Unequal Exchange/ No Exchange Can Be Unequal
Singapore Biennale, Singapore 2011
Social sculpture and the limits of inclusion.
Arin rungjang exemplifies this contemporary vocation. One of Thailand’s most
outward-looking and politically conscious artists, Arin is acutely aware of how
social and economic transformation, and the country has seen plenty in his
lifetime, intersects with the private struggles of individuals. Rather than sketching
the bigger picture, he is drawn to detail, shadowing the general through encounters
with the particular.
For one recent project untitled (2008), Arin occupied for six weeks a well-
known art space in Bangkok’s chinatown with his partner (a collaboration with
Sylvain Sailly). Instead of exhibiting art, the pair invited friends and collaborators
over for meals and discussions; the general public was not invited. ‘Social sculpture’
has been a favoured strategy of Thai contemporary artists since the early 1990s
—Arin is quick to acknowledge his debt to Surasi Kusolwong—but as elsewhere,
it’s typically geared towards dismantling art’s exclusivity. What distinguishes
Arin’s approach is his emphasis on the private. Of course, he is not the first artist
to bridge domestic and professional spheres—Rirkrit Tiravanija’s transpositions
of his new York apartment into galleries (since 1995) are an obvious precursor.
But Arin’s domestication may have more in common with Kurt Schwitters’
merzbau: he dispenses with the exhibitionism, privatising, rather than publicising,
A recent installation in Paris underscores this predilection for the intimate,
and its sometimes surprising metaphoric valence. my knees are cold because it
is winter in Paris (2010) comprised three elements: a personal memoir of the
curator, Pier Luigi Tazzi, an italian now residing in Bangkok; a narrow corridor,
sparsely furnished with personal effects; and swirling around an antique wardrobe,
an ungainly assemblage of second-hand furniture, sourced from a French charity
for newly arrived immigrants.3 Together, they form a kind of abstract portrait, a
cumulative collage of migrant experience, fading into the worn surfaces of shared
furnishings—a portrait of today’s Paris perhaps, or of the charity, or of the musical
chairs of the artist residency. There is no attempt to assimilate the experiences of
this and that individual. Yet Arin makes visible, with a light touch, the contours of
a shared alienation, hinting at the unending cycle of domestication, attachment
and abandonment. in her oft-cited critique of “relational” art, claire Bishop suggests that the much
theorised rapprochement between art and everyday life may have gone far
enough.4 In its emphasis on sociality and the ‘open-ended’, she argues, relational
aesthetics forgoes the antagonism that is a prerequisite to the political encounter.
For there can be no context, she reasons, without exclusion. Against champions
of conviviality like rirkrit and Liam Gillick, Bishop pits the more discriminating
invitations of Santiago Sierra and Thomas Hirschhorn, artists who delimit in
advance who is, and is not, eligible to participate in their work. While not exactly
confrontational, Arin leans toward this latter style, insisting that art, like life,
does not deal everyone an equal hand.
In his new commission for the Singapore Biennale, the stories of Thais
living and working in Singapore become the pretext for exchanges of furniture that
obliquely index their social and economic mobility. The worn flotsam and jetsam
of migrant domesticity—salvaged, repurposed, handed on—is swapped for the
virginal cargo of flat-packed, transnational mega-retail. This formal substitution
reflects a central contradiction of contemporary life, between the singularity
of lived experience and the standardised forms of a global consumer society.
But it unfolds without friction: while the participants bring objects freighted with
personal stories, they happily exchange them for the modular generica of the IKEA
showroom. The great abstract “de-differentiation” that Fredric Jameson identified
with late Capitalism is laid bare, but is also shown to have a communal dimension,
and to be fuelled by the desires of individuals. By restricting participation to Thai
nationals, the artist applies some pressure to this Biennale’s framing thematic,
“open house”. Inclusiveness and openness may be cardinal principles for such
events, but must every artist necessarily subscribe to them? For a social sculptor
like Arin, would this not mean forgoing the right to choose his materials?
Such an idea would be anathema, too, for the Swedish homewares giant (a
sponsor of the project), its business hinging on vast economies of scale and control
over raw material streams. Joseph Beuys will be turning in his grave, but could
we not see in the prodigious success of IKEA’s ‘democratic design’ agenda a more
inclusive, and certainly more consequential, form of social sculpture? Perhaps not
coincidentally, the company—its profits piling up in a tax-exempt foundation in the
netherlands—also demonstrates a special genius for stretching the lines between
public and private. There could be few better examples of our global relativism: it
has long promoted itself as a paragon of environmental responsibility and resource
efficiency; yet with some three hundred and twenty stores and operations in over
forty countries, no company has done more to reduce the half-life of our domestic
Reversibility, Surface and Subversion
IKEA arrived in Singapore in 1978 (three years after Australia), and will plant its
first giant blue footprint in Thailand later this year. its flexible philosophies will
serve it well there: in a nation that prides itself on its knack for compromise,
widely held to have saved it from colonisation, relativism is a core value. If the
country’s symbolic architecture is, as they say, propped up by three ‘pillars’
(religion, monarchy, nation), these supports are anything but rigid. Indeed,
Thailand’s institutions can seem singularly unprincipled: a monarchy prone to
meddling in the political economy; a clergy, its esteem in slow decline, that not
so long ago sanctioned the murder of suspected communists; a State paralysed
by the squabbling of the political elite, its puppets recycled and rebranded
with unbearable lightness. The modern military, meanwhile, the most powerful
institution in the land, styles itself as the great defender of the people; but it has
slain far more of its own than all its adversaries put together, in perennial flare-
ups in the capital and in various extra-judicial borderlands.
