By Pattarawadee Saengmanee
THE BANGKOK Art Biennale might be drawing visitors to the Thai capital but it has plenty of competition from the southern province of Krabi, which has turned itself into an art wonderland for the first Thailand Biennale.
Running through February 28 and featuring 50 international artists from 25 countries along with four of Thailand’s national artists and three new-wave stars, the Biennale offers the visitor more than 300 specific-site contemporary artworks on the pristine beaches and in the turquoise waters of the Andaman Sea.
Designed on the theme “Edge of the Wonderland”, all artworks have been specially created for the location to portray the rich nature and charming cultural context of Krabi. Organised by the Culture Ministry’s Office of Contemporary Art and Culture (OCAC), the Biennale is a collective collaboration between government agencies, artists and local residents to promote tourism and generate income in local communities.
“Ghost Island” by Map Office can be found on Nopparat Thara Beach.
“We expect the Thailand Biennale to become a legend in its time and serve as a model for showcasing specific-site art installations. We have focused on sustainable displays to ensure there’s no impact on the environment,” says lead curator Jiang Jiehong.
“We started by sending proposals to more than 100 international artists by email and invited them to submit their ideas for artworks about Krabi. We then picked 70 of the submissions and arranged three site visits to help artists develop their ideas. Now, we have 50 artworks on view. They represent history, local life and nature,” he adds.
The festival is spread over 12 venues ranging from national parks to mangrove forests and islands, and piers to historical sites. With some of works still being installed, we take a look at the sites already drawing attention from art lovers and tourists.
Nopparat Thara Beach
Norwegian artist Anne Katarine Dolven has joined with local architect Bancha Ma to build a small blue house called “Did You Leave Your Island?” between two rocks at the end of the beach.
She greets her guests with the voices of Thais reading a poem in English and Thai. It is an abstract work reflecting on the places they leave behind and the new destinations they travel to and settle in.
Anne Katarine Dolven and Bancha Ma’s hamlet “Did You Leave Your Island?” is on Nopparat Thara Beach and welcomes guests every day.
“I was inspired by a conversation with a Thai woman I met on a flight from Norway to Krabi last year. She moved from Thailand to Norway and she was returning home to collect 200 books for a Buddhist temple in Kristiansand. We talked about why she left and why she likes Norway,” Dolven says.
“This house is a sculpture with sound. Inside, you can hear six Thai voices speaking about their experiences and lives.”
Anne Katarine Dolven and Bancha Ma
Made from local materials, the fisherman’s cottage is accessible only during low tide. Three windows overlook the sea, sunset and the green landscape.
“We’ve used wood, nipa leaves and zinc to build an easy-to-move house. It resembles a painting of a house on the island when you look at it from the shore,” says Bancha, a watercolour enthusiast.
“This is a good chance to promote tourism in Krabi and educate local residents about art. The Biennale allows us to share ideas and work with international artists.”
“Ghost Island” by Map Office can be found on Nopparat Thara Beach.
A short walk from Dolven’s blue hamlet, Map Office from Hong Kong has built a towering six-metre Ghost Island from fishing nets to represent the geology of the surrounding island and raise awareness of the environment. Recorded voices of the fishermen on Koh Lanta and Phi Phi come from within.
Ao Nang Beach
Thai artist Kamin Lertchaiprasert and renowned architect Suriya Umpansiriratana have created a groundbreaking conceptual art series called “No Sunrise No Sunset” based on the fantasy romance between Yai Sa and her husband Mr Krabi.
“When I first came to survey the town, I discovered this popular spot where local lovers watch the sunset. I’ve plotted a fantasy love story of Yai Sa and Mr Krabi – a cartoon-like mural on the cave walls in Krabi – to link to the biennale’s theme,” Kamin says.
“No Sunrise No Sunset” by Kamin Lertchaiprasert and Suriya Umpansiriratana is at the end of Ao Nang Beach./Courtesy of Kamin Lertchaiprasert
His idea is based on the tradition that a Thai man needs to be ordained at age 25 before he can get married, with his Mr Krabi leaving his hometown to seek the truth of dharma and Yai Sa faithfully waiting for him to return.
“People go their individual ways and become one when the love melts the heart. It’s like a horizon that connects the sky and earth. We’ve used reflective materials so that the surroundings are mirrored on the surface of the artwork,” Kamin explains.
