On art in Bangkok

There is purportedly a burgeoning arts scene in Bangkok, and I have spent quite a lot of the last week trying to find it. It seems that the rule is as follows: If it’s meant to be there, it won’t be. If you aren’t looking, you’ll turn a corner and find it. I must have spent hours and walked miles in the heat, hunting for galleries that either no longer exist or are inexplicably closed with no indication of when they may reopen. The most exciting was my visit to Tadu Gallery in the Barcelona Motors Building, which my trusty (ha!) Lonely Planet indicated was a “major centre for experimental art, culture and conversation” close to the Thailand Cultural Centre metro stop. In fact it’s about a half mile trek down a hot and polluted 3-lane road to find, in my case, an empty and unmanned space full of boxes atop a BMW dealership. I’m sure that when they have exhibits, the exhibits are great, but from the information I could find there it seemed that these are few and far between – hardly a hive of activity.The one exception to that, and I think we were lucky to find it, was Subconsciouscape by Noraset Vaisayakul at Galley VER in Klong Sarn Plaza building, Klong Sarn Market. Getting there was an adventure in itself, involving the BTS (skytrain) and 2 ferries. When we got there, we navigated our way up a foreboding and unlit stairwell past what can only be described as heaps of junk. Just as the floor came to eyelevel, we were greeted by an extraordinarily intricate and energetic, life-sized pencil sketch of a dog that had been drawn on the wall. On an almost empty shelving unit had been placed a clay sculpture of a head. We found the unassuming door to the gallery opposite piles of wood and cardboard; on the wall by the entrance was the brochure for the exhibition, so at least we knew we were in the right place. On entering, however, all we found was an alcove with a tv on wheels, and a huge, triangular box constructed from mdf and 2by4s, suspended from the ceiling. Timidly, we walked accross the room to a doorway, through which was emanating lots of excited Thai conversation. I stuck my head through, and was greeted by 6 men and a video camera. I slunk back, but was followed by a man who turned out to be Noraset himself. It turns out that he and his exhibit were being filmed for a Thai tv show and, as the camera man followed him when he came to talk to us, so were we! He asked us to come back after the interview. So, we went and explored the area and returned in 30 minutes, a little unsure of what might greet us given my previous 6 or so experiences with Thai art galleries. When we were shown the installation by Noraset, it turned out that you sit in the ‘control area’ and use a wireless remote to explore the terrain that Noraset constructed – his subconscious – within the aforementioned triangle. You control the direction of movement of a robot, and the direction of view of the camera, in order to journey through the strange, eerily beautiful world that is the inside of Noraset’s head. The robot is a bit hard to control, the camera a little fuzzy, and the terrain is jagged and bumpy. You often get stuck and disorientated; but every so often, you are suddenly confronted with something beautifully etherial that quite simply takes your breath away. It is a perfect allegory of the building of a relationship with someone. Seriously, Noraset’s installation is absolute genius. So, for anyone hanging around Bangkok at the moment here are my tips for getting to see good contemporary art:1. Go to Gallery VER, it’s amazing! but the installation is only there until Feb 14th. Get to it by taking a ferry to stop 3 on the river – Si Phraya. Turn left and walk up past the big hotel, turn left again and that takes you to the river crossing pier of Si Phraya – from here cross to Klong Sarn. Walk into the market, go down the 2nd row of stalls and VER is very obviously on your right.2. Go to the Thailand Cultural Centre changing exhibitions gallery to see a wide range of Thai art. Some of the sculpture is astounding, and there are obvious Thai influences in some of the very original work you see there.3. Go to Chatuchak market for a load of amazing stalls. My favourite, and a guy from whom I bought, is Kongsak Poonpholwattanaporn, who is also exhibited at…4. Zen: The Art of Living on the 8th floor of Central World, Chit Lom or Siam BTS – new trends in furniture and art, some amazing chairs!5. More design than art, Moody at MetroMall in Asok / Sukumvit change over.6. The cafe next to Zen on floor 3 of Central World has some intriguing art on the walls at the moment – not worth a special trip but if you’re that way for #4 then it’s worth popping in.NB: I haven’t had time to see the university art galleries, but given the quality of the artwork I’ve seen here, IF they are open, I think they’d be worth a trip. I’m too tired of tramping around in the heat to go out to them on my last day in the city though!Finally – get GuRu magazine for tips on what’s on and from there you can find places that will have leaflets. It’s always a gamble to find places here, but if you persevere it can sometimes really pay off. Don’t give up due to the frustration of the daft, hit-and-miss Bangkok address systems.

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