Prof Dr. Apinan Poshyananda arrived in Shanghai with his curatorial team for the upcoming 2nd Bangkok Art Biennale (BAB) on November 8th, to prepare for their press conference the following day. They were there to announce the first 16 participating artists in the upcoming 2020 edition, as well as the theme, “Escape Routes”.
▲Prof. Dr. Apinan Poshyananda, Chief Executive and Artistic Director, Bangkok Art Biennale
From 2018’s “Beyond Bliss” to the newly released “Escape Routes”, the themes of the BAB remain fascinating, as if they are two thrilling fresh holiday guides wanting to be turned over - a perfect summary of Bangkok, one of the hottest resort cities in the world. And indeed, the BAB has strengthened the multidimensional nature of Thailand's tourism industry.
However, what the biennale brought to the city is far more than just a few new high-end parties. The conversation with Dr. Poshyananda imparted that the notion of "escape" in this context is more of a solemn collective reflection, offering “art practice as mental escapism where meditation, contemplation, ritualism, healing and performance become the essence of hope and optimism”.
The BAB has been a pioneering attempt in the young Southeast Asian art scene. Within this context, Dr. Poshyananda, who previously served as the Permanent Secretary for the Ministry of Culture of Thailand, and has now been assigned to the Biennale as Chief Executive, is quick to point out that the Biennale is attempting to explore the potential of local arts and culture, to attract wider international attention to this region, and to collaborate with different social divisions within and beyond the art circle.
I sat down with Dr. Poshyananda at the West Bund Art District just prior to their announcements, to discuss his mission for “Escape Routes”.
NOTE: Besides the interview, I inserted some artworks from the last edition in the article for readers to get the whole picture of the BAB and the continuity of its themes. The list of the first 16 participating artists is attached at the bottom.
‘Migrational Craving [Exodus 1=1 bMt]’, 2017/8
(Part of Soaked Dream project, ongoing project since 2008)
Bangkok Art and Culture Center (BACC), Bangkok
1st Bangkok Art Biennale, Bangkok, Thailand (19 October to 3 Feb 2019)
Art Market Journal: The word “escape” is often mentioned in a contemporary context, what do you think we are escaping from?
Dr. Poshyananda: In the grave new world that we live in, cracks are appearing everywhere. Trade wars, cyberattacks, waves of migration, unresolved territorial disputes, racism, genocide and terrorism, all are incredibly disruptive. Not much optimism is seen anywhere around the globe for that matter.
Kamol Phaosavasdi (Thailand)
‘Sweet Boundary: In the Light Tube’ 2018
2 x 12 x 2 m.
Collection of the Artist
With China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and US go-it-alone approach, of let’s “Make America great again”, the world awaits inevitable collision. Graham Allison’s book Destined for War: Can America and China Escape Thucydides’s Trap? unravels doom and gloom in the near future.
Gauri Gill (India)
‘Acts of Appearance’ 2015
Collection of the Artist
AMJ: The anxieties and crises you’ve described are perceived on a socio-political scale. Is the tendency to escape ubiquitous in individual lives as well?
Dr. Poshyananda: Yes, I think so. The desire to move and to transform has been strong. Nowadays we have diversified approaches to it - traveling across distance with high speed, transforming our bodies through plastic surgery and extending life expectancy with stem cell technology… People escape from their way of living, their identity, and their body, and fundamentally from themselves.
Eisa Jocson (The Philippines)
‘Becoming White’ 2018
performance and mixed-media
AMJ: How do you view art as a destination to the escaping journey? Do you think art really offers solutions to these problems?
Dr. Poshyananda: Although some people deny art as a pragmatic discipline, I hold a firm belief in its power to influence reality. In art, humankind has found potential answers to many of their major realistic issues. Actually, contemporary art experiments on the material, the technology, on digitalization, and many other fields that have shaped our current lifestyle radically.
Therefore, we continue to confront our possible futures through the eyes and vision of artists and creative thinkers, whose art and actions will offer us hope and desire for a better humankind, and care for the earth. The artists (in the BAB) will be invited to find escape routes by reflecting on issues such as environmental detriment, pollution, social malaise, gender, diaspora, inclusivity and political differences.
Choi Jeong Hwa (South Korea)
“Happy Happy Project: Breathing Flower” 2016
(808 Chinese Characters)
inflatable flower, fabric, 4.5 x 8 meters
Collection of the Artist
AMJ: How do you understand the word “routes” in the theme? Will the Biennale discuss the artistic motif of “escaping” from a historical and geographical perspective? Or will it study how people “escape” reality through art from a behavioral and sociological angle?
