Art: Bringing light and new life to Korat

Korat Biennale. (Photo by Prasert Thepsri)

Offering a rare chance for art lovers to indulge in the works of artists from around the globe, the second edition of “Thailand Biennale, KORAT 2021, which opened recently and runs through March 31, brings works by 53 artists from 25 countries to three districts of Nakhon Ratchasima province, namely Muang Nakhon Ratchasima, Pak Chong, and Phimai.

Organized by the Office of Contemporary Art and Culture, Ministry of Culture (OCAC), and in the capable hands of its artistic director, Professor Yuko Hasegawa of Tokyo University of the Arts, the exhibition is co-curated by Tawatchai Somkong, Vipash Purichanont, and Seiha Kurosawa. ForButterflies Frolicking on the Mud: Engendering Sensible Capital (Serng Sin Tin Ya Mo” in Thai), artists were invited to create site-specific works at the biennale venues to enhance the potential of the sites to become cultural capitals. There are both permanent and semi-permanent artworks at various venues such as Phimai Historical Park, Thao Suranari Monument, Boong Ta Lua Water Park, Wat Phayap, Art Gallery & Exhibition, Nakhon Ratchasima Zoo,  Rajamangala University of Technology, Phimai National Museum, Korat Fossil Museum, King Rama IX Commemorative Library, Public Health Accommodation House and Skate Park.

The biennale aims to create a new ecology and shine a spotlight on the unique culture and lifestyle of the Korat region, a gateway to Isan, and the starting point for the intersection of the two cultural spheres of Thailand and Laos.

COVID has prevented most of the artists from coming to Thailand and conducting on-site research as planned but with the help of the curators, local coordinators, and communities, the biennale has achieved its objectives.

Some of the works from artists that reflect the local lifestyle, culture, and beliefs and are worth checking out include the following.

Nature’s Breath: Arokayasala (1995)

Phimai National Museum

Nature’s Breath: Arokayasala is a sculpture by Montien Boonma, a pioneering artist who paved the way for contemporary art in Thailand. His early works are usually made of readymade, everyday materials that are imbued with the connection to the rapidly changing environment of urban and rural. In his later period, Montien incorporated Buddhist philosophy and Thai traditional medicine into his practice. Nature’s Breath: Arokayasala is one of the archetypes of this period. The whole piece alludes to its title Arokayasala, which were infirmaries of the Khmer empire in the 11th century and are now archeological sites commonly found throughout the lower Isan region. Metal boxes are stacked precariously on top of each other like a rib cage or a spine, resembling the infirmary’s architecture. Inside, many pairs of lungs made of metal hang to the floor. The inward weight of the lungs in the center holds the whole stupa structure firmly in place. Herbs fill each metal box and the metal lungs are also coated with dried herbs. Once viewers enter the work, their senses will be calmed and their concentration heightened by the herbal scent. 

Sim Isan (2021), Thailand Biennale, Korat 2021 commission 

Bung Ta Lau Water Park, Mueang Nakhon Ratchasima District

Alongkorn Lauwatthana and Homesawan Umansaphave been working together for over a decade. Their works explore folklore, local art and culture, and Buddhism. The pair has created murals in more than 10 temples and dedicated them to the public in order to forge an interaction between people, the community, and art. Homesawan is responsible for the depiction of Nakhon Ratchasima’s diversity on the exterior and Alongkorn presents traditional Thai religious beliefs on the interior. The artists choose to construct the sim sheltering a big tree. The work forges a relationship with its exhibition space of a park that invites everyone to join and utilize the space. It also brings an awareness of the coexistence between nature and culture.

Sim Isan (Photo by Prasert Thepsri)

Waves (2021), Thailand Biennale, Korat 2021 commission

Phimai National Museum

Waves is a mural painting and a sculpture by Federico Herrero, a Costa Rican painter. In the exhibition hall of the Phimai National Museum, the artist has created a mural painting on the walls and put a small concrete sculpture on the exhibition floor alongside artifacts from ancient times. Herrero’s practice is influenced by the changing landscape and urban structures where nature and culture intermingle. The combination of colors and abstract forms brings back a vivid landscape from the outside to the white wall of the Phimai National Museum and reconnects the artifacts with the environment they once belonged to. The concrete sculptures at the exhibition hall and outside of the museum are extensions of the mural that suggest an open structure of modern architecture. They connect the outside to the inside and create the coexistence of times between the historical and the contemporary. To achieve the result of this project, Herrero worked remotely with the help of the painting department at the Rajamangala University of Technology Isan.

