Why Bangkok Art Biennale Curator Prof. Dr. Apinan Poshyananda is Pushing Ahead for October

Portrait of Prof. Dr. Apinan Poshyananda. Image courtesy of Bangkok Art Biennale.
Wat Pho or the Temple of the Reclining Buddha, Bangkok, June 2020. Images credit to Wat Pho (Temple of the Reclining Buddha). Image courtesy of Bangkok Art Biennale.
Chantana Tiprachart, Nha Harn, 2019, still from film. Directed by Chantana Tiprachart. Photography by Teeraphan Ngowjeenanan. Image courtesy of the artist.
Marina Abramović, Rising, 2017, still. Image courtesy of Acute Art.
Ho Rui An, Asia the Unmiraculous, 2018 –, lecture and video installation with digital prints on paper mounted on LED-illuminated acrylic, books and magnetically levitated hand model. Photography by Yasuhiro Tani. Image courtesy of Yamaguchi Center for Arts and Media.
Leandro Erlich, Classroom, 2017, view at CAFA Art Museum, Beijing, China, 2019. Photography by Yang Ming. Image courtesy of CAFA Art Museum.
TOP
1362
50
0
 
28
Jul
28
Jul
CoBo Social Market News Reports

Bangkok Art Biennale Artistic Director Prof. Dr. Apinan Poshyananda talks to Denise Tsui about why he is taking the gamble to move forward with the biennale this October and what we can look forward to, including—Marina Abramović’s first virtual reality artwork in Thailand.

TEXT: Denise Tsui
IMAGES: Courtesy of various

 

In mid-June, organisers of the Bangkok Art Biennale (BAB) announced that it would proceed with the highly anticipated second edition in spite of the COVID-19 pandemic that has derailed the world. Slated to open on 29 October 2020 and running through 31 January 2021, the decision has come as a surprise to many in the art world—at a time when art fairs and biennales are being cancelled and postponed while globetrotting in the name of art has all but come to a standstill.

“We decided we would go ahead, despite not knowing what’s going to happen in October—and we still don’t—because the situation here is not so severe. We are feeling our way, and we hope very much we can contribute, especially in Asia,” says Prof. Dr. Apinan Poshyananda, BAB Chief Executive and Artistic Director, over Zoom. “In reverse, we feel that next year, if everything turns to a new normal, there’s going to be such a congestion of biennales—a biennale jam.”

 

Portrait of Prof. Dr. Apinan Poshyananda. Image courtesy of Bangkok Art Biennale.

 

At the time of writing, Thailand has 3,236 reported cases; 3,153 of which are considered closed cases—comprised of 58 deaths (2%) and 3,095 recovered (98%). The Thai government has been easing restrictions in phases, and although travel borders are still closed, when Poshyananda and I spoke over Zoom at the beginning of July, the country had marked nearly 40 days of no locally transmitted cases. All positive signs, one might say. At the end of June, the Hong Kong government was even in discussion with Thai officials to begin exploring a special bilateral agreement that would open up travel across the two destinations. This was, of course, before Hong Kong was surprised by an unexpected third wave, which sent the city back into the phase of social distancing restrictions it faced in March.

Bringing together a biennale will be no easy feat; it never was pre-COVID-19, and it now encompasses new, unprecedented challenges. “Last time, there was a lot of anticipation and a lot of questioning,” explains Poshyananda, elaborating that most of the challenges in 2018 involved concerns around the government and censorship; meeting the expectations of the international art world; and getting approval and support of Buddhist abbots to peruse temple sites—a first for Thailand. But this time, the difficulties the renowned Thai curator is now tasked to overcome include bringing a large-scale Anish Kapoor sculpture into a sermon hall and handling five tonnes of wax, made drastically more difficult by the COVID-19 pandemic, all the while contending with major disruptions to the global supply and logistics chain. Bringing international participating artists over may also not be entirely possible. Instead, we may have to content with live streams across the digital realm, but such realities are simply, as Poshyananda tells me with confidence, “additional endeavours we have to overcome.”

