Monday, December 14, 2009

Manit on the Bangkok Art Project 1998 (part 1)

Manit Sriwanichpoom, “ Bangkok –City of Angels – for whom? (1)”
in Siam Rath Weekly News magazine, Yr.45, Vol.36, 28 Feb. – 6 Mar. 1999.

This society is all on the surface, a society of faces. They like to praise you to your face; to boast and show off that they have better taste, beyond and more up-to-date. Someone analyzed: why would they do that? I don’t know. Maybe they are the kind of poor who drive Mercedes-Benz…not bound to the soil. If they lack the fashionable genuine items they can rent or borrow them temporarily, like the Louis Vuitton bags they carry by-the-day.

And then there is the thing about good manners in Thailand and face-saving for adults…protecting people’s ‘faces’. This is a product of culture handed down through a patron – client system.

Speaking plainly will easily earn a reputation as a troublemaker. It’s rude, they say - hacking a corpse with an ax. This is the problem: by nature, people only want to hear comfortable things. They don’t want to hear condemnations or warnings. They don’t want anyone to say their gold is fake. When people speak they shrink from making others angry. No one dares tell their true feelings. They only tell behind other people’s backs. Everyone is skilled in this. The behavior is all flattery and backstabbing.

This superficial society, a society of faces which doesn’t want anyone to come and peel away that surface exterior. They don’t like to hear the truth, whether in fact or feeling. They want you to say that everything looks good, everything looks lovely. Deceiving themselves continually. They don’t want to hear about problems; they don’t accept the truth.

This happens throughout the whole society, including in the artworld, which is regarded as free – free to express itself more than other groups. For example, look at the 1998 Bangkok Art Project. This project is billed as a ‘festival’ of Asian art. The 13th Asian Games was another giant project in the same year. (It’s what the Thai people – especially the bureaucrats – like.) The art project was organized out-of-doors. There were paintings – originals for inkjet –sculptures and installations.

The affair took place from about 8 Dec. 1998 to 31 Jan.1999 in the outer Rattanakosin Island area, i.e. around the Democracy Monument and as far as the Giant Swing and Old Siam.

“Oh, Bangkok, ‘City of Angels, so suitable for the capital city,’ go the lyrics and rhythm, so sweet and old, like the evening music they played in Bangkok before World War II when the buildings along Rachadamnoen Avenue were newly built. The music fills most Thai people over the age of 30 or 40 with memories of the old atmosphere. The image of Bangkok in the past is recalled: it was so beautiful, so pleasant.

“Like a palace, a place for the gods,” or so goes the song. The name of the city is so appropriate: excellent Rattanakosin; the city of heaven, of the Lord Indra. You can see Phra Indra on his elephant, Erawan, in the city seal of the Greater Bangkok Metropolis.

Even today, people look expectantly to Bangkok, a city so heavenly from the very beginning; called Venice of the East by the whites. The city has grown and changed quickly and violently. Bangkok is a big city, so perfect but with problems from which so many would flee. And yet there are also many people with hope and determination who would make Bangkok more livable, as a heavenly city should be.”

These are the origins of the idea of the people who organized this [Bangkok Art] project. This is the concept that was handed out to visitors who came to see. But you could also call the project the ‘Great Makeup Job with Powder and Rouge to Create an Image,’ using art as a media symbol in order to pitch that face.

They always like to organize this sort of farce [literally, ‘likay’ ลิเก] – a kind of Thai song-and-dance, a ‘light and sound’ show for the folks, or a parade with the people in purple sarongs. So nicely Thai, all sparkling like fairies and angels descended to earth. And there are shops selling Thai stuff. Boats set up on the land to sell Thai sweets and all kinds of traditional pastries and jellies.

These days, tourism in Thailand (TAT) and the city of Bangkok (BMA) push the financing and have new ideas, bored with selling the old stuff. Get athletes from the Asian Games, foreign tourists and Thai people involved in ‘Contemporary Art.’ It’s not like the traditional stuff: it’s something new that we have in Thailand. We aren’t marching in place, consuming what is passé. We have globalized our art along with the rest of the world. We are flourishing economically, too, like the Europeans who often have these kinds of shows. Australian, Korea and Japan have them as well: why then shouldn’t the Thai do it?

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