Culture

5 Must-See Exhibits at Bangkok Art Biennale

With art by 82 artists from 35 different countries, we were hard-pressed to pick our favorites.

By Veronica Inveen

Jan 8, 2021

WHILE MOST OF THE WORLD’S events and festivals were forced to cancel or go virtual last year, it was a much-welcomed surprise when Apinan Poshyananda, the chief executive and artistic director of Bangkok Art Biennale, announced that the event would go on. 

Since October, artworks by more than 82 artists from 35 different countries have been displayed across 10 different venues in the city, in an impressive logistical feat. While most of the work coming from international artists was able to be shipped to Bangkok, many of the artists had to send teams (who thus endured a 14-day mandatory quarantine) to build installations in their stead. 

The theme of this year’s Biennale is Escape Routes, which invites artists to address global challenges like migration, climate change and other humanitarian issues that cause us to seek escape. Hard-hitting exhibits range from cheeky portrayals of Trump as a weeping baby to a film about the role of religion in providing spiritual escape in danger-ridden parts of southern Thailand.

With only a few weeks left of the event and a potential city-wide lockdown on the horizon, now is the time to check out the exhibits of the Bangkok Art Biennale. Here are a few of our favorites from the show.

Uttaporn Nimmalaikaew’s Invisible World (2020)

Venue: Wat Phra Chetuphon (Wat Pho)

Thai artist Uttaporn Nimmalaikaew specializes in making portraits on thin layers of fabric, overlaying them on one another to create three-dimensional paintings.

In his Invisible World, inside normal-times tourist hotspot Wat Pho, Nimmalaikaew has brought to life four portraits based on ancient individuals displayed on the walls of the temple. Using his signature technique, the characters, who sway with the wind of a fan, appear to be quietly meditating alongside other merit-making visitors to the temple. The hauntingly beautiful installation fuses the spirit of Buddhism with the presence of the worshipper, be they viewer or tourist. 

Ai Wei Wei’s Law of Journey (2016)

Venue: Bangkok Art and Culture Centre (BACC)

Courtesy of Ai Weiwei Studio. Photo by Preecha Pattaraumpornchai

Ai Wei Wei, one of Asia’s most famous living artists, is known for blurring the boundaries between art and activism.

Occupying nearly half of the BACC’s top floor, Law of Journey is a culmination of a year spent visiting 40 refugee camps in 20 countries. The exhibit features a shiny 60-meter-long inflatable boat crowded with faceless refugee figures alongside a floor-to-ceiling wall of iPhone images taken by Ai. Also displayed as part of the installation are four raw video works by Ai of refugees at a makeshift camp at the border of Macedonia and Greece, and of people crossing the sea near the Greek island, Lesvos.

“There’s no refugee crisis, only a human crisis,” Ai’s artist statement reads. “In this time of uncertainty, we need more tolerance, compassion and trust for each other, since we are all one, otherwise humanity will face an even bigger crisis.”

Kaung Swan Thar’s Below Three Feet (2019)

Venue: BAB Box @ONE BANGKOK

Courtesy of Kaung Swan Thar

In this compelling collection of images, 22-year-old Burmese photographer Kaung Swan Thar movingly captures the cramped lives of Yangon’s migrant workers.

The families in the photos live in 0.9 square meter spaces — meaning their ceilings are only 0.9 meters high — underneath the staircases of buildings near the Yangon railway station. The cubbyholes are rented out illegally for KY30,000 (US$23 a month) by landlords to migrants who come from rural areas in search of jobs in Burma’s busiest city.

Kaung Swan Thar’s poignant images are displayed in a space of the gallery the same size as the homes themselves, forcing viewers to crouch low, just as the residents do, to view them.

Marina Abramovic’s Rising (2018)

Venue: The PARQ

Courtesy of Marina Abramović and Acute Art

The world-famous Serbian performance artist Abramovic returns to BAB with Rising, her first VR artwork and a direct message about the effects of climate change.

Wearing an immersive headset, viewers are transported to a dark space where Abramovic herself stands within a glass tank that is slowly filling with water. Inside, the artist explains that the only way she can be saved is with the viewer’s pledge to support the environment by reducing waste, conserving energy and educating others on going green. You next find yourself on a rickety wooden raft among a dramatic scene of melting polar ice caps.

The experience evokes a genuine sense of fear and uncertainty about the state of the environment, which we have a feeling is exactly what the artist intended.

Note Kritsada’s Tooth Clinic (2020)

Venue: The PARQ

“WOW WOW.. More Fun,” 2020, by Note Kritsada at The PARQ. Courtesy of Note Kritsada

This memorable installation by Thai artist Note Kritsada is a fantastical depiction of the artist’s childhood visits to the dentist.

In a stark white room, Kritsada recreates the world of dental care with party hat-wearing sculptures getting teeth pulled and a super-sized mouth full of human-head teeth. If you can get past the screeching sound of the tooth drill playing in the background, make sure to watch a bit of the comical 3-D animation Kritsada has created to reinvent the typically mundane (though oftentimes scary) experience of going to the dentist.

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