Thailand Eye: the representation of Thai history in London

Manit Sriwanichpoom,  Pink Man in Paradise #2, Garuda Wisnu Kencana Cultural Park, 2003.  Lambda print on aluminium sheet, 100 x 124 cm.

A multitude of works, occupying almost the entire space of the rooms: this is the scenario that welcomes the visitors on the third floor at Saatchi Gallery, London, where Thailand Eye is set up until the 3rd of January 2016. The show is presented as the first important survey on Thai contemporary production ever displayed in the United Kingdom.

Various names have been featured in this heterogeneous project: the artists  involved are more than twenty, including  emerging and established ones – such as Manit Sriwanichpoom and Rirkrit Tiravanija among the others. A certain variety can be noticed also in the techniques of the works in the exhibition: on display, indeed, the observer can admire a wide range of media, from photography to video, as well as drawings, sculptures, and even installations.

Speaking of materials, one of the most remarkable, attention-getting pieces of the exhibition is certainly Kanlapapruk by Chusak Srikwan. The work is a big figure realised with leather carving – halfway between a sculpture, and a drawing – hanging from the ceiling and keeping a certain distance from the wall behind, over which it casts a shadow that recalls the shape of a blooming tree. But, besides being a clever reference to the Thai shadow play tradition of leather puppets, Chusak Sriwan’s installation embraces an ironic perspective. The figure that originates the shadow, indeed, is the opposite of a naturalistic image, as it is actually composed by a series of drawings of artificial goods, such as an ATM machine, a car, a laptop. The reflection on the widespread consumerism of the last decades is a common trait among a number of other works included in Thailand Eye, despite the divergent aims and results they obtained. An inspection on the topic, for example, is the Pink Man photographic series by Manit Sriwanichpoom, one of the internationally best-known Thai artists. The character, dressed in a pink suit and carrying a shopping cart of the same color, has been the subject of the artist’s works for more than ten years and symbolises his own concept of consumerism. The Pink Man’s frivolous appearance brutally clashes with the historical surroundings of the pictures – the Pura Ulun Danu Beratan temple founded in the Seventeenth century, for instance. He is the embodiment of the sense of strangeness, the outsider, the contemporary man who is not able to integrate himself with his roots any longer.

A bitter criticism towards cosumerism is mirrored in the bright colors of performance artist Kawita Vatanajyankur’s videos, alongside the investigation on a number of other social issues. Her works use apparently appealing images that simply follow the aesthetic rules of advertising. In addition, they question the extent to which a new role for Feminism is needed in an increasingly digitalised society. The woman, ideed, is always the centre of every piece: she breaks a piece of ice using only her chin in The Ice Shaver; she is forced to drink from a funnel with no pause in Poured; she uses her face as a human juicer in the diptych The Squeezers. The six videos on display show a neverending succession of repetitive, pointless, almost mechanical and phisically exhausting acts that, together with the painful positions, encourages a reflection on the wearing domestic work of Thai women. In the videos, a certain degree of violence can be noticed too: in The Scale, for instance, a series of watermelon pieces is vehemently thrown on the defenceless body of the artist in a very precarious position.

The aim of Thailand Eye is the depiction of Thai history and society through the multiple perspectives expressed by the artists and their works, maintaining at the same time a certain attention towards the variety and the innovation of the projects on display. Similarly to other exhibitions approaching the topics of cultures and nations, the primary issues here are related to the representation of identity. In opposition, talking about the Southeast Asian region, it should be specified that diversity, multiculturalism, and lack of homogeneity are all terms that should not be ignored; indeed, the area is mainly composed by countries whose geographical partition is not able to mirror the coexisting ethnic, linguistic, religious, and historical differences that developed across the national boundaries during the centuries. In this context, Thailand is no exception. This fragmentary nature can be found also in art, which is drawing increasing attention on the international market in the last years. For all these reasons, and against the risk of an overwhelming globalisation, maintaining a clear identity is not an easy task. Some years ago, Thailand-born curator Apinan Poshyananda wrote an essay encouraging the realisation of exhibitions that could reinforce the sense of identity of the Asian communities through their circulation in these countries, besides being presented exclusively in art institutions in Europe and USA. The fact that Thailand Eye is going to be installed in Bangkok Art and Culture Centre in 2016 is fundamental, then, as it pursues Poshyananda’s aim of promoting a better understanding of the contemporary art scene in the country itself.

Federica Cavazzuti

25 November 2015 – 3 January 2016
Saatchi Gallery, Londra

[1] Boundaries: Rethinking Contemporary Art Exhibitions, in Art Journal, Vol. 59, No. 1 (Spring, 2000).

Kawita Vatanajyankur, The Squeezers, 2015. HD colour video, 2’35’’.

Kawita Vatanajyankur,  The Squeezers, 2015.  HD colour video, 2’35’’.

Sakarin Krue-On, Monkeys in the House, 2014. 3 imitative monkeys, desk, cabinet, books, dimensions variable.

Sakarin Krue-On, Monkeys in the House, 2014. 3 imitative monkeys, desk, cabinet, books, dimensions variable.

Kamolpan Chotivichai, Internal Monologue, 2015. C-type print and hand cut canvas, 110 x 80 x 10 cm.

Kamolpan Chotivichai, Internal Monologue, 2015. C-type print and hand cut canvas, 110 x 80 x 10 cm.


Krit Ngamsom, A Gift of Prosperity, 1009. Acrylic box, LED lighting, transparent polyester resin, 30 x 30 x 40 cm.

Rirkrit Tiravanija's Untitled 2015 (curry for the soul of the forgotten)Rirkrit Tiravanija, Untitled 2015 (curry for the soul of the forgotten)

'Blue Tank' Natee UtaritNatee Utarit, Blue Tank, 2015

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
The following two tabs change content below.

Leave a Reply