological animal

Palm Leaf Manuscript of First King Mongkut's Name (2019-03-03/2019-03-03) by National Library of ThailandThe Front Palace: Wang Na

The image of Draft Palm Leaf Manuscript for King Rama IV
A draft of King Rama IV's official name on a palm leaf manuscript. Traditionally, these names were then engraved on a gold plate known as Phrasupanbat and presented to the monarch at the coronation ceremony.

Palm Leaf Manuscript of First King Mongkut's Name (2019-03-03/2019-03-03) by National Library of ThailandThe Front Palace: Wang Na

These name plates were also used for high-ranking government officials upon their own elevation of title, though the use of pure gold was reserved for the monarch.

Palm Leaf Manuscript of Second King Pinklao's Name (2019-03-03/2019-03-03) by National Library of ThailandThe Front Palace: Wang Na

The image of Draft Palm Leaf Manuscript for Second King Pinklao

After 27 years in the monkhood living amongst the people, Rama IV ascended the throne in 1851 and breaking with a traditional naming template, chose a regnal name that reflected his individual being, his experiences, and his belief systems. This is the first time we see a King dictate his own image.

Palm Leaf Manuscript of Second King Pinklao's Name (2019-03-03/2019-03-03) by National Library of ThailandThe Front Palace: Wang Na

This era also marks the first time in the history of Rattanakosin that we see two Kings ruling simultaneously, and here, we present a collaborative effort to deconstruct the names of King IV, Mongkutklao, and Second King Pinklao: in deciphering the language and decoding its meanings, we see that the names—both created by Rama IV—contain layers of meaning that reflect the narrative shift in Kingship that took place within both this site, the Front Palace; as well as within Thailand itself.

Experience the Intangible "In Situ" Part 2 (2019-04-22) by Sirikitiya JensenThe Front Palace: Wang Na

Deconstruction of First King Mongkut's Name (2019-03-03/2019-03-03) by National Library of ThailandThe Front Palace: Wang Na

Deciphering King Rama IV's Name

1.Humanization and Individualization:
Rama IV retains the divine references of the devaraja-styled kings before him, but also breaks the mold by including his princely name “Mongkutklao” to his regnal name, thereby differentiating him as an individual who existed in the tangible world, rooted in a specific time. This simple act humanizes the King, rendering him a more accessible monarch.

In declaring his human lineage, “a descendent of Rama II” –albeit with the inherited qualities of the divine from mythic lineage as a descendent of the Mahasammata—Rama IV is seen as a King of divine-right grounded in the human realm.

The name also states he is “elected by the assembly of a great multitude of people,” underscoring his aspiration to have the support of the people, in order to serve the people. The idea of this consensus as a legitimizing force coupled with his divine lineage, gives Rama IV an unprecedented two-way backing for kingship.

Deciphering King Rama IV's Name

2. Abilities, Character, and Role in the Buddhist Faith:
Representative of his 27 years in the sangha, not only does Rama IV’s name position him as a divine king who protects the ‘triple gem,’ but as a king who is also a poet whose eloquence is complete and as an unblemished philosopher of Buddhism, well-versed in the Tripitika and the Buddha’s teaching.

It claims him to be a king who is compassionate, calm, kind, empathetic, and who also has qualities of focus and mindfulness and precision of thought that is associated with Buddhist meditation. These lines underscores the values and interests that King Mongkut believed were essential to his ability to rule: a keen understanding of his people, and a devotee of the Buddha’s teachings.

Deciphering King Rama IV's Name

3. As a "First King":
In elevating his brother from Viceroy to Second King, Rama IV maintains his status as the primary King by bestowing upon his brother the kingly ‘Bovorn’ (‘Excellent’) and creating for himself a superlative, ‘Borom’ (‘Utmost’). The words chosen for their respective names, reflect the unprecedented ascension of a Second King, and significantly shift the narrative of the era and the site.

By introducing the term “Borom”, King Mongkut not only raises his brother but also himself.
The use of the term ‘supreme’ should also be noted, since most terms related to lordship refer to his paramountcy and this is one of the key distinctions with the Second King.

