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The third edition of the Bangkok Art Biennale opened last fall, and is on view through February 23, 2023. Under the title “CHAOS : CALM,” it features the work of 73 local and international artists across 12 venues, including one that is virtual, art spaces like Bangkok Art and Culture Centre, and temples like Wat Pho and Wat Arun. The biennial is organized by the Thai Beverage Public Company Limited and supported by the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration, the Tourism Authority of Thailand, and the Thailand Convention and Exhibition Bureau.
As the chief executive and artistic director, Professor Dr. Apinan Poshyananda gathered a team of curators for this edition, which activates public and private sectors of the city. Nigel Hurst, Loredana Pazzini-Paracciani, Jirat Ratthawongjirakul, and Dr. Chomwan Weeraworawit curated a program that explores our current times, both turbulent and hopeful for the future. Visitors to Bangkok will discover pieces by artists like Marina Abramović, Jake and Dinos Chapman, Arthur Jafa, Jitish Kallat, Kamin Lertchaiprasert, Nawin Nuthong, Chiharu Shiota, Pitchapa Wangprasertkul, and more.
To learn more about the biennial and its growing scope and impact on Bangkok, Whitewall spoke with Dr. Weeraworawit about working with artists including Kennedy Yanko and Tom Sachs, the latter having built a fully working long-tail boat named Infinity.
WHITEWALL: How did you initially join the curatorial team for this edition of the Bangkok Art Biennale?
CHOMWAN WEERAWORAWIT: I owe a lot to our creative director, Professor Dr. Apinan Poshyananda, whom I’ve known for a very long time. About two years ago, he asked, “What are you doing in 2022? Would you be interested in being on the curatorial team of the biennale?”
I didn’t want to look at chaos or calm. I’m far more interested in everything in between that no one really wants to talk about. He recognized how that in itself was synonymous with how I’ve always contributed to the ecosystem of contemporary art here—you’re part of it but you’re not; you’re fundraising but, actually, you’re also doing PR; you’re also helping form the curatorial thesis, but you’re not the curator. I think I’ve always been interested in everything that’s in between.
WW: So once you arrived at that looking at that in-between space, what was the next step for you in terms of starting to reach out to artists to participate? How did the city of Bangkok influence that?
CW: I had a lot of time to research, and then I made an enormous deck— my wish list of artists. We have 73 artists in total, and the idea was that each curator had five to seven. You understand that you have a whole city—it’s 12 venues, it’s quite sprawling. You’re on the river, you’re in Old Town, but then you’re in Downtown. There’s development and we still have communities that have been here for a really long time.
One artist I really wanted to work with was Kennedy Yanko. If there was someone who was able to embody this idea, of forms colliding, her work goes beyond an expectation. You don’t expect metal to look like it’s supple and soft. The second person I called was Tom Sachs. We’ve known each other since he came to the film festival that I co-founded ten years ago. He did a presentation back then, screened the film 10 Bullets, and gave a workshop on color to our guests. Tom and I went on a motorcycle ride around this little island together and at some point, we were in this valley, and the motorcycle stops, and we’re stuck. Eventually, he managed to get the motorcycle to start, but from that, Tom said, “Let’s next time make a boat together. I want to make a long-tail boat.”
It’s amazing to hear him talk about how a Thai long-tail boat becomes a vehicle for the exploration of uncharted waters, or waters that we might recognize, communities that we sometimes forget about. And in a way that, how is that not space travel? How is that not a kind of understanding of difference and exploration? So all of a sudden, this humble Thai long-tail boat, specifically from the South, is part of Tom’s space program.
WW: This is the third edition of the biennale. How have you seen it impact the cultural and contemporary art scene there?
CW: This is our third and it’s a matter of repetition. The first one was like, “What is this? Who are all these people? Wait, we’re in a temple?” I think it made people question, and when I say people, I mean people that are not in the art world. With the second, “Escape Routes,” it was in 2020. The country was closed but we got 450,000 people over four months to visit all of our venues. The biennale became a biennale for the people. It wasn’t about the art world. It was about students who couldn’t go to the mall or didn’t want to go to the mall. And they populated the spaces—it was packed every day. This is for everyone to enjoy. And when it starts to move, you see there’s more galleries, there’s more people, there’s more people walking in to see things, there’s more questions, there is more interest. We’ve come a really long way.