Office of Contemporary Art and Culture, Ministry of Culture (OCAC)
Dec 18, 2021 - Mar 31, 2022
The Thailand Biennale Korat 2021 ("Thailand Biennale") is being held from December 18th, 2021 to March 31st, 2022. The Thailand Biennale is a nomadic arts festival. The last festival was held in Krabi, but at this time, it is in the province of Nakhon Ratchasima (Korat), the gateway to the Isan region of Northeast Thailand.
Elias Sime, ightrope: I Burned it, 2021
Tightrope Noiseless8, 2019
Dates: Saturday December 18th, 2021 - Sunday March 31st, 2022
Venues: various places in Korat (parks, universities, zoos, etc.), Phimai district (archaeological sites, museums, etc.)
Artistic Director: Yuko Hasegawa
Co-curators: Tawatchai Somkong, Vipash Puritchanont, Seiha Kurosawa
Organized by: Office of Contemporary Arts and Culture, Ministry of Culture, Thailand
Official website: https://www.thailandbiennale.org/
KEIKEN, Wisdoms for Love 3.0, 2021
assume vivid astro focus, Perimetrava Nail Salon, 2021
In this article, we will focus on the overall impression and some of the works by Som Supaparinya, Ngoc Nau, exhibited at the exhibition of our foundation's collection: "Zomi – Trans-local Migrants on the Water". I would like to point out that I did not visit the entire exhibition as it was not fully opened yet when I visited on the 15th and 16th of January, 2022.
The exhibitions are divided into site-specific ones in various parks and around the clock tower, and the indoor ones in the Phi Mai National Museum, and the Fossil Museum, etc. I came to Korat for the first time, and liked it very much because the town still has the atmosphere of being an ancient city. Also, it is less than 4 hours north of Bangkok where the climate is generally milder than that of Bangkok, Thailand.
Make or Break, Translation Project(rest house), 2021
Inside Phi Phi National Park
Yang Fudong, The Bitterly Slient Nights I Hate, 2021
Rudee Tancharoen, Kan Doenthang, 2021: coexistence, 2018-2021
Montien Boonma, Nature’s Breath:Arokaysala, 1995
Bianca Bondi, The Antechambre (Thai Crane), 2021
The exhibition is called "Butterflies Frolicking on the Mud: Engendering Sensible Capital". In other words, can we be like butterflies, detoxifying in a world that has been covered in mud? In Marx's “Capital”, the example of the chrysalis and the butterfly are also given. So, in thinking about "what is capital", this point may also be referred to.
“Sensible" in the subtitle "Sensible Capital" is an adjective meaning ‘thoughtful’, ‘wise’, and ‘reasonable’. In the CONCEPT of the exhibition, Dr. Hirofumi Uzawa's "Social Common Capital" is referred to.
Butterflies Frolicking on the Mud:
Engendering Sensible Capital
According to Dr. Hirofumi Uzawa's “Market, Public, and Human”, "Social Common Capital" includes not only natural capital such as air, water, soil, forests, and rivers, but also social infrastructure such as roads, water supply, sewage system, electricity, and communications, and then institutional capital such as education, healthcare, culture, and finance. It is stated that what exactly is included, and to what extent, depends on natural and historical factors, along with income and other economic factors of each region or country.
The purpose of the concept of “Social Common Capital” exists to fulfil the fundamental rights of citizens. It is therefore stated that such Social Common Capital, as the common property of society, needs to be managed independently and impartially, according to social standards. This could mean that the standards should not be always regulated by the state or the government, but they should be "sensible" on the part of the citizens who hold the Social Common Capital in trust, and on the part of the trustees. Rather than being based on some principle or philosophy, the design of institutions for this purpose should be flexible and optimally realised at the intersection of real social, economic, cultural, and natural conditions.
I have been living in Thailand for a long time now. My sense is that Thai society and the Thai people place a relatively high value on what might be called Social Common Capital or community. In particular, they place great importance on voluntary solidarity within the community, and cooperative relationships with nature. For example, even in our office, if there is an external factor that causes harm to the community and relationships between staff members, they immediately react to it in a negative way.
We are also faced with situations where independent institutional design and operation is functioning within that small community. For instance, I have been involved in cases of agricultural land acquisition (which, as I run a law firm, I am often troubled by) where, in addition to the special legal procedures that are required for the acquisition of agricultural land, there are cases where the customary permission and presence of the leader of the rural community is required. Whether this is “sensible” or not is another matter for debate, but it appears to me that the system is designed and operated in such a way as to maintain a kind of community's own Social Common Capital.
However, there is no doubt that such ideas and practices are being lost in the urbanization of Bangkok. On the other hand, in rural areas of Thailand, including Korat, perhaps because of the strong agricultural working-class culture, it seems possible to be aware of Social Common Capital based on community. Therefore, it is very important to present the concept of Thailand Biennale in rural Thailand.
Nonetheless, what can be considered "sensible"? Let's try to find some hints in the works that are exhibited here. As I specialize in collections of video works, I will focus on the works exhibited on the third floor of Rajamangla University of Technology Isan.
