BANGKOK ART BIENNALE 2020
The Second Coming of Bangkok Art Biennale
Art creates aesthetics to sooth the mortal soul. It has a vital role to communicate the artists’ emotion, thought or imagination and is a means to pass on the power, spark an inspiration and sustain the heart of one another especially in the current time when everyone is facing several unexpected uncertainties. Amidst the labyrinth of chaos, “a group of artists” was invited to find an exit in his own way. That is how Bangkok Art Biennale 2020 was conceived under the theme of “Escape Routes” (or “Silpa Sang Tang Sook” in Thai meaning art creates the path towards happiness). Explore contemporary art which touches on everything from economy, society to environment at this Bangkok-wide international art fete.
The second coming of Bangkok Art Biennale 2020 is the collaborative efforts between the Bangkok Art Biennale Foundation and Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT). Professor Dr. Apinan Poshyananda, the Chief Executive and Artistic Director of BAB, revealed that this edition would welcome an impressive lineup of 82 artists; a good mix of marquee names and rising stars, whose works could be found at 11 designated venues around Bangkok.
At several top contemporary art fairs; including the renowned Italy’s Venice Biennale or Japan’s Setouchi Triennale, art pieces tend to be displayed on several venues peppered around the host city. Venues selected are mostly remarkable landmarks with the atmosphere that can be connected in some way to the art pieces. Some installations stand indoors and outdoors so visitors inevitably need to make a bit of a travel around the city by car, ferry, bicycle or foot.
For example, At the Setouchi Art Festival Triennale, art installations are exhibited on a dozen of scenic islands in the Seto Inland Sea and around the ports of Takamatsu and Uno. Art fanatics-cum-travel buffs are bound to be over the moon with intriguing artworks as well as the natural beauty of the islands and the laid back rural atmosphere of the islands’ villages.
Back to BAB 2020, a slew of 82 participating artists are tasked to create highly challenging works as now is the time
Bangkok’s 11 landmarks are shortlisted as this year’s venues; Bangkok Art and Culture (BACC) served as BAB 2020 hub, BAB Box @One Bangkok, The Prelude One Bangkok, The PARQ, Museum Siam, Lhong 1949, River City Bangkok, Benjakitti Park and 3 iconic temples of Thailand namely Wat Prayurawongsawat Worawiharn (Wat Rua Lek), Wat Arun Ratchawararam Ratchawaramahaviharn (Wat Jaeng) and Wat Phra Chetuphon Wimon Mangkhalaram Rajwaramahawiharn (Wat Pho). These three venues were highly regarded as the highlight in and of themselves since we hardly see any connection between religion and contemporary art. This unlikely combination proved to be a success so we would like to get to dig deeper into these three royal temples which are national legacy along Chao Phraya River .
Wat Prayurawongsawat Worawiharn (Wat Rua Lek)
Wat Prayurawongsawat Worawiharn or Wat Prayoon for short was commonly as Wat Rua Lek (meaning cast iron fences) the previous generation. This lowest rank of the second-class level of royal temple located on Thonburi bank near the end of Phra Phuttayotfa Memorial Bridge was established in the reign of Phra Bat Somdet Phra Nangklao Chao Yu Hua, the third monarch of the Chakri House, by Somdet Chao Phraya Borom Maha Prayurawongse (Tish). Its cast iron fences were originally imported from England to be presented to the king but they were not to the king’s satisfaction so Somdet Chao Phraya asked for them to be used to build the fences around the assembly hall (Phra Vihara in Thai) of his newly-built temple instead. In return, Somdet Chao Phraya presented the king with a quantity of sugar; Thailand’s main export at the time, equal to the weight of the cast iron. Almost 200 years later, this old story of cast iron has been revisited once again through Kamol Phaosavasdi’s art piece entitled “Sweet Boundary: In the Light Tube” at Bangkok Art Biennale 2018
On the temple ground lie plenty of magnificent places of historical interests including Phra Buddha Dharma Vishnu Prophet, the temple’s principal Buddha which is the first Buddha statue gilded with gold leaves by Japanese artisan, inside an ordination hall (Phra Ubosot in Thai), the Assembly Hall of Holy Naga (Phra Vihara Buddhanak Sakdasidhi in Thai) is where an ancient Buddha statue from the Sukhothai era in the attitude of subduing Mara and sacred relics of the Buddha from Sri Lanka and Myanmar are enshrined and Khao Mor, also called Khao Tao, which is a replica mountain situated near a pond teemed with a creep of released turtles and tortoises.
This year Wat Prayoon hosts magnificent art pieces by local artists; Bussaraporn Thongchai and Araya Rasdjarmereansook, along with Ana Prvački, a half Romanian and half Serbian artist from Germany.
