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Bangkok Art Biennale: In Search of a New Order

By Rémy Jarry  |  Bangkok, 2 November 2022

Bangkok Art Biennale: In Search of a New Order

Mongkol Plienbangchang, พื้น ที่ เลือก Chosen Ground (2020). Courtesy blurborders International performance art eXchange, Phatthalung. Photo: อภิศักดิ์ ราชขวัญ Apisak Ratchakwan.

The 2022 Bangkok Art Biennale (BAB) connects the dots of the contemporary, with more than 200 artworks by 73 artists reflecting on our precarious condition as human beings and the accumulating threats to planet earth.

Presented across 12 venues in Bangkok, CHAOS : CALM (22 October 2022–23 February 2023) has been conceived as the last opus of a trilogy inaugurated by the Biennale's two previous editions: Beyond Bliss in 2018 and Escape Routes in 2020.

Nakrob Moonmanas, Dreams of Ayutthaya (2022) (still). Video.

Nakrob Moonmanas, Dreams of Ayutthaya (2022) (still). Video. Courtesy the artist.

Under the artistic direction of Apinan Poshyananda and a curatorial team comprising Loredana Pazzini-Paracciani, Chomwan Weeraworawit, Nigel Hurst, and Jirat Ratthawongjirakul, this year's Biennale can be read as an attempt to weave the ancient with the contemporary, as well as the East with the West in quest of a new (artistic) order.

At Wat Pho, one of three Buddhist temples among the Biennale's venues, Antony Gormley's site-specific sculptures Contain and Connect (both 2022) epitomise this ambition. Embodying the British artist's deep interest in Buddhism and Jainism, the rusty iron human-sized sculptures are displayed in two separate courtyards of the temple, without pedestals.

Antony Gormley, RULE (2018). Cast iron. 149 x 45.5 x 75 cm. Exhibition view: Sight, Delos (2 May–31 October 2019).

Antony Gormley, RULE (2018). Cast iron. 149 x 45.5 x 75 cm. Exhibition view: Sight, Delos (2 May–31 October 2019). Courtesy NEON Foundation and Ephorate of Antiquities of Cyclades. © Antony Gormley. Photo: Oak Taylor Smith.

Standing on the axis of the courtyard gates, Connect is particularly striking with its visual rhyme consisting of highly stylised and fractal-like designs that recall Thai kranok (pattern of lines) and engage a spiritual dialogue with emptiness. Gormley adds a Western vibe to the temple's precinct known for its Sino-Siamese identity.

At Wat Prayoon, Yee I-Lann achieves another blend with Southeast Asian vernacular culture. Based in the Malaysian Borneo state of Sabah, the artist has produced two works in collaboration with Sabah's communities: a mixed-media installation comprising handwoven mats, hello from the outside (2019), and a single-channel video, Pangkis (2021).

Yee I-Lann, Pangkis (2021). Exhibition view: Until We Hug Again, CHAT (Centre for Heritage, Arts and Textile), Hong Kong (1 September–7 November 2021).

Yee I-Lann, Pangkis (2021). Exhibition view: Until We Hug Again, CHAT (Centre for Heritage, Arts and Textile), Hong Kong (1 September–7 November 2021). Courtesy CHAT.

In the temple's Sermon Hall, two mats hung frontally show text in English and Thai respectively. The English mat features lyrics from the Guns N' Roses song 'Sweet Child O' Mine' (1987). Visitors are invited to sit on a third mat in the middle to sing meditatively in both languages. Yee's emphasis on creolisation mirrors her reflection on imperialism, her community's resilience, as well as her descent from Chinese, Sabah, and New Zealand ancestors.

At the Queen Sirikit National Convention Center (QSNCC)—a new venue for the Biennale located in an entirely rebuilt complex—Jitish Kallat is showing Untitled (2 minutes to midnight) (2018), a sculptural installation made of mineral-based composite, pigments, and stainless steel.

Jitish Kallat, Integer Studies (Drawing from Life) (2021). Exhibition view: CHAOS : CALM, 2022 Bangkok Art Biennale (22 October 2022–23 February 2023).

Jitish Kallat, Integer Studies (Drawing from Life) (2021). Exhibition view: CHAOS : CALM, 2022 Bangkok Art Biennale (22 October 2022–23 February 2023). Courtesy the artist and Bangkok Art Biennale.

The blend becomes cosmic in Kallat's set of six sculptures featuring monumental versions of Palaeolithic hand axes and prehistoric stone tools. Clusters of reptiles, mammals, fish, and bird eyes are engraved on the surface of each.