Kan Doenthang 2021: coexistence, 2018-2021, Thailand Biennale, Korat 2021 commission and Private collection

Pimai National Museum

Kan Doenthang 2021: coexistence is an interactive installation, a documentary, and a collection of jewelry by Rudee Tancharoen, a Bangkok-based contemporary jewelry artist. In this series of works, she has been working with Tongkum Pratummas, an ancient casting master of Baan Pa Ao, Ubon Ratchathani. For Thailand Biennale, as the exhibition space is on the mezzanine of the Phimai National Museum where ancient artifacts are on show. Rudee presents a work that relates to the site by provoking viewers to question themselves about the coexistence of us, in the current era, and the past.

Viewers are invited to enter the exhibition space by walking through the installation that consists of almost one hundred cylinder-shaped bronze bells, made by an ancient Lost Wax Casting process, suspended from the ceiling to 1.5-2.0m., scattered around the space. While walking through the installation, the viewers or parts of their bodies may unintentionally touch and toll the bells. The bells are in the way. Are they blocking the way or are they delighting it?

Queen Cat (2021), Thailand Biennale, Korat 2021 commission 

Art Gallery and Exhibition, Mueang Nakhon Ratchasima district 

The oeuvre of Krit Ngamsom is full of childhood stories and memories. Born into a family of jewelry makers, Krit is familiar with various tools and materials. The wish to have toys that were different from his friends urged Krit to make his own as a child. Krit sometimes employs animals as a medium in his narratives. Queen Cat is inspired by the roan cat or Korat cat, which has auspicious characteristics according to Thai belief. The female feline points to Nakhon Ratchasima’s historical heroine – Thao Suranari. The beautiful, female-like form combined with the action of the cat’s eagerness to play conveys joy and playfulness which are characteristic of Krit’s works. This sculpture is made of stainless sheets resembling the metallic grey coat of roan cats. The work intimately interacts with viewers through the sparkling light coming from the cat’s eyes and the crown signifying many awards given to the roan cats, which has made them internationally famous.

Queen Cat (Photo by Prasert Thepsri)

The Art of WonderThailand Biennale, Korat 2021 commission 

Nakhon Ratchasima zoo (Korat zoo)

The Art of Wonder is a permanent site-specific installation by Pomme Chan, a Thai artist, and illustrator. She specializes in creating colorful graphic designs using organic and ecological forms of nature. Pomme Chan has created a mural of ceramic tiles at the abandoned dinosaur-themed waterpark in Nakhon Ratchasima Zoo. The illustrations were inspired by the history of biodiversity on the Korat Plateau. The artist traces the natural history of the area back to prehistoric times and brings to life the prehistoric four-trunked elephants that once roamed the area. She fuses them with present-day flora and fauna as well as human artifacts. Pomme Chan then adds another layer to the work using augmented reality. The Art of Wonder is a veneration of the natural wonders of this geographical area. To enhance appreciation, the zoo constructed a boardwalk to the work so the audience can enjoy the work in detail.

RICE TOWER, Thailand Biennale, Korat 2021 commission

Nakhon Ratchasima Zoo (Korat zoo)

A characteristic of Boonserm Premthada’s architecture is his design language based on visual art aesthetics. These aesthetics are practical as well as in harmony with the structure’s natural surroundings, local history, and peoples’ ways of life. The development of local materials, such as bricks, demonstrates the importance of collaboration between the architect and the community. This practice promotes general laborers to architectural craftsmen. Many of Boonserm’s projects in Thailand’s contemporary architecture have garnered awards and praise from international organizations.

This nine-meter tower structure is inspired by Yung Chang or rice barns. The building is representative of local Thai architecture that has a deep connection with agriculture. Using wood as the main material, the woven lines of the structure are a reminder of the rich cultural and traditional ways of life that are seeming to disappear. At the same time, it also portrays the transformation of the architectural role – from storage for seeds and crops for humans use to a site for animals and plants, thus ultimately pointing to the relationship between humans and nature at “the rendezvous between humans and animals.

Rice Tower. (Photo by Prasert Thepsri)

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