Why Messy tidied up
Head-turning art from Europe gives the Messy Project Space a fresh look at life
Tourists stroll past an old shophouse on Tanao Road, then turn around and have another look. Why is there a blue ping-pong table inside? And the walls are full of photos of ping-pong tournaments. There’s a portrait of an old man holding a paddle that he apparently designed himself.
So, as tourists with time to kill, they ask if they can play. They have a bit of fun, and in doing so become part of an interactive artwork, “JK Ping Pong Club (UFO)”.
Slovakian artist Julius Koller developed the idea between 1970 and his death in 2007. Koller’s ping pong club is now in action as part of the “Operation UFO” exhibition at Messy Project Space, the gallery of sorts on Tanao Road.
Koller (1939-2007) was the subject of the retrospective exhibition "Mini-concepts/Maxi-ideas", at GB Agency in Paris last June. At the same time, Chitti Kasemkitvatana was displaying his installation “monument / [...] / memor(y)ial - Another Transmission” as a guest artist at Level One gallery, up the stairs from GB Agency. He and Phatchaya also took part in the “Mount Fuji Doesn’t Exist” show at Paris’ Le Plateau Art Centre last year.
That’s where Chitti Kasemkitvatana and Phatchaya Phinthong saw it and arranged to bring the ping-pong home, to the Messy Project Space.
Co-operating with GB Gallery, now Chitti and Phatchaya Phinthong have brought Koller back to Thailand with them, devoting their two-storey gallery to the influential Slovakian’s work.
Koller’s UFO stands for “Universal-cultural Futurological Operation”, but Koller’s future is a very mundane one, where the ordinary things in life are revered.
Koller constantly questioned the nature of art, developing ideas about “anti-art” and “trash art” and forms of art based on games that facilitated jumping between real life and the art of the imagination. His “anti-happenings” turned to public events into cultural milestones just by focusing on real objects and everyday banality.
A pared-down version of “Operation UFO” still offers Bangkok browsers the same kind of experience. Three works are installed as if site-specific. The ping-pong table is deservedly prominent on the ground floor. In Space 1/2 on the upstairs mezzanine is Koller’s “Escape of Physical Object (UFO)” from 1992.
The second-floor studio is given over to “Galeria Ganku” from 1971, which Koller originally set up on Slovakia’s Mount Ganek.
The second floor also has a pile of free takeaway prints of “Flying Cultural Situation (UFO)”, a 1983 black-and-white portrait of the artist and his son taken by Koller’s partner in life, Kveta Fulierova.
Conceptually, Messy’s mission is similar to Koller’s. Before the UFO landed, the shophouse was a clutter of paintings, prints and posters, shelves full of art books, artist-designed T-shirts hanging here and there. The little mezzanine alternately displayed work by emerging and experienced artists.
Chitti and Phatchaya opened Messy last year to demonstrate that art is adaptable to multiple platforms, an approach they’d already championed in their self-published magazine, Messy Sky. The magazine’s content constantly fluctuates in structure, even including digital files and sculptured objects that the reader can arrange.
Foreign artists including Yoko Ono contribute, and there are editions in Paris and Berlin as well as Bangkok. The title Messy Sky derives from rok fah, as Thais call the kind of laurel wood that’s used to bind the magazine.
“So we began with Messy Sky magazine and then opened a shop selling artwork and coffee,” says Phatchaya. “Then that developed into an art space and studio, and it was even my home when my house was flooded last year!”
“It’s like an art community for us, where we can share our experiences,” Chitti adds. There’s plenty of room for friendship amid the creative endeavours.
Messy has drawn all sorts of art enthusiasts – students and emerging talents, curators and visiting foreign artists. Filmmaker-artist Nontawat Numbenchapol, artist Tanatchai Bandasak and photographer Kornkrit Jianpinidnan have taken turns mounting site-specific installations at Messy.
Last week the Messy collective participated in the Live at the Scala micro-festival, which pooled performance art, video and installations and introduced a lot of people to its efforts via the “live” edition of Messy Sky and “Cinema and Space, Extracting the Unrecognised”, a video installation curated by Mary Pansanga, featured “Gyre”, a work by Austrian artist Bjorn Kammerer and “The vehicle is outward... (interior appearance)” by Thai artist Kornkrit Jianpinidnan. Both works explore the concrete form of an architectural space albeit an abstract review.
After the “Operation UFO” exhibition closes, Messy will shift to virtual space. They’re taking a month’s break before they start searching for a fresh location in Chinatown.
The “Operation UFO” exhibition runs until February 28.
Messy is at 194 Tanao Road, near the Kok Wua intersection, just steps away from Khao San Road.
The gallery is open Tuesdays and Thursdays from 2 to 7pm.
Find out more at www.MessySky.com.