Wat Arun Ratchawararam Ratchawaramahaviharn (Wat Jaeng)
Ratchawararam Ratchawaramahawihan or Wat Arun (the temple of dawn in Thai) is a historic temple founded in Ayutthaya era. Formerly known as Wat Makog (temple of olive), it was later named Wat Jaeng (temple of dawn in Thai) when King Taksin the Great embarked on a barge proceeding along Chao Phraya River after restoring the country’s sovereignty and reached Wat Makog at dawn. However, there has been a dispute citing that Wat Jaeng was mentioned earlier in Nirat Muang Petch (the travelogue poem entitled Voyage to the City of Petchburi); the literature composed in the reign of Borom Rajathirat III of the Ayutthaya era.
Wat Arun’s iconic spires (or Phra Prang in Thai) are decorated with glazed porcelain and exquisite benjarong crockery imported from China. Komkrit Tepthian featured this page of history into BAB 2018 through his sculptural installation which he called Giant Twins. They were sculpted with the likeness of those sculptural Chinese warriors and the temple’s signature giant guardian from classical mythology.
This year Wat Aroon hosts a magnificent art piece by Britain’s Anish Kapoor, an Indian-born Turner Prize winning artist who owns exclusive rights to use Vantablack, the world’s blackest black, in art.
Wat Phra Chetuphon Wimon Mangkhalaram Rajwaramahawiharn (Wat Pho)
Known as the temple of Phra Phutthayotfa Chulalok Maharaj, Wat Pho is the highest grade of the first-class level of royal temples near the Grand Palace. The first king of the Chakri Dynasty renovated a dilapidated Wat Potaram which was initially built in the Ayutthaya era and renamed it Wat Pho (meaning Bodhi tree). The temple boasts the most number of Chedis (or stupas) including Phra Maha Chedi Si Rajakarn which is a group of four large stupas dedicated to the first four Chakri kings.
decorated in ceramic pottery flowers and colorful tiles. In the courtyard, you will also find a Bodhi tree, which was grown from a part of the real tree that Buddha sat under in meditation.
The pride of the whole temple complex is certainly the majestic reclining Buddha (Phra Buddhasaiyas in Thai) enshrined in Phra Vihara of the same name. Thailand’s third largest and one of the most important Buddhist sculptures, the stunning statue stands 15 metres high and 46 metres long. The figure has a brick core of which was modelled and shaped with plaster, then entirely gilded with gold leaves. Due to the Buddha’s massive size, the crafting of the Buddha had to be completed first and the Phra Vihara was later constructed to cover the whole of the reclining Buddha. Jitsing Somboon, an artist cum fashion designer, performed live installation art at the Phra Vihara every day thoughout the period of BAB 2018. Visitors were asked to wear a white robe while stepping into the sacred realm with the sound playing in the background being that of a coin dropping into the monk’s alms bowl. The robe has the word Satta (meaning faith) stenciled in Thai, English and Chinese at the back of the robe.
This year Wat Pho hosts two art pieces of Britain’s Anish Kapoor and Thailand’s
You may begin a trip to these three historic temples at Wat Prayoon and from there you can go to the other two quite easily. If you commute by car, there is a parking lot at the temples or you can park a car in the neighbourhood including the City Law Enforcement Department or Wat Kalayanamit. If a boat ride is your thing, get on Chao Phraya Express Boat and alight at Memorial Bridge Pier. Cross the bridge and you will arrive at Wat Prayoon in minutes. The next venue, Wat Arun, is just a little bit over a kilometre away from there. You can go by foot if you are not in a hurry. It’s a pleasant walk with old town scenery that is completely Instagram-worthy. Wat Pho and Wat Arun are actually separated by a river. Just get on a ferry crossing over to the opposite side which is Tha Tian Pier to get to Wat Pho. They are all open every day from 29 October 2020 – 31 January 2021 from 8.30am – 5.00pm.
Apart from the artists and venues listed above, you could also catch many more art pieces of BAB 2020’s other aritsts at other venues simultaneously. Noted artists are Rirkrit Tiravanija, Tan Kositpipat , Lolay, Michael Shaowanasai, Pen-ek Ratanaruang, Yuree Kensaku and Ai Weiwei, Marina Abramović, Yoko Ono and many more. Head to https://www.bkkartbiennale.com/index.php for further details.
- Respectful attire is required; a top which fully covers both shoulders and skirt or pants which fully cover the knees for ladies.
- Parking space is limited and may be subject to service fee.
- Bringing along an umbrella is a good idea for protection against the sun or rain when visiting outdoor venues.