“Our work is also a bridge between truth and illusion. We look at the sun and imagine that it’s rising or setting. In fact, the sun doesn’t move – it’s the world spinning on its axis.”
Kamin Lertchaiprasert, left, and architect Suriya Umpansiriratana
Made from aluminium-composite steel tubes, the container-like cave is home to the fibreglass figure of Yai Sa standing on a pond with the Andaman in the background. The walls are covered with graffiti symbolic of love in the modern world.
“This spot is usually out of the sight of casual walkers but it’s the best place to see the sunset,” Suriya adds.
Than Bok Khorani National Park
Nine art pieces dot the trail from park entrance to deep jungle and a herd of mythical creatures created by Vietnamese artist Richard Streitmatter-Tran and local sculptor
Visarnsak Savangkaew is on hand to greet the visitor.
The Anima series features two-layered statues of a tiger, bear, peacock, money and deer. The outer skin is coated with clay that when washed away, transforms the creatures into kinnaree, the mythical half women and half bird.
“Anima” by Richard StreitmatterTran and Visarnsak Savangkaew serves as the guardian of Than Bok Khorani National Park.
“This work is about the relationship between humans, animals and the environment. I once watched a traditional dance performance about Kinnaree and I loved it. I want people to realise that we shouldn’t be destroying the environment and making our wild animals homeless,” Streitmatter-Tran says.
“My works have two layers. When the layer of clay washes away, you will see the kinnaree inside. She represents the goodness that is hidden inside.”
Rikou Ueda’s “Letter” is on view at Than Bok Khorani National Park.
Nearby is “The Letter” by Osaka-based artist Rikuo Ueda. Based on the concept of anticipation, it features a wood frame with two giant wings – one holding a paper and the other a pen – and uses the wind to create a ghost drawing.
“This is a private installation for my wife and me. My wife passed away last May then I came to Krabi last November for Thailand Biennale. Back then I used a leaf and the wind to create a postcard and send it to my wife. This artwork is for my wife to send me a message back,” Ueda says.
Hong Kong artist Zheng Bo offers an eye-catching botanical installation inspired by Thai farmer/activist Jon Jandai’s talk “Life Is Hard. Why Do We Make It So Easy?” The artist modified Jon’s statement to point out another aspect of the ecological crisis.
“The artist thinks that life on earth is not easy and is supposed to be hard. For example, pines have a lot of pinecones but only a few survive and grow into a tree,” says Ajjana Wajidee, coordinator of the curating team.
“The artist plays with words from the artwork’s name, using local orchid species that bloom from November to February.”
New-wave Thai artist Chulayarnnon Siriphol turned a cave into a theatre to screen “Birth of Golden Snail” – a short film based on the history of Khao Kanabnam during pre-historical and World War II era – only to see the film banned and a request from OCAC to cut some erotic scenes.
Using 16mm black and white film, the 20-minute movie goes back to the origin of humankind through a fantasy love story of a Japanese soldier and a high-school student, who gives birth to a snail.
Chulayarnnon Siriphol turns a cave into a theatre for a screening of “Birth of Golden Snail”. It’s at Khao Kanabnam.
“It’s really not an ‘R’ rated film. Khao Kanabnam is a historical site, where ancient human bones were discovered and which was a camp for Japanese troops during World War II. So, I wanted to offer a story that takes visitors back to the origin of human life while also looking at local history,” Chulayarnnon says.
“The film has a two-minute scene that reveals a woman’s breast, back and belly. It’s artistic and is not designed to provoke sexual arousal. The character wearing a student uniform is also under discussion.”
The “Giant Ruin” series by Tu Wei-cheng is at Khao Kanabnam
In the main cave, Taiwanese artist Tu Wei-cheng presents the Giant Ruin series, which explores the boundaries between the realms of the real and fictional to rethink history.
Displayed alongside a permanent exhibition of imitation artefacts, his installation has artificial human bones, antiques plus some information boards that relate the past and popular beliefs around Krabi.
LOTS TO SEE IN KRABI
Thailand Biennale, Krabi 2018 continues until February 28. All artworks come with a QR code so visitors can learn more about the concepts and the artists.
Find out more at www.ThailandBiennale.org or www.Facebook.com/ThailandBiennale.