The city’s Biennale is resolute in its aim to bring artworks to the city – helping Thai art recover from the pandemic in the process.
T he Bangkok Art Biennale is arguably the most audacious of a handful of big Asian art events forging ahead this fall, given its performance art focus and site-specific installations in temples and other public spaces around the Thai capital. “When we decided to go ahead, it was a hard decision as the world was (and still is) facing a precarious situation regarding Covid-19,” says artistic director Apinan Poshyananda. He heads a curatorial team comprising Wutigorn Kongka, Ong Puay Khim, Sun Wenjie and Dow Wasiksiri. “There are many risks involved but as ‘Escape Routes’ is our theme and all 82 artists have not backed down, we will try our best to survive. Come what may, we will see what happens in October.”
Thailand has largely contained Covid-19, with a total of 3,317 confirmed cases and 58 deaths at the time of writing. Now challenged by reinvigorated pro-democracy protests, the military government is considering reopening its borders to pre-tested visitors from other contained countries in Southeast Asia. Poshyananda is optimistic that travel will have opened further, and testing sped up, by autumn, but is preparing for every scenario. “Life has changed and we all have to adapt. Quarantine and contact tracing are necessary. Some artists do not want to travel,” he says. “Special logistical details have to be prepared due to limitations to travel and shipping,” especially for the “more than 30 art commissions, some of them large sculptures”, with many being fabricated within Thailand through the artist’s remote direction.
Commissions include projects by Reena Kallat, Rirkrit Tiravanija, Massimo Bartolini and Yuken Teruya. “We are having five tons of wax for Anish Kapoor sent to Bangkok from London.” The exhibition’s 82 artists feature 31 Thai artists, such as Araya Rasdjarmrearnsook and Pen-Ek Ratanaruang, alongside 51 international talents from 34 countries and territories, including Bill Viola, Dinh Q Lê, Lu Yang, Yoko Ono and Marina Abramović.
Abramović was also part of the inaugural 2018 Biennale, and joins David Stuart Elliott, Alexandra Munroe, Nanjo Fumio and Wang Chen on the exhibition’s advisory board. “Abramović has contributed enormously to the Bangkok Art Biennale,” says Poshyananda. “This year she will curate a small section of three performance artists: Miles Greenberg, Nezaket Ekici and Maria Stamenković Herranz,” and show her VR work Rising, 2017.
“We still plan to bring performance artists to Bangkok,” says Poshyananda, though some performances will be digital-only. “We will have a special volunteers unit called Dek BAB to coordinate social distancing and hygiene.” Precautionary measures are also crucial for works displayed in temples – this year will feature Kapoor installations at Wat Arun (Sky Mirror, 2015) and Wat Pho (Push/Pull, 2009), and a sound piece by Araya Rasdjarmrearnsook at Wat Prayoon – alongside other public venues like the Bangkok Art and Culture Center.
The 2018 BAB attracted over two million visitors, and this year support from the Tourism Authority of Thailand and Thailand Conference and Exhibition Bureau continues. “The Thai art scene regards BAB as a mega art event that has raised the standard of art ecology in Thailand,” Poshyananda says. That is why it is important to make BAB 2020 happen in October, to help Thai art recover.”
Bangkok Art Biennale, Bangkok, 29 October–21 January 2021.