Monday, November 16, 2009

Paisan Plienbangchang on Art and Tourism in Graz, Austria, July 2000

Paisan Plienbangchang, ‘A City of Art or Tourism?’ in the Silpa Wattanatham column of Siam Rath Weekly News magazine. Yr. 47, Vol. 8, 23 – 29 July 2000.

As I have said before, the countries of Europe, when summer comes, organize festivals everywhere. It’s a way of using leisure time to relax and enjoy after enduring a long and very cold winter. After being preoccupied with work for many months, they take full advantage of the time to rest.

Hence with art festivals: mostly they take place in the summer, for example, Documenta in Kassel, Germany. Not only German people take an interest in the event. Many people from round the world and from many countries in Europe come to see it. People come by train or drive. European roads are good and on expressways you can make good time. People are comfortable on these highways and come by car from all over the continent to see the art at these affairs.

In Graz the event ‘100 Museums, 100 Events’ showed all over the city. The shows were up for only one day, but that was a day of celebration of art and culture. That is not merely play, certainly. Such a gathering is not simply ‘thrown together.’ It requires a lot of advance preparation.

One project in Graz involved the mountain in the middle of the city. The mountain is the site of an old castle that has been there for hundreds of years. The castle has a distinctive clock tower which has become a symbol of the city. Today, there is a tunnel being cut by new technology as a passage through the mountain. The tunnel comes up right through the top of the mountain. A glass elevator can now take visitors and tourists right up to the top of the clock tower.

During the period when the writer was there, there was an exhibition of computer generated images which showed the great variety and number of things which computers are capable of producing. This show has been set up in a hall cut out of and built under the mountain! But it makes one feel some conflict between old and new. Modernity and progress have been built into an area which is very primitive – like the caves in which humans lived in ancient times. It is funny and moving, too, if one day we find letters or digital numbers mixed in among ancient prehistoric inscriptions in these caves.

Cutting through a mountain like this doesn’t just happen one day, all of a sudden. There must be fierce debate and public hearings before coming to a conclusion about the pros and cons of the project. I know that, before it was actually initiated and implemented, the owner of this project had been pushing for it since 1986. Certainly there were people who agreed and people who were opposed. When you look back at Thailand, one sighs…..When the authorities in our country, whatever the era, have a project, they have no care for the views of the common people. They are not interested in their problems or their protests. They see only what benefits them.

This project at Graz, from one perspective, is aimed at encouraging tourism for the city. People near and far will take a closer interest in the new things happening in a little city like this. People take more interest. This suggests the project would create something as a selling point with outstanding characteristics, more so than many cities in Europe.

Anyone who has gone touring abroad in Europe will have seen the continuity of architecture there. Buildings appear to date from about the same period; the construction of houses, roads, buildings and churches all seems to date from about the same era. Even the bridges are like that. The visual continuity is so smooth, you hardly realize what you are seeing.

Is tourism part of that which has the power to change a place or a city? There is power in the buying and selling that surrounds tourism. When there is a need, commerce will arise. The writer used to see it happen: tourism teaches the local people to make hamburgers, to open a kitchen in the middle of a jungle, or something like that!

Sometimes, however, there is something that alerts us, gives a point of comparison, teaches us how to study and evaluate; how to seek out what is good in a place and to keep it. It is possible to develop ones own area and community in ways that would be good for tourism if it is a strong community and doesn’t get swept away by it. The community can adapt and realize what the current of tourism is. Then they can survive and be themselves very well. It depends on how firm a foundation they have.

Coming back to art, Graz prepares to build itself into a center of art and culture in 2003, i.e. in three years, it won’t be just any city, but it will be a ‘cultural and artistic center of Europe! This is not an easy thing to accomplish. They must develop the potential of the city, make a big investment to envision the city as a cultural center. And there must be people to implement it all. Countless people will be needed.

As for Thailand, government bureaucrats turn every year into a tourism year. The year to preserve the culture, the amazing year, etc. but there is very little support for the creation of real art. They only support parades – all form, no soul.

We have sold the ancient soul of the common people as a pattern for tourism instead of conservation that seeks to reveal the knowledge and beauty – real and old – of the provincial people. When it’s like this, we can see more clearly the destruction that lies ahead and all that will be lost. Just thinking of it makes one feel cold and weak.

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