BANGKOK BI­EN­NIAL GEARS UP FOR JULY KICK OFF

The Bangkok Bi­en­nial’s founders pre­fer re­main­ing anony­mous be­cause they want the fo­cus on the art rather than the artist

Bangkok Post - - LIFE - STORY: ARI­ANE KUPFER­MAN-SUT­THAVONG

The com­ing months could mark a turn­ing point for Thai­land as an art des­ti­na­tion, as the coun­try pre­pares to host not one but three ma­jor con­tem­po­rary art events. The Bangkok Bi­en­nial, a project led by a team of or­gan­is­ers who wish to re­tain their anonymity, will be the first to take place, kick­ing off in July. It will last un­til Septem­ber, when the Bangkok Art Bi­en­nale — fronted by in­ter­na­tional A-lis­ters such as Ma­rina Abramovic, Yoshi­moto Nara and Elm­green and Dragset and bankrolled by a long list of spon­sors — is ex­pected to be­gin.

The list of par­tic­i­pants in the Bangkok Bi­en­nial, a sort-of guer­rilla event, has been re­cently re­leased and it in­cludes many favourites among the lo­cal art scene, as well as in­ter­na­tional ac­tors.

In Bangkok, Speedy Grandma, TARS and the pop­u­lar ‘N22’ gal­leries Artist + Run and Car­tel Artspace will be join­ing in the event, as will the Bangkok Un­der­ground Film Fes­ti­val or the Guer­ril­l­aboys. Of­ten viewed as an al­ter­na­tive event, the Bangkok Bi­en­nial is a high-con­cept event chal­leng­ing the norms and cu­ra­to­rial mod­els of sev­eral bi­en­ni­als or bi­en­nales tak­ing place around the world to­day. Life spoke to one of its founders, a reg­u­lar fig­ure in the Thai art scene who wants to re­main name­less to suit the anony­mous con­cept of the event, about the Bangkok Bi­en­nial’s phi­los­o­phy and project course.

Yours have of­ten been called an ‘al­ter­na­tive’, ‘un­der­ground’ or ‘guer­rilla’ event. What are your thoughts on these ap­pel­la­tions?

The Bangkok Bi­en­nial (BB) project was planned long be­fore we heard of the Bangkok Art Bi­en­nale (BAB) be­ing an­nounced in Venice. It was never con­ceived as a chal­lenge to it.

We un­der­stand it may seem like that. But if you look at the facts closely, you’ll see it’s un­true. We reg­is­tered the do­main of our web­site prior to that an­nounce­ment.

If peo­ple want to call the Bangkok Bi­en­nial ‘guer­rilla’, then that’s fine, as long as they

don’t call it a challenger. The Bangkok Art Bi­en­nale is likely to be a highly cu­rated event. It has an artis­tic direc­tor and a team of cu­ra­tors. The Bangkok Bi­en­nial seems to re­ject this model. Can you ex­plain why?

In con­tem­po­rary bi­en­nales or bi­en­ni­als, there’s been a strong cu­ra­to­rial model. In the same time, there are more and more art events chal­leng­ing these norms. For in­stance, the Doc­u­menta 14 in Athens last year chal­lenged the tra­di­tional way of or­gan­is­ing Doc­u­men­tas.

We were in­spired by such move­ments and saw that they were a good fit for the art com­mu­nity in Bangkok.

It was a big dream, then we pub­lished the web­site last year and peo­ple started to re­spond as the project res­onated with them.

Why then use the word ‘bi­en­nial’? Do you wish to re­claim the use of this term?

It re­ally started with us think­ing ‘why don’t we have a bi­en­nial in Bangkok?’. From that point on, the name ‘Bangkok Bi­en­nial’ just seemed the most straight­for­ward and ef­fec­tive in terms of con­vey­ing what we want it to be: a con­tem­po­rary art event.

