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Dr. Apinan Poshyananda: "We want the works to relate to and reflect upon the spirit of the spaces"


Dr. Apinan Poshyananda: "We want the works to relate to and reflect upon the spirit of the spaces"


The Artling speaks to Dr. Apinan Poshyananda, Chief Executive and Artistic Director of the inaugural Bangkok Art Biennale set to take place this October. Having undertaken the challenging task of directing this Biennale, he tells us more about its theme, Beyond Bliss, what we’re to expect from its lineup, and what he hopes it will achieve for the future of Thailand. 


First of all, congratulations on the buzz that this first ever Bangkok Art Biennale has been creating! The theme, ‘Beyond Bliss’, is one that invites viewers to contemplate the universally sought after sense of happiness, and by extension, a certain notion of utopia. Could you tell us about how you arrived at this theme?

'Beyond Bliss' is the theme of the Bangkok Art Biennale 2018, which will happen from 19th October 2018 to 3rd February 2019, right in the capital city of Thailand. It presents itself through a key question that the Bangkok Art Biennale asks the participating artists, ‘What is your bliss?’ following which they transform their interpretations into works of art. It is this open-ended question that invites everyone to contemplate their notion of happiness and the way they find happiness, posing inquiry as to what the ultimate happiness is and if there is any happiness that they wish to attain but haven’t.

The theme challenges both artists and viewers to achieve their own interpretations of the universal language spoken through the physical presence of art. They will be contemplating the unattainable happiness and the ubiquitous connection of Buddhist culture in the lives of Thai people. In Buddhism, happiness is about the impermanence of things, and the way all things go through the process of rising, standing and cessation. To be able to break away from a problem, even for a temporary period of time, can be considered a type of happiness.

Are there any ways in which the Bangkok Art Biennale is similar to the art biennales? How is it different?

Each country tries to find its own DNA; that unique identity. As for Bangkok, it’s a long-standing capital city filled with spectacular architectural creations, art and culture. Travellers are aware of what Bangkok has to offer that differs from other biennales. We think we can create something new and different. The idea is to bring artworks and exhibitions into the spaces of these renowned temples, we would want both the viewers and artists to take part in the creative process and the outcome would be very interesting. We want them to still present something new and fresh while also being able to celebrate the existing valuable ideas and beliefs including aesthetics, admiration and an appreciation for the culture. We don’t want to see the past left behind, but we also want to see the present and the future. These are the things we have to think about. And with Bangkok’s congested traffic and our idea of presenting this image of a coexisting diversity of cultures through different sites scattered in different areas and neighbourhoods of the city, there is the matter of how we are going to manage the cluster of the designated venues as well as the efficiency of information about commuting and transportation. To achieve that, we have to incorporate many different things from technology and design to the inclusion of allies of various expertise.

Also, the artists will have to learn and experience the context of the sites where their works are going to be exhibited together with the Biennale team, and that takes time and mutual understanding. It’s something much more than just an exhibition of a famous or incredibly beautiful piece of art without any consideration for the context of the space it is on or the theme ‘Beyond Bliss’ of the Biennale.


One aspect that stands out immediately is that aforementioned matter of site. Of the 20 locations of the Bangkok Art Biennale, some are historic temples. Were there any curatorial challenges that you faced as a result of incorporating works within these structural domains?

It was a great challenge on the organizing committee’s part to choose the sites where the interconnected web of the people’s way of life and the very old and new cultures are related to one another, combined, and can be reflected through the works of 75 Thai and international artists.

Many of the designated sites of the Bangkok Art Biennale such as Wat Phra Chetuphon Vimolmangklararam Rajwaramahaviharn, Wat Prayurawongsawas Temple, Wat Arun Ratchawararam (The Temple of Dawn) are all important ancient temples in the country and they have been the center of the Buddhist faith up until today. These venues have grown to become the country’s most notable tourist attractions. So, our task is to incorporate works of contemporary art and for them to interact with the spaces and the users who come to these temples to pay their respect or practice dharma in a positive way. We want the works to relate to and reflect upon the spirit of the spaces without being an excessive or alienated element.


How has your curatorial approach towards Bangkok Art Biennale differed from other projects you have done in the past?

As you know this is the first Bangkok Art Biennale in Thailand, people asked me why decide do this challenging project for the first time? I said because it is crucial to sustaining the art and culture industry in Thailand, to advance to the next stage. The most challenging work toward this biennale is to explain contemporary arts to partners to buy the idea. For example, when we decided to have contemporary art in the heritage or cultural sites like temples and heritage buildings. The clear and easy-understanding explanation was needed and took time for them to fully understand initially. Even if it is time-consuming work to deal with a huge number of stakeholders including 75 artists, sponsors, public and private sectors, but for now it looks more vivid and we can nearly see the outcome very soon.


There is an incredibly exciting lineup of regional and international artists, from Heri Dono, to Marina Abramovic to Lee Bul. Will works by these artists be curatorially integrated with that of Thai artists? How has this been done?

Through the theme of Beyond Bliss, we curate works so that they have a dialogue among artists. For instance, at East Asiatic Building installations by Heri Dono and Lee Bul are placed with works by Anupong Charoenmitr and Patipat Chaiwitesh. For Marina Abramovic Institute (MAI), we have artists from Greece, Myanmar, Iran, Korea, and Bangladesh performing with Thai artists.


How did you and your team arrive at the 75 artists who will be showcasing at this biennale? Tell us a little about the selection process.

There were different criteria we incorporated into the selection process. We have two main teams of juries. The first is the international team of consultants from global institutions like Saatchi Gallery, the Guggenheim Museum, Mori Art Museum. While the curatorial team consists of Professor. Patrick D. Flores, Adele Tan, Luckana Kunavichayanont, Sansern Milindasuta and myself. Another method we used was hosting an open call, which I think gave the general public the opportunity to apply and show us their interpretations of the theme ‘Beyond Bliss.’ Normally, other biennales don’t have open calls and the designated team of curators or experts does all of the selection process. We also have this process of inviting artists where after numerous meetings, we selected 300 artists and the number then dwindled down to 200 and finally to the final 75 artists. In a way, we are trying to create some sort of balance. We want it to be a mix of world-class artists and the artists who are still in the early parts of their careers. Almost half of the 75 artists are Thai artists and we tried to have representatives from the 4 regions of Thailand as well.


What’s next for you after this Bangkok Art Biennale? What upcoming projects you are working on that you are excited for?

I am now preparing for art projects in UK and research for the next Bangkok Art Biennale.


What do you hope Bangkok Art Biennale will achieve for Bangkok?

Bangkok Art Biennale 2018 will mark Bangkok as one of the world’s cities of art and culture, enhancing the experience of cultural tourism in Thailand for the world to witness as well as increasing the number of high-quality tourists and travellers. We believe that it will not only encourage tourism and positively impact our economy but will lead to benefit the quality of life of Thai people in terms of commerce and services.


For more information on the inaugural Bangkok Art Biennale, click here

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