Dr. Poshyananda: “Route” refers to both the trajectory in time and space, as well as the behavioral approach. I think the dimensions overlap with each other. Take “migration” as an instance, when a project attempts to study this motif in art history, it’s impossible to avoid discussing how people resist or compromise with his/her nationality and cultural background at the same time - which form a study on the approaches to “escape”.
Jitsing Somboon (Thailand)
‘Paths of Faith’ 2018
installation/clothes made of micro poly fabric with silkscreen print, CNC cut on plywood sheets, and steel with white color
170 x 50 x 170 cm.
Art for sharing
AMJ: If we view the city of Bangkok itself as an oeuvre, completed together by locals and external visitors, it seems to be a perfect demonstration of the themes, “Beyond Bliss” and “Escape Routes”. How do you interpret the relationship between the BAB themes and the city?
Dr. Poshyananda: The city itself is one of our essential inspiration sources. As a renowned resort city, it somewhat bears the world’s utopian dreams. A universal quest - for immortality, eternal happiness and superhuman powers - is strongly demonstrated here.
Nino Sarabutra (Thailand)
‘WHAT WILL YOU LEAVE BEHIND?’ 2012
125,000 unglazed porcelain, Dimensions variable
Collection of the Artist
And like Shanghai, Bangkok is a melting pot, where various subcultures, religions, and political forces meet and collide. The BAB attempts to penetrate some boundaries by unfolding itself throughout the city, manifesting across multiple sites, from the Temple of Dawn, Temple of the Reclining Buddha, and the Temple of Iron Fences, to venues includingBAB Box @ One Bangkok, Bangkok Art and Culture Centre, Museum Siam, Lhong 1919, as well as leading participating department stores.
Huang Yong Ping (China, France)
‘Zou You He Che’ 2005
7.5 x 2 x 3.5 m.
AMJ: Leaving aside the plentiful cultural contexts offered by the city, do you think the Thai art scene is a “developed” one, and what challenges do your team face when organizing the Biennale?
Dr. Poshyananda: The local contemporary art scene is actually developing, it is in a young age. Its immaturity is most conspicuous in the art market: artists and galleries often fail to build long-term and effective cooperative relationships; the art auction rules are constantly broken by backstage deals. The fact that different parties can't reach a consensus on the value of contemporary art is detrimental to art practices. But the bright side is that we saw some local gallery owners persistent in supporting art projects for nearly 20 years even if there hasn’t been reliable financial returns. Auction houses, like Christie’s Bangkok office, endeavor to change the picture in their sector as well. Also, many talented curators and artists are discovered here.
Tao Hui (China)
‘The Dusk of Teheran’ 2014
single channel HD video, 4 mins 14 sec
Collection of the Artist
As for the BAB, we try to integrate localism with internationality. First we are fortunate to have this amazing curatorial team consisting of Thai art professionals, including Dr. Sook-Kyung Lee, Dow Wasiksiri, Asst. Prof. Wutigorn Kongka and Ong Puay Khim. We also received great support from our international advisory panel, which includes renowned performance artist Marina Abramović and acclaimed curators and art historians, Fumio Nanjo, Alexandra Munroe and David Elliott.Challenges are overcome through the collaborative work among them.
AMJ: Could you give us a brief introduction to the BAB operational rules? And which stage are we in for the upcoming edition?
Dr. Poshyananda: There won’t be national pavilions. Instead, artists will represent themselves. We plan to invite 75 artists for next edition through 3 different approaches: first, the aforementioned curatorial team searches for suitable artists in their daily work; second, the international advisors recommend some names; and third, open call offers an opportunity to all artists from around the world to be part of BAB 2020 (see www.bkkartbiennale.com), which is now available until 25 December 2019.
The first 16 contemporary artists who will be part of Bangkok Art Biennale 2020 are:
1. Anish Kapoor, UK
2. Araya Rasdjarmrearnsook, Thailand
3. Bill Viola, USA
4. Julia Fullerton-Batten, Germany
5. Leandro Erlich, Argentina
6. Melati Suryodarmo, Indonesia
7.Dinh Q. Lê, Vietnam
8. Rirkrit Tiravanija, Thailand
9. Lu Yang, China
10. Zhang Kechun, China
11. Nipan Oranniwesna, Thailand
12. Ana Prvački, Serbia
13. Thanet Aowsinsiri, Thailand
14. Baatarzorig Batjargal, Mongolia
15. Yuree Kensaku, Thailand
16. Ho Rui An, Singapore