Monday, June 7, 2010

Manit Sriwanichpoom, Waste Feb 2008

Manit Sriwanichpoom, ‘Waste,’ in Silpa Wattanatham, Siam Rath Weekly News,
1-7 Feb., 2008.

At the end of October last year Sanya Suwanaphuma, a friend from Bed Supper Club in the middle of Sukhumwit, Soi 11, sent an email of his artworks, his installation, for me to enjoy. There were two pictures – one was a white tank with a pattern of rich golden camouflage. It was set up in the middle of the clean, white, egg-shaped club with décor of pink neon lights. A second image showed a musician and revelers, drinking and dancing on the tank.

Being numb or getting used to the work of the coup group and the ‘old ginger’ government – what is it? I don’t see any beauty in it. Showing malicious glee, or admiring the courage of Sanya, bringing a ‘tank’, a symbol of the coup by the Thai military, and making it look harmless, like decorative furniture in a fancy club. Thai and foreign revelers with money to burn could enjoy it while they eat luxurious and expensive food at their leisure. And while the music pounds, they might get some malicious pleasure from climbing all over it and even standing on the symbol of ‘the power of violence.’ (Even though it’s a fake tank, it passes well enough for the real thing.)

Then, the following month, I went walking in the shopping mall, in Zen at Central World, newly opened and ran into another tank! This one was a shiny orange. Though it was also fake, it was big, almost life-size. I wondered what the decorator of the mall was thinking, making an orange tank to amuse shoppers. Snap a picture with the tank as a souvenir? Why orange? Why not another color? Why not green, like the real thing?

Not many days later at Namthong Gallery, I saw a third tank. This one was a large watercolor painting by an inspired young artist, Tawan Watuya. The tank painted by Tawan was special, with two barrels. That is, with the power to doubly wipe things out. Tawan got this idea from the Siamese twins, In and Chan. He figured that Thailand always has some extremely weird things for the world to see. Coups d’etat are extraordinary events that have been going on in Thailand for a long time. Tawan created this peculiar tank with irony. “Please take a Picture with Me,” it is captioned, and it’s not difficult to know where that thought came from.

You may remember that not many days after the 19th of September, 2006 coup, there was a daily procession of proffered flowers for the soldiers with their tanks at the square of the equestrian statue of the 5th King and around the Marble Temple, especially on weekends and holidays. Hundreds of citizens, even thousands, with their children and infants in arms, came to offer flowers to the troops in these areas. And they took souvenir photos.

The soldiers and their tanks became temporary tourist attractions, exotically Thai, something like long-necked Karen women. Even the white tourists hired samlors to go there and ask to have their pictures taken, too. A truly Thai sort of celebration: some scantily clad models even came to be photographed or videotaped with the troops.

After a month of this revelry, they put the brakes on
. The commanders wanted the troops to look like heroes, the peoples’ heroes, but they were turning into something else.

This process made the symbols of the coup into something charming – not something despicable. It became something suitable for taking souvenir photos for family albums or to display at home. In the past, activists who fought dictators wanted to destroy the honorable dignity of the military. They hoped to rob the soldiers of their psychological ability to threaten people, even though the soldiers actually do have fierce cruel weapons, and they really can be violent and cruel. Whether intentionally or not, the works of Sanya, Tawan and the designers and decorations at Zen were among those who resisted the power of militarism, of which the tank is a symbol.

Manit Sriwanichpoom, ‘Waste,’ in Silpa Wattanatham, Siam Rath Weekly News,
1-7 Feb., 2008.

At the same time, the propaganda of the soldiers is very clever, taking advantage of the chance to oppose violence with ‘flowers.’ The gestures turned into praise, not hate. So, some people wondered about those offerings of flowers to soldiers. Were they staged or not? Did that happen spontaneously? Or was it a public relations campaign? Before it became a sort of ‘fair’ and entertainment to titillate the fancy of viewers round the world, it was a strange new kind of coup in Thai history.

After a year or more, one might ask if everyone still feels the same today about the pictures of soldiers who were heroes when the coup first took place – about the pictures of admiring citizens proffering flowers. Some had dressed their little children as soldiers and brought them to have pictures taken -

When they are unable to convict Taksin Shinawatr (the cause of the coup), every accusation in every case crumbles. Nothing was accomplished, even after they took power. It showed their lack of a solution, their lack of efficiency, or as they say, ‘a wasted coup.’ The people lost faith, became frustrated and got angry – even the powerful elders of society who supported the coup in the first place. Today, the coup group is being condemned and pressed to leave. The ‘old ginger’ government of General Surayudt Chulanont admitted in an interview that not even the PAD wanted them around any more.

More than a year has passed and Thai society’s problems remain unsolved. The big problem was the corruption of the Taksin regime. The old ginger government, which presented itself as essentially clean, good and honest, couldn’t get to the heart of the mess. They just weren’t as good as they made themselves out to be. Note the case of General Surayudt and his embarrassing episode of Yai Tieng’s mountain. Instead of returning the property to the state as a good example to others – since the general is not a farmer, and his use of that piece of land conflicted with the intent of the land reform program that made it possible for him to take it - Surayudt challenged the authorities in the case to prove exactly why he should give it up.

Even the committee which monitors activities damaging to the state did not get the cooperation of the old ginger government and all those ‘neutral’ bureaucrats. Today, the coup group is extremely isolated. Many court cases have failed because statutes of limitations have run out or due to a lack of evidence. For example, General Surayudt accepted the fact that they couldn’t nail Taksin or his government because there was not enough proof – even after more than 2500 people had been killed.

The greatest curse of the failed coup regime was Thailand’s choice for prime minister of a man named Samak Sundravej, and a president of the parliamentary assembly named Yongyuth Tiyapairach (Yudt-Tuyen). [tuyen i.e refrigerator]

And now, it looks like the coup group is sloughing off responsibility for their failure onto General Surayudt and the old ginger government. General Sonthi Boonyaratkalin gave an interview to the Bangkok Post newspaper on 28 Mar.2008, saying that Gen. Surayudt has just chosen a safe spot from which to await the election on 23 Dec. What a waste of time!

Scolding each other at such an hour, the power of the coup group is gone. Taksin is making a comeback, which worries and raises the anxiety of the ex-coup makers and others who opposed him. The attackers are suddenly on the defensive. Taksin’s defenders might attempt a sudden blow to finish them off as quickly as possible, as the fast thinking, fast acting Taksin typically likes to do.
So how will Thai society survive? Will it march on? At this hour one cannot think of anything. I just tell myself – to each his own.

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