The first thing that struck me was the first sentence of Kamo no Chomei's “Hojo-ki”, from Koichi Sato + Hideki Umezawa's work “Echoes from Clouds, 2021”, as I entered the exhibition room.
The flowing river never stops
and yet the water never stays the same.
Foam floats upon the pools,
never lingering long.
So it is with man
and all his dwelling places
here on earth.
Koichi Sato + Hideki Umezawa, Ecoes from Clouds, 2021
“Hojoki”（Vision of a Torn World）is an essay that was written during the Kamakura period (1185 - 1333) and is one of the three most important essays in Japan, along with “Makuranosoushi” (The Pillow Book) and “Turezuregusa” (Essays in Idleness). The period in which Kamo no Chomei lived was marked by warfare, earthquakes, and famine. These events led him to the state of "impermanence". In Buddhist philosophy, a sense of impermanence means “nothing remains the same even if it appears to be unchanging, that everything is always changing and will eventually perish”. However, such ideas are becoming hard to find in the midst of urbanization, but it seems to get the sympathy in Thai society, which is mostly a Buddhist country, especially in rural areas.
The film traces Japan's extensive power grid infrastructure, providing a visual aesthetic of the mountainous forest areas that supply the cities with resources like water and electricity. The sound, reconstructed by field recordings, shows a strong sense of urgency. The fog, which appears frequently in the work, seems to be a metaphor for the "eventual demise" of the water and electricity infrastructure. In the midst of destruction, it is important to think wisely and sensibly about how to live, as Kamo no Chomei did.
Next, Austrian artist Herwig Scherabon has stayed on a volcanic island in the Atlantic Ocean, investigating the ecology and environment surrounding the region's unique volcanoes. The visual representations which stretch, contract, shake and eventually become abstracted linear bodies in a digital space, might express symbolically of destructive events such as pandemics and volcanic eruptions. In the center of the exhibition room is a small ‘world’ containing an encapsulated, self-sustaining ecosystem, which is enlarged by AR technology on a smartphone. With the destruction of real-world ecosystems, is it only possible to maintain and expand them in fiction?
Herwig Scherabon, Not Really Now Not Anymore, 2021
In the farthest room is a three-sided screenwork, needless to say, "Bitcoin Mining and Field Recordings of Ethnic Minorities". I can't get the sound of the roaring water of the hydroelectric plant and fans from the bitcoin mining out of my head. Is it always the people who are cut off from politics and the state that carry the burden?
Chuang Liu, Bitcoin Mining and Field Recordings of Ethnic Minorities
“Two Sides of the Moon", a 2 surface screen work by Thai artist Som Supaparinya, is a documentary about fishermen who work on their boats between dusk and sunset. The "Mun" in "มูน River" means to protect the precious things inherited from ancestors. The Mun River is the “commons” (common land) for a people who live with the vitality of water, and is the birthplace of some of the oldest myths and beliefs in Northeast Thailand. During the Cold War, it was also known as "Moon River", due to the popularity of the American hit song "Moon River" by Andy Williams, among the American military personnel who were stationed along the river.
Som Supaparinya, Two Sides of the Moon
Som Supaparinya, Two Sides of the Moon
This film focuses on both the light and dark sides of two aspects of the Mun River, caused by the Mun Bon dam development. The film shows that after the dam upstream of Korat became operational, the small river became a large lake, which became part of a national park and a rich fishing ground. The rocky fishing grounds downstream of the Mun River, on the other hand, have dried up and are no longer viable. How do our ancestors see the Mun River as a “commons” which has been changing dramatically?
Lastly, Vietnamese artist Ngoc Nau's “The Silent Nights” was beautifully lit. The work is a series of 7 lightboxes that tell the story of the people who fled from the capital Hanoi to Thai Nguyen province during the US invasion of northern Vietnam in the 1960s. Ngoc Nau shows the complex historical context between Thailand, Vietnam, and China, and the transition from snakes and spirits to cities and homes, and from war, bombs, and starvation to mining development and hard work. It’s hardly saying that we have made “sensible” decisions, as we see her expression of work.
Ngoc Nau, The Silent Nights
Ngoc Nau, The Silent Nights
What is Sensible Capital? For me, it still seems to be in a fog, as expressed in “Echoes from Clouds”. However, it is not necessary to give answers. Not settling for an answer is a prerequisite for opening our thinking to the future.
As mentioned above, the concept of Social Common Capital has been theorized and practiced by Dr. Uzawa in order to fulfil the basic rights of citizens. However, Dr. Uzawa's practice was also marked by a series of setbacks. Even today, the rocky fishermen of the lower reaches of the Mun River are facing difficulties, and the burden is being transferred to the ungoverned Zomia and its people. Isn't the solid foundation of the “commons” in each region turning to be like “mud” and, steadily disintegrating? Yes, we are probably in the mud.
The only hope might be the butterfly that has been brought back by the COVID-19 pandemic. I found a white-green butterfly in Korat Zoo. The butterfly was fluttering around freely and unexpectedly, and then, I soon lost it. In this Asia, perhaps, I have become totally accustomed to moving straightforwardly. Now, in the land of Korat, with butterflies, nature and, above all, with artworks, it is necessary to think a little more deeply about “What is Sensible”.