Deconstruction of Second King Pinklao's name (2019-03-03/2019-03-03) by National Library of ThailandThe Front Palace: Wang Na

Deciphering Second King Pinklao's Name

1. Brotherly Bonds:
King Pinklao’s name refers to him as “the lord who is the brother from the same (mother) as the great lord Mongkut,” grounding the Second King in a human lineage and reflecting the close brotherly relationship between the Kings as “uterine brothers” and “descendent[s] of Rama II.” From this starting point, we see that the two names, both of which Rama IV created, exist as complements to one another.

Deciphering Second King Pinklao's Name

2. Humanization and Individualization:
Second King Pinklao’s name is individualized through the inclusion of his princely name in his regnal name. The second term in his name, “Mahisaretrangasan”, is a play on words by both closely resembling the name he took on as Prince, “Isaretrangsan”, and also meaning “created by the great lord” in Sanskrit, the “great lord” in this case perhaps being Rama IV who was the one who elevated him to the rank of Second King.

This humanization is further emphasized through the choice of “Pinklao” as the name of the reign as it is a Thai synonym for the Sanskrit term “Chudamani”, meaning “crest jewel”, which was Pinklao’s name at his birth before he was elevated to a Prince of a higher rank under the name “Isaretrangsan.”

Deciphering Second King Pinklao's Name

3. Abilities, Character and Role as the ‘Protector”:
Rama IV bestows on his brother a name that reflects what he perceives to be his brother’s strongest qualities and abilities, including as a “protector” of the soil over which both brothers rule. This also signals a consideration of the original function of the Front Palace and its viceregal inhabitants as protectors of the Grand Palace.

Thus, Second King Pinklao’s military role as the “excellent great lord of the troops”—compared to Rama IV’s role as primary King—can be seen as a continuation of the Front Palace’s role during the Ayutthaya Era.

Deciphering Second King Pinklao's Name

4. As a Second King:
Despite elevating his brother to the level of kingship, Rama IV maintains and clarifies his position as the primary King, using epithets such as, “First King” and “Second King.” This distinction is reiterated throughout their names and reflected in other nuanced choices of words.

In addition to the “Borom” and “Bovorn” contrast noted earlier, Second King Pingklao is referred to as “Bovorn Chula Chakrapat” (“excellent lesser universal monarch”), and as one in possession of the 7-tier parasol, as opposed to Rama IV’s 9-tier parasol. Within the first sentences of their names, one also sees the use of “(Phrabat) Somdetch Mongkutklao” versus “Somdetch Pingklao.”

Credits: Story

Project Director: Sirikitiya Jensen

Curatorial Team for "In Situ from Outside": Nathalie Boutin, Sirikitiya Jensen, and Mary Pansanga

Participating Artists:
Tanatchai Bandasak, On Kawara, Udomsak Krisanamis, Nipan Oranniwesna, Pratchaya Phinthong, Rirkrit Tiravanija, Danh Vo

Participating Collaborators:
Jarupatcha Achavasmit, Prapod Assavavirulhakarn, Suanplu Chorus, Sayan Daengklom, Chudaree Debhakam, Suwicha Dussadeewanich, Pongsit Pangsrivongse, Chatri Prakitnonthakarn, Kitichate Sridith, Boontuen Sriworapoj, Supitcha Towiwich, Phra Maha Raja Guru Bidhi Sri Visudhigun, Tul Waitoonkuat & Marmosets

Graphic Design Team: Jaithip Jaidee and Pam Virada

Organized by Fine Arts Department; Ministry of Culture, Thailand

Sponsors: Thai Beverage and Bangkok Bank
Media Partner: The Cloud
Supported by Air France and Samsung

Digital Exhibition Team:
Designer: Dr.Vorapoj Songcharoen
Photographer: Wisanu Choonhachinda
Videographer: Decha Palamongkol
Translator: Koranit Rattanamahattana
Digital Museum Support: Songcharoen Media Group

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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