The Bangkok Bi­en­nial was born out of the art com­mu­nity in Bangkok. It’s a grass-roots move­ment

Sev­eral of the Bangkok Bi­en­nial’s pav­il­ions will not ac­tu­ally be lo­cated in Bangkok. What is the idea be­hind this ab­strac­tion?

We don’t see the pavil­ion as just a phys­i­cal space but also a the­o­ret­i­cal or con­cep­tual space.

Out of 69 reg­is­tered pav­il­ions, around half a dozen are lo­cated in Europe or co-lo­cated be­tween Euro­pean coun­tries — France, Ger­many and The Nether­lands — and Thai­land. Other pav­il­ions in­volved Ja­pan and Tai­wan as lo­ca­tions as well.

Sev­eral of these projects were co-cu­rated be­tween Thai­land and other coun­tries.

In Thai­land, there will be about 10 pav­il­ions lo­cated in cities other than Bangkok, in­clud­ing in Ratch­aburi, Khon Kaen and Pat­tani.

Fi­nally, a dozen pav­il­ions will be ur­ban in­ter­ven­tions in the streets, in mar­ket­places and else­where in Bangkok.

The Bangkok Bi­en­nial does not have a cen­tral board of cu­ra­tors. You made a call for ap­pli­ca­tions, but was there a selection process? Some projects that were sub­mit­ted did not quite fit the spirit of our event and had to be turned down. But that’s very few of them — I think I can count them on one hand.

We ac­cepted al­most ev­ery pro­posal. Ac­tu­ally, nearly all the projects that were sub­mit­ted worked in the same di­rec­tion as ours.

Who de­cided to turn down these other projects then?

The core mem­bers of the Bangkok Bi­en­nial, or its found­ing mem­bers. But those were very rare oc­ca­sions, of­ten proposals that were sent by peo­ple who hadn’t read our brief.

Other than that, the vast ma­jor­ity of sub­mis­sions we re­ceived were by peo­ple who re­ally un­der­stood what we were aim­ing for and had in mind works that tied in with our project.

Last year, when you an­nounced the for­ma­tion of a Bangkok Bi­en­nial, you were very in­sis­tent on keep­ing the anonymity of its founders. Now that the list of artists and col­lec­tives in­volved has been re­leased and the event’s gen­eral di­rec­tion can be in­ter­preted, is this anonymity still rel­e­vant?

Ab­so­lutely. We were very se­ri­ous about keep­ing our anonymity be­cause we didn’t want peo­ple to fo­cus on our names rather than our con­cept, or for them to think that there would be an im­bal­ance in the selection due to who we were. Not only that, the Bangkok Bi­en­nial was born out of the art com­mu­nity in Bangkok. It’s a grass-roots move­ment. Out of re­spect for the art com­mu­nity, we don’t want to take credit.

How will the Bangkok Bi­en­nial be able to dif­fer from a reg­u­lar gal­leries-hop­ping event stretched out over sev­eral month?

We un­der­stand that this is a con­cern. How­ever, over the course of three months, we’ll be host­ing sev­eral world-class art projects.

Will there ac­tu­ally be a second edi­tion to the Bangkok Bi­en­nial?

We are pre­pared.

What does the fact that Thai­land will have three bi­en­nales or bi­en­ni­als re­flect about the lo­cal art scene?

The prob­lem with the Thai art scene is that no one is work­ing to­gether. Every­one is do­ing their own project with­out con­sult­ing oth­ers.

If some­body had a big budget to make a world­class bi­en­nale but wouldn’t talk to lo­cal ac­tors who have been work­ing here for the past decades, would that be right?

When we first con­ceived the Bangkok Bi­en­nial, there was no Bangkok Art Bi­en­nale yet. At that time, we thought ‘who would do it if we don’t?’

4. Bangkok Un­der­ground Film Fes­ti­val.

3. Angkrit Ajchariya­sophon at Speedy Grandma.

Some of the artists and venues to take part in Bangkok Bi­en­nial. 1.Guerilla Boy.

2. Fran­cois Roche at Tars Gallery.

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