Recap | Travelling Without Moving: Thai Contemporary Art Historicised by Dr David Teh

Watch the entire talk here

By Fiona Tan
Year 4, History Major

With special emphasis on the post-1990s context, David Teh’s lecture on Thai contemporary art was an enlightening overview of the history of the development of contemporary Thai art and its tenuous relationship with the nation-state, which has seen the split between the national and post-national artists. Beginning with an anecdote of artists criticizing the younger generation of post-national artists, Teh’s lecture implicitly explains the reasons for the split and what it reflects on the less-than-ideal relationship between state and contemporary art in Thailand.

The phenomenon of post-national contemporary art such as Navinland (2011) displayed at international biennales such as the Venice Biennale has been raised by previous speakers in the Curating Nation series. However, Teh brings us back one Biennale and examines the failure of Gondola al Paradiso Co Ltd, Thailand’s Pavilion at the 53rd Venice Biennale which was pitched as an ironic statement on the exoticization of Thailand, but fell flat as one which floundered both logistically (the cargo did not arrive) and conceptually, with exhausted clichés and a general lack of curatorship. While he did not discuss Navin Rawanchaikul’s reversal of the concept in the following Biennale’s Pavillion, Teh is clearly critical of the State’s (represented here by the Culture Ministry's Office of Contemporary Art and Culture (OCAC)) attempt to co-opt contemporary art to for the nation. Indeed, in his conclusion, Teh reiterates that the State overplayed its role as the producer but underplayed its role as educator.

However, is the Thai state solely to be blamed for this predicament? As Teh himself pointed out, the ways in which Thai contemporary art has been curated also accentuates this split. For instance, he discusses the differential treatment of Manit Sriwanichpoom’s Waiting for the King and Wit Pimkanchanapong’s apolitical and futuristic installations (including Cloud) at the Asia Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art held in Brisbane in 2009. While the former, due to its focus on the nation, was relegated to the Mekong section, the latter was placed in public places such as the foyer. The overexposure of the post-national art is thus in stark contrast with the more nichéd art based on nation-specific themes, further emphasizing the disjuncture between these two strands of artists.


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