Is winter coming? Or are seasons no more in the age of climate change? What are world leaders up to? When will inflation come down and the economy recover? Questions abound as we traverse the transition between the still-ambivalent end of the Covid-19 pandemic and yet-unknown “new normal.” Amid the uncertainties, a moment away for contemplation is a good idea. The Bangkok Art Biennale (BAB) currently on display comes in handy for several reasons.
The theme — “Chaos : Calm” — could not be more appropriate to the current atmosphere. Although the BAB’s artistic director Dr Apinan Poshyananda says the concept is a continuation from “Beyond Bliss” which marked the first event in 2018 and “Escape Routes” for 2020, the juxtaposition hits home hard as people try to find meaning in the flux that is today’s world.
Dr Apinan says the theme may appear like a binary opposite but it’s not necessarily so. “The key is the space between the two things. Each of us will have to find our own peace,” Dr Apinan said. Chaos, he adds, is not just about political conflicts, climate change, pandemics or economic woes but hardships and issues we face in everyday life. “Things may be hard to deal with but each and everyone of us has to find a way to live with it just like the artists who interpreted the theme and express their ideas in different ways,” he says.
Some people may prefer to have a higher dose of chaos in their life while others prefer endless serenity. The answer is subjective. “More importantly, there must be a measure of hope. At this time when everything seems to be in collision, faith may work better than science. Logic alone may have reached its limit to help people find peace and governments are hardly of any help. We only have ourselves to depend upon,” Prof Apinan adds.
With over 200 artworks spread around 12 locations both in the old town areas and city center, the art fest can appear formidable especially if you’re short on days in Bangkok. But don’t fret — here, an insider’s guide to what you shouldn’t miss at the biennale.
Dr Apinan divided the venues into two sections — the river route and the city route. The river route features old-town sites such as Wat Pho, Wat Arun, Wat Prayoon and Museum Siam. The city route, meanwhile, encompasses downtown spots including the Bangkok Art & Culture Centre (BACC), Samyan Mitrtown, CentralWorld and Queen Sirikit National Convention Centre (QSNCC).
For the river route, the works of the internationally acclaimed late Thai artist Montien Boonma at Wat Pho are highly recommended. His landmark installation — Arokhayasala or medicinal house (1994) — featuring boxes of traditional herbs invokes a sense of healing and power of prayer through the shrine-like form. The piece, displayed to the Thai public for the first time, is also a meditation on the nature of life and death.