BAB 2020 will showcase a stellar line-up of 82 artists—51 artists from 34 nations together with 31 Thai artists—including more than 30 new commissions across nine sites including the Bangkok Art and Culture Centre. Following on the heels of the inaugural BAB in 2018, this year’s iteration will continue to use historic temples as a platform for contemporary art, among them, Wat Pho Temple; Wat Prayoon Temple; and Wat Arun Temple. The first edition welcomed some two million visitors, and while Poshyananda is optimistic, he is also highly aware of the need to reassess expectations this year. “Obviously this time there’s going to be some limitation for the overseas visitors to come over. We hope that the opening of borders will be better when the time comes,” he says. While online initiatives—from live talks, virtual walk throughs and more—are being explored and will form a large part of the biennale, Poshyananda explains the strategy of BAB 2020 will be geared towards travel within Thailand, encouraging those locally and nationally to experience the biennale. “So it’s like Thais supporting Thais.”

 

Wat Pho or the Temple of the Reclining Buddha, Bangkok, June 2020. Images credit to Wat Pho (Temple of the Reclining Buddha). Image courtesy of Bangkok Art Biennale.
Chantana Tiprachart, Nha Harn, 2019, still from film. Directed by Chantana Tiprachart. Photography by Teeraphan Ngowjeenanan. Image courtesy of the artist.

 

Poshyananda’s curatorial theme, “Escape Routes,” has also taken on new layers of meaning in this time of global upheaval and travel restrictions. What began as an exploration of ongoing issues plaguing the world—climate change, border friction, diaspora and migration, gender and more—“Escape Routes” is now an evolving theme, according to Poshyananda, indicating the interconnectedness of these hot button issues which now include the COVID-19 pandemic.

Escapism in the form of the desire to be happy via technology is one such topic that has arisen from the current reality. “We are all immersed in this thing called the mobile phone or the iPhone where we can escape in this little rectangular piece to nowhere. And the nowhere means no trouble. It’s utopian; it’s safe. But then we get so addicted to it,” says Poshyananda.

As we talk about selfie culture, and the role augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) will have in the biennale, the Artistic Director says, “It becomes like a mirage where you don’t just present yourself to others, you also trick yourself. You trick yourself to be happy.” A highlight of the biennale will be Marina Abramović’s VR artwork, Rising. It is the first time Abramović’s VR art will be exhibited in Thailand and players will be tasked with rescuing the artist trapped by a glacial melt before she drowns.

 

Marina Abramović, Rising, 2017, still. Image courtesy of Acute Art.

 

“This is a time of strangeness, a time of absurdity, and it’s a time of making art say something. Because a lot of the times people have this stereotypical idea that art events or art fairs are too distant; that it’s all about commodity and consumerism. We want to give a message whereby the artists can also say something regarding this worldwide matter,” says Poshyananda.“I don’t want to sound cliché, but artists can really contribute to saving the world because artists have these special antennas where they can detect certain ways of things. And they look at the world with different slants. They look at things in a different way. They may be seen as the group who, a lot of the times are against the authority, sometimes they are critical, sometimes they challenge, but they do it in such a way that they can jolt us out of our stupor, out of our normality. They become like warning signs.”

 

Ho Rui An, Asia the Unmiraculous, 2018 –, lecture and video installation with digital prints on paper mounted on LED-illuminated acrylic, books and magnetically levitated hand model. Photography by Yasuhiro Tani. Image courtesy of Yamaguchi Center for Arts and Media.
Leandro Erlich, Classroom, 2017, view at CAFA Art Museum, Beijing, China, 2019. Photography by Yang Ming. Image courtesy of CAFA Art Museum.

 

Reaffirming what much of the world has already realized, the need for stringent health and safety protocols, he says, will be with us for a long time. On the bright side, “We are in a critical period and in many ways it’s a very good opportunity for us to be in this crisis because we can do something memorable.” Poshyananda hopes BAB 2020 may become an example of how we can conduct large-scale art events in our new normal.

Whether Poshyananda’s gamble to continue on with BAB 2020 pays off remains to be seen. I, for one, certainly hope those of us abroad will be able to visit. But as the pandemic continues its path of upheaval—globally, cases have risen above 13 million—some countries are still in the crux of their first wave while others are battling to control second and third wave clusters. The word on the grapevine is convenient travel for this year is looking ever more less likely. As we begin to accept this reality and Zoom becomes part of our average day, BAB 2020 joins the scarce few other major art world events in Asia still going ahead this year such as Yokohama Triennale and Taipei Biennial, and we can only hope this roll of the dice will be in Poshyananda’s favour.

 

 

Bangkok Art Biennale 2020
29 October – 31 January, 2021
Various venues in Bangkok

 

 

 

 
Leave a Comment

Leave a Reply