Why take one artist to Venice when you can take two? Double the artistry, double the acclaim, right? This appears to be the thinking behind the Thai Pavilion at the 55th Venice Biennale, one of the world’s most important art exhibitions. Unlike the last installment in 2011, when Thai-Indian artist Navin Rawanchaikul explored nationhood in a zany fashion, artists Arin Rungjang and Wasinburee Supanichvoraparch will share Thailand’s space, a warehouse on the Piazza Santa Croce.
What can visitors expect? According to the curatorial statement on the Thai Pavilion’s Facebook page, “the exhibition explores and unfolds the intricate facets of contemporary phenomenon that runs in parallel with the overflowing and overarching informational dispersion. By accessing anecdotes, tales, oral histories, international connectivity, and interweaving popular culture forms, it urges the Biennale audience to draw from personal experiences to re-evaluate the image-saturated world.”
None the wiser? To decode the ivory tower art-speak, we got in touch with the artists. Both revealed that, rather than a close collaboration, they will present their own distinct projects. However, there will be a Thai food theme that binds the two halves of the pavilion together, albeit only loosely – this runs separate to the overall theme for the Biennale, which is ‘The Encyclopedic Palace’, although there will be some thematic links apparently.
One of the co-founders of Thai art initiative As Yet Unnamed, which is currently on hiatus, Arin Rungjang’s (above) piece is called Golden Teardrop and continues his use of readymade, videos and personal stories. However, it will drop the relational art, or audience-participation, elements for which he is also fairly well-known.
“The way I hope audiences participate is by finding a thread of the story that connects to their own,” he says.
It will have two main components, a sculptural installation and a 30-minute documentary, both inspired by thong yod, a traditional Thai dessert with a tiny, golden teardrop like appearance. The sculpture will be made up of 8000 pieces of beaten bronze, each one shaped like a thong yod teardrop. These will cascade from a piece of wood salvaged from an old house.
The documentary, meanwhile, will tell the story of how this egg yolk-based dessert, which is often served at Thai weddings, travelled from Portugal to Japan to the former Siamese capital Ayutthaya.
“Arin Rungjang’s piece continues his use of videos and personal stories”
It will include footage of a Japanese woman, whose mother and grandmother lived in Hiroshima and survived the atomic bomb, making the dessert, as well Thai craftsmen creating the pieces of bronze.
“Altogether these little stories will combine to form a work about the fragmentary nature of history and collective memory,” Rungjang says.
As for Wasinburee Supanichvoraparch (main image), a conceptual ceramicist who runs the Tao Hong Tai : d Kunst art centre in nearby Ratchaburi province, he will use his half of the pavilion to expand audiences’ sensitivities towards multiple levels of contemporary Thai culture.
He goes on to explain that the food-referencing theme imposed by the Thai Ministry of Culture does not limit him to a specific kind of food, such as, say, tom yum goong, but should geographically or historically reflect Thailand as an agrarian country.
“I have developed my concept around the underlying complexity, superficial layers and mobility of contemporary culture,” he says.
To get this concept across, he will deploy video and interactive sculptural installations inspired by the agriculture and craftsmanship of his provincial hometown, including red bricks fired in his family’s kilns. In the run- up to Venice, local villagers were invited to wrap multi-coloured yarn around them, a symbolic act first explored in his 2012 show U.P.O. (Unidentified Permanent Object) at Ardel Gallery.
“Each brick is made from Ratchaburi soil and includes a rice husk mixture,” he says.
“Having villagers wrap different coloured yarn around them is a symbolic gesture. We are creating something together to metaphorically explore what I see as uncontrollable, directionless modern Thai society, and the way in which diverse cultures and people are mixed.”
The bricks will be stacked within a confined space inside the pavilion, he adds. Also featuring in his half of the pavilion, or Poperomia as it’s called, will be a fibre-glass water buffalo that signifies “how this iconic creature is gradually disappearing from the land and our memory”.
The 1976 Thai documentary TongPan, which is about the reality of Thailand’s advancing social and industrial development, will also be screened on a loop. All this was put together rather quickly by the sounds of things.
“I was only contacted by the Office of Contemporary Art and Culture back in January, on returning from a group project in New York,” Rungjang says.
It will be interesting to see whether, like a hastily made Thai dessert, it all hangs together.