Book publisher and distributor, art-book store and gallery owner and passionate patron of the arts in Thailand, Bangkok native Shane Suvikapakornkul has made it one of his missions to put Thai artists and photographers on the map alongside their international counterparts through ground-braking artistic showcases. The man whose personal artistic sensibilities and tastes contribute so much to Serindia Gallery’s unique reputation opens up to Bangkok 101.
You spent many years as a book publisher-distributor in Chicago. Why did you decide to leave the Windy City and come home?
My parents still live in Bangkok and I’d been away for 15 years, so it was time to come back. Also, by the time I returned in 2005, the efficiency of the Internet allowed me to work from anywhere. Public transportation and highway infrastructure here was also more developed, so it was a good time to return home. Serindia Publications “is inspired to pioneer new digital silk roads…” and yet you are obviously in love with the printed word.
Are you ‘old school’ at heart?
Definitely, and I have come to realise that e-books don’t work in terms of art books. It’s not simply about converting content into static PDFs. We need a complete rethink of the process and more importantly we need to ask what these books are and who are they for? To develop existing content for digital media doubles the effort and cost. Current editorial and economic models are not working and remember, the distribution of digital products is controlled only by handful of companies. It really has to be a project with a specific aim for the use of digital content. The “new digital silk road” is more of an institutional effort in the same vein as the British Library’s International Dunhuang Project, which has the support of international collaborators.
On your return to Thailand, you opened Serindia Gallery. How has the Arts scene developed in Bangkok in recent years?
Oh, it has become much more dynamic and exciting. Artists have more tools at their disposal, they are more worldly and not afraid to experiment. Social media give them more exposure. There are also more artists working today, so to maintain quality galleries have to be selective and determined about their direction.
How can Thai contemporary Artgain a stronger foothold on the global stage?
It has certainly gained attention as Western academics and museums in particular turn their regional focus on Asia. Only a handful of Thai artists have made their names internationally. And those are the ones who have the whole gallerycollectors- auction-media-publishingacademic system working for them. One has to understand the dynamics of the system. Artists are also stars in their own right on social media and have certain control over their exposure.
Is your latest venture, the HARDCOVER art-book stores at BACC and Central Embassy, a return to your ‘book roots’?
I liken it to the recent history of the cinema industry. Hollywood was scared that the advent of the digital download would kill movie theatres, so they built fantastic new theatres to enhance the viewer experience. And they survived because digital downloads cannot replicate the theatre experience. Art publishers have much less real estate in which to show books, but what’s the point of publishing beautiful art books if people don’t get to see and touch them? In a tough environment, I have tried to create an outlet for my own books and for my colleagues in the art publishing field. HARDCOVER is a different kind of bookshop, very specific, modest in scale, and full of the spirit of what is on show. The experience of visiting art-book stores to find inspiration cannot be replicated digitally.
Where do you take visitors for a quintessential Bangkok experience?
For me the riverside remains a quintessential Bangkok experience. You can pick and choose from a wide variety of great riverfront properties and outlets in which to treat your visitors. There are fantastic shopping opportunities and dining venues, and of course it is cooler down by the river.
If you could change one thing about life in Bangkok, what would it be?
Less sugar in everything!