Presaging an impending cataclysm, Kallat's works are placed on a plinth shaped like the doomsday clock—a symbol of the accumulating threats to our planet. Overhead lighting accentuates the dramatic tension, echoing the Biennale's title: CHAOS : CALM.

Xu Zhen, Eternity – Northern Qi Dynasty painted Bodhisattva, Belvedere Torso (2016). Sculpture. 105 x 240 cm. On loan from MadeIn Gallery, Shanghai. Exhibition view: CHAOS : CALM, 2022 Bangkok Art Biennale (22 October 2022–23 February 2023).

Xu Zhen, Eternity – Northern Qi Dynasty painted Bodhisattva, Belvedere Torso (2016). Sculpture. 105 x 240 cm. On loan from MadeIn Gallery, Shanghai. Exhibition view: CHAOS : CALM, 2022 Bangkok Art Biennale (22 October 2022–23 February 2023). Courtesy Bangkok Art Biennale.

At QSNCC still, Eternity – Northern Qi Dynasty painted Bodhisattva, Belvedere Torso (2016), Xu Zhen's sculpture made of mineral composite, stainless steel, and pigment, prolongs this chronological and civilisational disorder.

A replica of the famous Greco-Roman sculpture is topped by a copy of a Chinese Bodhisattva from the 6th century. Positioned upside down and tilted, the headless Buddhist figure looks like a crashed rocket that denatures the Western sculpture's integrity.

Entitled CHAOS : CALM, the Bangkok Art Biennale intentionally triggers centrifugal dynamics.

Sculptures of Greek gods marked the beginning of Western civilisation, while statues of Buddha represent the highest form of spirituality in some oriental cultures. The artist's combination of both brings cultural conflicts and power struggles in human history to the foreground.

Chiharu Shiota, The Eye of the Storm (2022). Exhibition view: CHAOS : CALM, 2022 Bangkok Art Biennale (22 October 2022–23 February 2023).

Chiharu Shiota, The Eye of the Storm (2022). Exhibition view: CHAOS : CALM, 2022 Bangkok Art Biennale (22 October 2022–23 February 2023). Courtesy Atelier Chiharu Shiota.

Contrasting Kallat's and Xu's massive sculptures, Chiharu Shiota's nearby monumental installation The Eye of the Storm (2022) stages an aerial version of CHAOS : CALM. A dense network of red thread hangs from the ceiling with thousands of white sheets stapled upon them. The installation strikes with its simplicity, stillness, and gigantism.

Engulfed within this typhoon-like structure are floating pieces of paper that form white circles against the red backdrop when sighted from the front. Eliciting anything from natural storms to mental turmoil, Shiota's installation triggers an emotional response. Surprisingly, it may also recall an inverted pattern of the Japanese flag, a red circle on a white background.

APY Art Centre Collective (Iwantja Men's Collaborative), Nganampa Ngura (2021). Acrylic on linen. 300 x 300 cm.

APY Art Centre Collective (Iwantja Men's Collaborative), Nganampa Ngura (2021). Acrylic on linen. 300 x 300 cm. Courtesy Iwantja Arts and APY Art Centre Collective.

These space-time conflagrations are also at stake in the work of several art collectives—a shared curatorial interest with documenta fifteen. At Bangkok Art and Culture Centre, large canvases made by APY Art Centre Collective members reflect a breakthrough for the Biennale. APY stands for Aṉangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara, a remote region in South Australia, home to around 2,500 Anangu people. Some 500 artists live in the region, housed in the collective's centres.

Among them, Sylvia Ken's three-by-three metre canvas Seven Sisters (2022), depicts constellations of celestial formations and dots of warm tones. Made of acrylic on Belgian linen, its immersive and abstract fields preserve a ritualistic dimension while adapting Anangu's traditional cave painting to a new format and medium.

Yee I-Lann, Tikar Reben (2021). Single-channel video. 12 min, 30 sec (looped). Photo: Andy Chia.

Yee I-Lann, Tikar Reben (2021). Single-channel video. 12 min, 30 sec (looped). Photo: Andy Chia.

It remains difficult to reduce the Biennale to a single feature. Entitled CHAOS : CALM, the BAB intentionally triggers centrifugal dynamics. That said, the process of weaving may emerge as a structuring pattern, within the creative processes of artists, the curatorial approach to heritage sites, and the inter-civilisational dialogue the Biennale incites.

As the QSNCC will also host the APEC Summit in November, the regional economic forum gathering 21 member economies across the Asia-Pacific region, it seems the Biennale also hopes to gain the attention of political leaders as well as a geopolitical impulse. —[O]

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