By Phatarawadee Phataranawik
Mrigadayavan Palace, the summer villa of King Rama VI, which sits on the coast of Cha-am in Phetchaburi province, is one of Thailand’s best known cultural attractions. Now the palace-cum-museum will be attracting many more culture buffs thanks to its recent upgrade to a learning centre. And it’s getting off to a fascinating start as its new Archive Room, which opened in October, brings two contemporary art exhibitions, rare collections, architectural artefacts, a botanical archive and a library together under the same roof.
“The late HRH Princess Bejaratana, the only daughter of King Rama VI, hoped this palace would serve as a learning centre for the people and as a way to express gratitude towards His Majesty the King Bhumibol and King Rama VI,” says Klaomard Yipintsoi, director of the Office of Mrigadayavan Palace Foundation.
Klaomard teamed up once again with her old friend, curator Chitti Kasemkitvatana, to oversee the conversion of an old storage building into the contemporary Archive Room. The pair worked together in the 1990s on another conversion, turning an old shophouse in Bangkok’s Yaowarat district into About Studio/About Cafe, which soon became known as one of the hottest contemporary art centres in Asia.
This time, they have paired with experts in contemporary art, architecture, botany as well as museology to highlight and integrate Thai history, art and culture during the Sixth Reign.
A visit offers an unparalleled opportunity to learn about the unique mix of Thai-European architecture at the palace, which consists of 16 golden teak buildings spread over a 3.5-square-kilometre compound nested between the Savoey Kapi and Sam Phraya mountains and surrounded by a restored beach forest and herbarium.
“We have so much in our collection that we wanted to make this Archive Room a learning centre offering information on the conservation of art, architecture and the restoration of the beach forest through these architectural artefacts, animations and art exhibitions,” Chitti explains.
The building housing the archive is a testament to the technology of a bygone age, with a roof made of two concrete plates attached to each other in a system that was invented during the reign of the King Rama VI, more than a century ago, says architect Araya Songprapai, who has been involved in the physical conservation efforts. Visitors can also learn about the palace’s roof construction through a computerised display of three-dimensional drawings.
On walking into the archive, visitors will see samples of several of the original construction materials and decorative items, such as part of a hand-embroidered partition, and what remains of a damaged candelabra and the clay roof. Crafted by artist Thakol Khosa-ad using traditional joinery techniques, the wooden cabinet displays seven objects collected from the restoration of the palace.
“These porcelain door knobs were produced by a company, which had been in business since 1800. This roof cover has holes for ventilation and this base of a round pillar, both from Samosorn Sewakamart Hall, was gouged,” a member of staff explains.
Chitti has added colour to the archive with two new contemporary art exhibitions. While Thanachai Bandasak portrays the beautiful architecture of the palace though his video installation “MRIG”, “Recollection of Beach Forest”, an exhibition by paper art design studio Likay Bindery, tackles the restored beach forest.
Tanatchai’s “MRIG” is inspired by the open-space architecture of the palace’s throne halls that were designed and built to suit the geography and the climate. Filmed in the summer, it shows the ever-changing nature and captures angles not normally seen by the naked eye. Thanachai’s impressive video brings viewers inside the thrones halls, which are off limits to tourists due to damage in certain areas. The video plays over the throne’s halls’ beautiful interiors looking out to the beach. Viewers can almost feel the gentle breeze lifting the curtains in the bright summer sunlight.
“I used the stop-motion technique in the transitional shots. This video presents the perspective from inside out, a view that most visitors cannot see as they are not allowed in those areas,” says Tanatchai who holds a master’s degree in visual arts from l’Ecole Nationale Superieure d’Arts Paris-Cergy in France.
“Through his video, the artist also captures part of a hand-embroidered partition, the only original left in the palace,” Chitti adds.
That partition has now been framed and hangs on the wall at the new archive. The curator says the foundation is planning to study and preserve it and hopes also to come up with a reproduction.
Designers Mali Chulakiet and Phantipa Thanchookiet of Likay Bindery have lovingly transformed rare species from the beach forest into their “Recollections of Beach Forest” exhibition.
The show features three series – “Visual Diary”, “Plant Sculpture” and “Paper Botanical”. Each conveys botanical knowledge through paper art and reflects the diversity of the beach forest plants the pair collected between February and July.
“We accompanied biologist Assoc Prof Kittichet Sridit of Prince of Songkhla University on four occasions as he surveyed the beach forests near Mrigadayavan Palace and at Bo Nok in Prachuap Khiri Khan province. We learnt a lot about the beach forest and the herbarium specimens. We collected more than 20 different species and present them here in the form of art,” the artist told The Nation.
Now on show in the archive, the “Visual Diary” looks like a mini herbarium. Displayed in wooden boxes with glass fronts, it shows dried plants with their hand-written descriptions on paper that looks very much like old parchment, though it is in fact new. Each has a mini golden dot, which the artists say refers to the sun burning the leaves.
To reflect the plant’s characteristics, the artists have created plaster and resin sculptures for the “Plant Sculpture” series and these are display along with slide shows on the iPads under the Archive Room’s glass counters.
Standing lady sculptures with black-and-white photos proving that they were once displayed in the palace are placed nearby. Another corner is given over to a mini library filled with dozen of texts on the palace’s history, as well as King Rama VI’s books of his plays, and tomes on conservation and the beach forest. Chitti and his team have also assembled an aural history drawn from interviewing elderly residents living nearby.
The final piece “Paper Botanical”, a work delicately carved in paper that looks amazingly real, is on display in the beachside residence of Chao Phraya Ramrakhop.
“We collected the plants and flowers for pressing and photographing then doctored the photos. Finally we assembled shapes, colours and features similar to those plants into a natural sculpture,” the artist says.
And it is in this beachside residence that viewers can end their tour, sipping tea and nibbling on scones while enjoy the cool breeze and beach forests.
A great day out
- The Mrigadayavan Palace and Archive Room are open daily except Wednesday from 8.30am to 4.30pm.
- The debut exhibitions “Mrig” by Thanachai Bandasak and “Recollection of Beach Forest” by Likay Bindery are on display in the Archive Room until January 5.
- Admission is Bt30 for viewing the landscape and the Archive Room. For admission to the palace itself, |add another Bt30.
- For more information, call (032) 508 444-5 or visit www.Mrigadayavan.or.th and Facebook/Mrigadayavan Palace.