none of this makes Thailand unique, especially in Southeast Asia.
But with economic progress sapped by a feudal class structure, and development
gaining pace in nearby Vietnam and Indonesia, the Thais have good reason to be
circumspect about the principles preached from above. In such a moral climate,
the only sure thing has been the regenerative flux of desire and profit. in the
1990s, Thailand’s first generation of contemporary artists made their reputations
dramatising this epic failure of trust. They are still at it: take the veteran
firebrand, vasan Sitthiket, whose garish painting, It must be like this! (2010)—seen
recently at Singapore’s new art fair Art Stage—depicts a sadistic orgy, commoners
pronged by smiling hypocrites in a flurry of ill-gotten cash. But for Arin, nothing
has come of these protests. Rather than rail against the reversibility of principles,
he is more concerned with the principle of reversibility.
The younger generation has pulled back from the hopeless political
drama. They steer carefully around the stereotypes of Thainess (kwampenthai) on
which their seniors have traded for decades, favouring generic forms and mass-
produced materials over those of fine art. consequently, though well received
in Europe, their conceptually driven work seldom gets much attention closer to
home. now in their mid-thirties, these artists were born amidst tremendous social
conflict, marked indelibly in the national psyche by the massacre of students on
6 October, 1976, a tragic end to three years of progressive political experimentation.
They graduated from art school in the late 1990s, a time of relative optimism,
with independent organisations plugging Bangkok into a burgeoning international
circuit. But by the time their work matured, these channels had dwindled, a loss
for which the gradual emergence of State promotion for contemporary art has
been meagre compensation.
Thailand’s political calamity, meanwhile, has only deepened. The most
recent meltdown—a tense standoff last April between ‘red-shirt’ protesters and
troops loyal to Prime minister Abhisit vejjajiva—culminated in another bloody
crackdown, in which nearly a hundred people perished. Just one month later, a
massive exhibition was stitched together at the Bangkok Art and culture centre
(BAcc), a cavernous museum at the heart of the city’s shopping district, brought
to a standstill by the conflict. Imagine Peace was an unabashedly political
exercise, and deliberately inclusive, a bald-faced attempt to simulate national
unity.5 Within it, though, was a sub-section that stood apart from the weak, quasi-
political art that dominated the show. Deftly curated by Rirkrit, and sheltering in
one of the museum’s peculiar alcoves, this offbeat annex threw the ambivalent
politics of the younger generation into stark contrast. For his contribution, Arin
salvaged heaps of synthetic carpet from the museum storeroom, which he drew
up into a slumping pyramid of flaccid surfaces—red, black and grey—hitched to an
Although it belongs to the city and is publicly funded, BAcc’s first
exhibition was a display of photographs by Princess Sirindhorn, the King’s popular
second daughter. This was followed by a nationalistic blockbuster, Traces of
Siamese Smile, comprising some three hundred works by over a hundred artists.
Along with these presentations came a string of inauguration events, where the
crowded echelons of the bureaucracy could parade their love for King and country,
contemporary art coming in a distant third. In two short years, Arin’s carpets had
seen a lot of action. His work, entitled Art as space for politics without space, was
a modest, spontaneous gesture, yet characteristic of his practice in many ways. It
recalls earlier experiments—particularly red and Blue Floor, (About Caf., 1998),
and never congregate, never Disregard (Bangkok university Gallery, 2007)—in
which the void of the contemporary art gallery was domesticated, rescaled to
reveal the social dynamics that order our built environment.
In Arin’s patient exploration of the poetics of space, what appears to be
anti-materialism is not a denial of the object but is in fact accretive: the artwork
is there, but it tends to gravitate towards the architecture that frames it, tracing
and re-surfacing the floors, ceilings and walls. And surfaces, in Arin’s work, can
have extraordinary amplitude. Before becoming art, the BAcc carpets had served
two functions—one practical, one symbolic, but both prophylactic. They had
staved off the wear and tear bound to take the shine off the new infrastructure;
and they had allowed some near-celestial visitors to grace the galleries without
touching the ground. By repurposing the symbolic scaffolding of State and royal
patronage, Arin implicitly jumbles the social pyramid over which they preside.
