ART IN BANGKOK
A New Chapter In Bangkok’s Rich Cultural History
by Dan Jonston
The heart of our vibrant capital city is about to beat to a different rhythm this October when it becomes host to the internationally revered Art Biennale for the first time. Aptly positioned along the coastline of its cultural center, the Chao Phraya River, the city’s pulsating artery will welcome 75 artists from 33 countries in a number of historically significant locations.
The first ever Biennale began in Venice over 120 years ago as a showcase of contemporary art. With over 500,000 attendees enjoying the works displayed in Venice every two years, the hope is that Bangkok will begin its biennial journey into the artworlds historical footnotes and revel in the same success.
One thing is for certain, art is a major part of Bangkokonians life on a day to day basis. The city is wash with artistic expression from graffitied walls to architectural masterpieces incorporating both modern and historic works in their structures and then there is the everyday elements we tend to miss, the expressions created by the owner of our local coffee shop for example. Home to so much religious artwork and the cultural pieces conveying the capital’s multicultural heritage, it really is already an art festival of sorts every moment of every day all year round. With a large bulk of the tourism to the city coming to indulge in the creativity Thailand has to offer them in its varying forms, it is almost natural for the city to host such a prestigious event.
So, the Bangkok Art Biennale (BAB), starting in October and running for 4 months until the middle of February will no doubt enrich the experience of annual visitors during the peak tourist season but should also draw a volume of art enthusiasts as well. A perfect opportunity for young native artists to flaunt their creations to a global audience, but it isn’t just about Thailand’s homegrown talent – although there are many fortunate enough to be selected to celebrate the festival – there are artists from all four corners of the globe befalling the city.
Some of the internationals bringing their artistic flair to BAB are household names, artists such as Marina Abramovic, Aurèle Ricard, Lee Bul, Francesco Clemente and Fiona Hall to name but a few. Then there are the seasoned Biennalians whom have found fame through works at previous Biennale’s around the globe, artisans such as the Russian collaborative AES+F and Chinese born French artist Yan Pei Ming. With so much world famous talent descending on the city, it would be hard to resist a trip over the capitol to engage in the festivities.
Even if you aren’t that much of an art lover, per-say, the uniqueness of the works combined with the wondrous selection of locations about town which they will be displayed is enticement enough. As is with all Biennales around the globe, the artists participating are asked to create pieces specifically for the event and are required to communicate the theme of the event – in this case ‘Beyond Bliss’ – and incorporate a communication of the venue also. Basically, their art has to express the space in which it is displayed, whether that be elements of its history, the feelings in which the artist experience when in the space or utilising parts of the structure to enhance their artistic expression. As well as doing this, they must develop a construct that clearly speaks the language of the theme. As mentioned, the theme for Bangkok’s first Biennale is ‘Beyond Bliss’; a feeling of euphoria, an ideological and dream-like state of mind if you will, something almost unobtainable, yet regularly sort after. Quite fitting really for a nation known internationally as the ‘Land Of Smiles’.
What makes the dynamic of the artworks created for the festival even more interesting is some of the locations chosen to host the works – locations steeped in cultural and historical significance such as Wat Pho, Wat Arun and The Mandarin Oriental Hotel. In all, there are 20 locations around the city to enjoy the display of the artwork during the four months and so much to cover that the meanderings of my fingers on these keys just couldn’t even manage to cover in such a brief introduction. So, with that said, over the coming weeks, I’ll be attempting to give you an update on the magic lined up for this exciting period in the city of Bangkok’s history.
But if you can’t wait till my next splatter of words, then check out the social media (links below), as regular updates, artist biographies, events, exhibits and so much more is consistently posted to help you get more familiar with, well, just about everything the event has to offer. The website, however, goes into even greater depths and lends you insightful tips on the best places to enhance your experience during the event, such as tasty restaurants, relaxing coffee shops, grand hotels and travelers rests and just about anything you could need to make your trip to Bangkok’s first ever Biennale an enjoyable experience.