by STIRworldPublished on : Nov 18, 2022
In many ways, 2020 marked a significant turning point towards civilisational collapse, or atleast the feeling of it, with COVID-19, the conflict in Ukraine, and the terrifying reality of climate change. The Bangkok Art Biennale 2022, themed Chaos: Calm, taps into these anxieties, and the world’s uncertain situations in recent years, from the pandemic to environmental disasters to socio-political turmoil. The art biennale, which takes place in Bangkok, features over 200 pieces made by 73 international and local artists at 12 venues across the city and aspires to be an escape from the apocalyptic contemporary environment, offering a sight of clarity and tranquillity through art.
“Although the pandemic and ongoing climate crisis have caused grave consequences worldwide, it is our hope that art and creative activities can contribute to economic recovery and the healing process for our communities, as well as offer opportunities for serendipity amidst the current chaotic conditions. Bangkok will once again be a destination for visitors to appreciate art by leading international and Thai artists which will be displayed at various creative spaces, as well as temples and heritage sites. We look forward to a rich display of artworks that reflect on these drastic changes of our time and help navigate the betterment of humankind,” shared Thapana Sirivadhanabhakdi, founder and chairman of Bangkok Art Biennale Foundation, in an official statement.
Several featured artworks at the Biennale inspire and spark conversations, such as, an iconic series of black-and-white images titled Ken Moody and Robert Sherman by renowned American photographer Robert Mapplethorpe portraying his two friends–a black man, Ken Moody, and a white man, Robert Sherman. A mixed media and video installation, titled Bunker, Checkpoint No#2, THE LIVING ARCHIVE – Ferocity, is another powerful artwork by Satu ≠ Padu Collaborative that talks about how check points, weapons, barbed wires, and combat uniforms have become everyday intrusive objects, while attempting to divert attention to the rich history and heritage of Bangkok’s muslim community that is often overlooked in the metropolis. Additionally, Zhanna Kadyrova’s magnificent mixed-media installation, Shots, uses broken paving to make disks and squares to highlight sites of impact from firearms, contrasting it with the anticipation of violence in conflict zones that fractures everyday life. Udomsak Krisanamis’ paintings, Clear the Air, and The Whole She Bang, are some other noteworthy exhibits at the Biennale.
Apart from those, artworks by Montien Boonma, Alicia Framis, and more, are being displayed at the riverfront temples and the neighbouring Museum Siam, speaking on the debate of a spiritual mind and a yearning for tranquillity. On the other hand, the downtown Bangkok venues are largely dominated by artworks, making a social commentary on oppression, violence, inequality, the vulnerable nature of humanity, and the intriguing tension between order and disorder. Such astounding and introspective artworks represent what the Bangkok Art Biennale actually stands for.
“Amidst constant division and conflict in today’s world, the Biennale’s theme of Chaos: Calm suggests the possibility of coexistence between opposing concepts in a fluid relationship. This ambiguity could be a key perspective to the future which we could offer from Asia,” remarked Mami Kataoka—director at Mori Art Museum, Japan, president of International Committee for Museums and Collections of Modern Art (CiMAM) and advisor to Bangkok Art Biennale 2022.
In an ironic juxtaposition, the Bangkok Art and Culture Centre in downtown Bangkok features German artist Jan Kath’s hand-knotted rugs featuring tanks, bombs, fighter jets, and armed individuals, displayed next to Thai artist Vasan Sitthiket’s larger-than-life, caricatures of greedy and power-hungry capitalists and authorities.
Additionally, Collective Absentia—a group of artists and researchers  from Myanmar, exploring the functions of arts and cultural practices in the Global South—presents a durational performance titled Again and Again, in an empty room. The performance entails an individual sitting silently on a transparent chair with their head covered in a black hood, to address issues surrounding the collective trauma of political violence. On the other hand, Phitchapha Wangprasertkul, a Thai performance artist, cages herself in a cramped transparent box for eight hours each day, to question the living conditions and wages of office workers in the city. Japanese artist Chiharu Shiota created a massive installation, Eye of the Storm, in response to the Biennale’s theme of finding the intriguing balance between chaos and calm. Made of suspended networks of red threads with thousands of white paper sheets swirling inside like a typhoon, the calm centre of the installation investigates how opposing ideas feel in a given situation, which is reflected through the papers’ frantic whirling and rustling, as though being blown by the wind.
Indian artist, Jitish Kallat also mesmerises the audience at the Biennale, with his site-specific art installation. An adjacent room wrapped with a wallpaper installation Integer Studies (Drawing from Life) comprises 365 drawings that Kallat created daily, during the COVID-19 pandemic, in 2021. The drawing of each day is marked with algorithmically-estimated world population growth and death rate for that day, to reflect life’s transient and ephemeral nature.
Bangkok Art Biennale (BAB), a visual art festival, was established in 2017 and is held in Thailand’s capital. To provide a memorable and educational experience for everyone, BAB is also accompanied by a rich programme of public events, which includes educational conferences, talks, hands-on workshops, guided visits, publications, and online programs.
The third edition of the Bangkok Art Biennale is suffused with myth, colour, magic, and a sense of introspection, of looking inwards as we reflect on the world around us. The art exhibition is on display till February 23, 2023, at various locations across the city of Bangkok, as well as virtually.
Text by Vatsala Sethi (Asst. Editorial Coordinator (Arts))
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