RATCHABURI'S ROLL OF THE DICE
The central province is in a state of flux and events like Art Normal are encouraging its residents to think outside the box
Almost five years ago the late writer and National Artist in literature Prabhassorn Sevikul wrote a short story. The text was not published on paper but painted along the bank of Mae Khlong river, and you had to walk the total of 3km to finish the story. The ephemeral aspect of this, along with 74 other artworks installed around Ratchaburi, featured in the first edition of the community-based “Art Normal” event.
In the second edition of the festival, which started on Jan 24 and will stretch for six months, however, art has become a lot more permanent in this city known for its earthenware jars and floating markets.
The ceiling of one kuay tiew restaurant, like a mural in a church, is devoted as a permanent platform for new artwork every six months. Likewise, glass boxes were installed on a wall in one salon for sculptures, while a narrow alley — along Voradech Road, between apartment blocks — that was once a dump site was cleaned up and now it’s the narrowest art space you’re ever likely to come across.
It is often said that this Art Normal seems a mere echo of the much-hyped Bukruk Urban Arts Festival in Bangkok earlier this year. The fact is, it’s the other way round, and Bukruk may have a lot to learn from the humble Ratchaburi. The festival does have wall paintings, but that’s only a small fraction of it.
Pioneered by artist and Tao Hong Tai Ceramics Factory’s heir Wasinburee Supanichvoraparch, Art Normal is as much about art as it is about creating a critical dialogue in the community. This doesn’t mean that what Bukruk has done isn’t commendable, but as opposed to just magnificent, huge illustrations on walls, art by Wasinburee’s definition is strictly inextricable from the community, its people and space.
“It’s been almost five years since our first edition,” said Wasinburee. “It’s still the same this time. We wondered if it was possible that non-art venues could become art spaces. What’s a shame about the previous edition is that we came up with 75 spots for exhibiting art but all of them were just temporary, and we had to waste time and money to clear things up when it was done.”
The number of venues this time is down to 29 — 19 of which are permanent with new artworks to be selected and put on every six months. Driving along Mae Klong river on Voradech Road will not lead you to any of this; you have to go by foot into shops and through alleys into market areas to find the art.
At Mong Salon, it was business as usual with ladies getting perms and manicures. Look closer on one wall, however, and you’ll see newly-installed glass boxes holding sculptures made of thread spools arranged together or doll busts with extravagant hairdos. These sculptures are a collaboration between the salon’s hairdressers — Moong Buapumthai, Montah Puangsuk, May Lommak — and Ratchaburi-based artist Sarinya Jittichai.
The theme for the Art Normal edition is “Toyburi”, and artists can be categorised into three categories: invited artists from elsewhere; artists from Ratchaburi; and most importantly, non-art residents collaborating with artists like at Mong Salon. Buri means city, while “toy” was chosen for both its meaning in English and Thai.
“We think of these artworks as toys because we want these works to be a medium between art and people,” said curator Supphakarn Wongkaew. “Toy in Thai means the action of throwing a dice, and it refers to Ratchaburi as in a state of change, opening up the province for more influx of tourists.”
The change in question is mainly the city plan, whether it’s the reconstruction of a dam that will provide more parking space on the edge of the river or a plan to build an indoor market with a dome structure over an outdoor court in the middle of a popular market where people come for aerobic dance exercise every day. What’s special about Art Normal is how it’s encouraging engagement with these very issues.
Sakarin Krue-Oon’s Koi Kee Line Dance documentary is one example of this. Together with Aerobic Dance club, Sakrin made a documentary on these dancers and their affiliation to this outdoor court as the space for the community. A shed structure with benches for the community members to come sit and rest was also built and Sakrin’s video was installed inside. The area has become like a public garden with potted plants donated by residents in the area.
“We don’t say that we’re resisting change,” said Supphakarn. “We’re simply just asking the community if they realise how the city is changing, we’re asking what direction they want the city to go. Ratchaburi is a dice being thrown and we don’t know how it’s going to turn out. A lot of the artworks came from the observation of the community’s daily life.”
What’s touching about these artworks, unlike in a proper art space, is how they never seem to seek the spotlight, but just exist unpretentiously as part of the space. Artist Vipavee Kunavichayanont installed a bunch of red plastic chairs mid-air in the middle of the narrow alleyway. The installation work is titled Waiting For The Bus because there’s a bus station at the front and chairs that are the exact same ones as those that passengers sit on while waiting for the bus.
“This alley used to be filled with trash,” said Supphakarn. “What an architect did was clean it up and pave it with cement. The narrowness of it is perfect for installation works. After six months, we’re going to take the chairs out and prepare for a new set of work.”
With these permanent art spots, Wasinburee said that although there would be no third edition of Art Normal in the future, all will not go to waste. The current work in the ceiling of the kuay tiew shop Taweephol is a photograph — a kaleidoscopic shot of Ratchaburi’s Clock Tower entitled Ratchri Ratchri — by Anuchai Secharunputong. At Sam Larn Kesa Barber on Khao Ngu Road, the third customer of the day gets a free haircut. In collaboration with artist Jessada Tangtrakulwong, barber Songkram Budthwong would take photos of his customers and put them on a board at the back wall for display.
This is quite a shift from the last edition because it’s a real involvement of non-artist community members, while last time it was just artwork from artists elsewhere with no uniting theme.
“It’s a good project because it has suddenly created an interest in space where people have never been to before like my barber,” said Songkram, who has been a barber for 56 years. “Some people are glad because they get to be the third customer, some are disappointed. But most importantly, I get to meet new people.”
What has already proven how poignant and directly engaging with issues in the community is the fact that artwork by Makha Sanewong Na Ayuthaya at Ratchaburi Municipality Pier has just recently been removed, a consequence from a parking space construction project. The irony of it is the fact that the work, entitled Bubble Memorial, was meant to explore the period of transition, especially in terms of infrastructure, in Ratchaburi province.
Wasinburee added that it’s the beginning of harmony within the community, and art has promoted the notion that we have to protect and take responsibility in our city.
“It’s difficult to say how efficient art can be when it comes to creating changes in the community,” said Supphakarn. “It requires time. Like Sakarin’s video, it has already created a sort of power within the community in a time of impending change.”
Pick up an “Art Normal 2” map and find more information about the festival at contemporary art centre Tao Hong Tai: d Kunst, 323 Voradech Road, Ampoe Muang, Ratchaburi.