By Phatarawadee Phataranawik
International acclaimed contemporary dancer-choreographer Pichet Klunchun has been re-inventing the classical form of masked dance known as khon for almost 20 years, combining it with Western ballet and modern dance and occasionally drawing criticism from traditionalists of the genre
He regularly collaborates with foreign artists and his Pichet Klunchun Dance Company continues to train a new generation of artists, helping them too to blur boundaries between theatre and visual art.
In his performance exhibition “The Intangible of Emptiness” at the Artist+Run Bangkok Gallery, Pichet and his troupe transformed physical movements using into huge paintings, conveying the limits and physical restriction of human bodies and physical confinement of an art space.
Now Pichet is inviting members of the public to join him and his troupe in creating a new art exhibition, which opens at the Bangkok Art and Culture Centre on Thursday, Valentine’s Day.
The Nation talked to Pichet and the art centre’s director Pawit Mahasarinand on their collaboration, which will see the dust collected from the art centre transformed into pricey artworks.
I DIDN’T SEEN THIS IN THE BACC’S 2019 LINE-UP. IS THIS A LAST-MINUTE ADDITION TO THE PROGRAMME?
Pawit: Frankly, yes. As you may recall, when we held the press conference to update the public about our financial situation last September, I said that after the end of Bangkok Art Biennale 2018 in early February, our two main galleries, on the seventh and eighth floors, would be empty for three months. The situation hasn’t improved: we still haven’t received any support from City Hall, for the 2019 fiscal year and four months have already passed. Plus, no meetings have yet been set up to solve the contract problem and we’re still waiting for our new board of directors. That said, the show must go on. New visitors are coming in everyday to experience various genres of arts so it’s our job to maintain this – no matter what.
That said, Pichet mentioned this idea of his company performing in our main gallery when I became the BACC director 11 months ago, and the stars have aligned now. It’s one of our policies to experiment with blurring, if not erasing, the boundaries among arts genres. People think that here at BACC, performing arts can only take place either in the fourth floor studio or the auditorium one floor above, so it’s our job to prove otherwise. For me, many corners of BACC can be arts spaces –dripping coffee on the first floor and preparing som tum on the fourth floor are arts too.
PICHET, YOU’VE PERFORMED IN INTERNATIONAL PLATFORMS THAT ARE DOMINATED BY VISUAL ARTS, AND YOUR PAST WORK IN THE YOKOHAMA TRIENNALE COMES TO MIND HERE. PLUS, THERE HAVE BEEN MANY DANCE PERFORMANCES IN MUSEUMS AND GALLERIES WORLDWIDE – AN ATTEMPT CLEARLY TO CROSS DISCIPLINES. SO, HOW DIFFERENT IS THIS WORK FROM THOSE?
Pichet: Our “Overloaded: The Intangibles of Emptiness” combines performance and the process of creating visual arts works, and we also welcome the public to participate in this creation. In other words, this is very different from what we did last month at Artist+Run gallery where we, the dancers, used our movements to create visual arts works which remain on exhibit until Thursday (February 14).
The Move Your Vagina Workshop takes place on Valentine's Day.
WHY WOULD YOU WELCOME THIS AUDIENCE’S INTERACTION WITH YOUR WORK NOW?
Pichet: When we talk about dance or movements, I don’t exclusively possess them. Everybody has their own movement and we’ll record these movements by the public who come into the BACC. For example, we’ll put pieces of white cloth at all entrances, including the car entrance. At the end of each day, we’ll collect them for exhibition in the eighth floor main gallery. With their movements, our dancers and the audience will also create a new piece of sculpture, connecting their bodies to the space, with yarn, as well as society. Then, we’ll reinterpret these [collective] movements for our [special fundraising] performance on Saturday [February 16]. All the dancers will also visit BACC’s [usually out-of-bounds] second floor exhibition storage room and vacuum the entire room. We’ll then have a BACC tenth anniversary dust sculpture – the intangible BACC– and we’ll sell this, at the highest possible price, to support [the financially struggling] BACC. The cloths we use in the cleaning will also become another exhibit.
Pawit: Because of the lack of City Hall’s support, we recently had to stop hiring the cleaners.
Pichet: That’s how Pichet Kan Chang got hired! Have you seen the back of my shirt? It reads “Pichet Kan Chang”. When we visited the storage room here, we saw many movable walls, boards and stands that have supported artists’ works here. This is what my company is interested in this year, and that’s why we’re construction workers in [“The Intangibles of Emptiness”] performance at Artist+Run last month.
Pawit: Going back to your question on why the public needs to be part of “Overloaded”, I recall noticing that most of the audience members then – probably about 95 per cent –were artists, particularly those in visual arts. It’s the opposite here at BACC, most visitors are general public, neither artists nor arts students. I believe that each and every one of them has creativity and imagination and so they’re entitled to help creating arts with [internationally acclaimed artists like] Pichet Klunchun Dance Company, even without arts training. Besides, the fact that a dance company which, more often than not, performs in theatres for a ticket-paying audience for a certain amount of time is coming to perform in a public gallery space from 10am to 9pm means also that they’re breaking another boundary.
Pichet: The gallery is the space for visual arts not performing arts, and so when the performers are in it, they become visual arts works. The audience will be able to not only see me but also ask me any questions they have, all the time.
Pawit: And we have to keep in mind that these names – gallery, studio, theatre, screening room –– are simply labels we put on the “empty space” and oftentimes we forget that these names are restricting creative and artistic possibilities and we can do more with them if we think that first and foremost they’re empty space.
The Dance Dance Workshop will be held on Friday possibilities for creation in a new work.
IT MUST BE CHALLENGING FOR THE HOST VENUE’S TEAM TO INFORM THE PUBLIC ABOUT THIS AS WELL.
Pawit: Indeed. Is this an exhibition or a performance? And the first day’s schedule says at 10am the dancers arrive and start moving various kinds of stuff from storage up to the gallery. Is that an exhibition? A performance? Is it art? Is it really worth watching? There are many questions and it’s also BACC’s job to ask questions of the arts, artists and arts audiences, instead of simply doing what we’ve been doing or what the artists and audiences expect us to do.
WHAT DO BOTH OF YOU EXPECT FROM “OVERLOADED: THE INTANGIBLES OF EMPTINESS”?
Pichet: I’d like the audience to go back with a different mindset about arts from what’s been restricting them. Also, I’d like to experiment, and show, how we can continue creating arts, with limited means. I’d like to also note that the public is invited to attend workshops, for free, everyday here. For example, and since Thursday is Valentine’s day, we have the “Move Your Vagina” workshop, and it’s also open to male participants.
Pawit: I’d like our audiences to open their mind and adjust our mindset. For example, our mindset may say Pichet is a dancer and choreographer and what exactly is he doing in the main gallery of a museum? It’s my job as an arts and cultural manager to prove that any kind of arts can be created and take place anywhere and anytime and that our contemporary arts can further develop with less prejudice.
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