He brings into focus both the material and the symbolic economies in which the
art institution operates and on which it depends, illuminating the folds where the
two embrace and overshadow one another, often without touching.
This tenuous and reversible distinction is the thread that draws Arin
across the unmarked thresholds between public and private, from the compromised
institutions of art, through the flat-packed habitats of mass consumption, to
the horizons of migrant aspiration: it is a fine line, sometimes, that separates
hospitality from mere accommodation.
text by david Teh
The scars of your love they leave me breathless
Gallery Biagiotti, Florence, Italy, 2011
Pictures of my father two years before he passed away in 1977, Sound of aeroplane flying above the gallery(loudspeaker installed at the ceiling), A pieces of broken Pieta(Michelangelo) Jesus’s arm and Marry’s arm. The memory of me and my mother to my father with hand written by Federica \
Moira Roth: about my father who was beaten by neo nazi in Germany 1976 http://moirarothsgleanings.tumblr.com/post/16026593924/gleanings-10-part-2-arin-rungjang-and-catherine-de
LET’S MAKE SENSE
Arin Rungjang together with participant artists Kornkrit Jianpinidnan, Chitti Kasemkitvatana, Sivaroj Kongsakul, Shooshie Sulaiman and Rirkrit Tiravanija
West Gallerie, The Hague, Netherlands, 2011
A Symptom of Cohabitation
Politics do not necessarily align with political rights or action. In several
aspects politics could be elicited by creating a space for cohabitation where
incommensurabilities may exist side by side. As a result ofthe political stagnant ebb after a crackdown in May 2010, the three pillars that are supposed
to uphold national coherence of Thailand’s political landscape are scantily
taken into account. Especially the argument on how the public sphere retains
its democratic aspect, as far as unilateral consensus does not utterly open
up to contestation. Politics as action and politics in spatialterms are not diametrically opposed, both of them co-exist and fill the gap. In spite of actively
grabbing the sentiment ofthe political variance, an art space cannot achieve
or adjacently attack political action, but at least with the scarce autonomy
of the art space as public sphere, it may have some virtue in forcing interested parties to become aware of their common interest or in encouraging the
audience to organize resistance to political agendas, collectively.
However, the art space can allot the arena of cohabitation on some level.
This might be the case for political scholars not very familiar with art practices. Arin Rungjang, a young Thai artist whose pursuitinexorably underlines
his investigative prowess, especially by creating installations and site specific
works with political sensibility, has attempted to investigate the private
sphere. Many works by Rungjang were redefined outside the generic artistic
practice of his contemporaneous tenet. Examples include Red and Blue Floor,
1998, his first major work in contemporary art that was underlined by his
major debut with his colleague Vishnu Charoenwong. Red and Blue Floor, 1998,
brought about a stark contrast between a refurnished old Thai shop house
that was used as an alternative space. By contrasting the old shop house of
About studio/About Café to an extremely pared down, almost modest structure, Rungjang’s Red and Blue Floor created the ambience of absence as well
as the viewers’ contemplation oftheir physical presence within the situation
generated by the artists. Rungjang’s installations drawthe viewers’ attention,
many times, to ponder a resurfaced space with sparse exposure of simple
material such as the reverberating surface of waves and lights in Emotion
as Water, 2001. His works always attract the viewer to poetic resolution of a
space, in order to imbue them with the ever-changing aspect of material
entities that confront them.
In Never Congregate, Never Disregard, 2008, Rungjang filled Bangkok University
Gallery’s space with a neat pile of soil along with the video interview presenting his mother sitting on a rocking chair. At the Bangkok Art and Culture
Center, Rungjang used a pile of carpets from the gallery’s storeroom, which
were almost thrown out, to make his piece, Art as space for politics without space,
2010. Arin presented a spontaneous response and ingeniously biting critique
to the megalomaniac butlame structure of bureaucratic institutions that represents cultural supremacy in the Thai capital of Bangkok.
Addressing social interaction or embracing cohabitation has characterized
most of Rungjang’s works. In December 2008, Arin worked with Sylvain
Sailly, residing in About Studio/About Café. They were collaborating on an
in situ work for two months, interacting with and asking members of As Yet
Unnamed – a Bangkok based artist collective, who were running the space,
collectively gathered, day and night,to share their thoughts. Art spaces have
to offer specific competence because the audience cannot suddenly grab or
become the creatorof surprise and disconcertion. For an art space to become
a competitive catalyst to local politics by offering free interpretation and
exchange,the artist needs to be capable of offering a new sensation, creating
a space of political sensibility which can be easily grasped.
Unlike his conceptual precursors, who mainly apply fashionable social
sculpture or user friendly situations, what makes Rungjang stand out from
the previous generation of Thai artists is his insertion of politically resonant
elements. Such as in his latest installation in the Singapore Biennale, 2011,
called Unequal exchange/No exchange can be unequal. The piece filled the exhibition
space with a neat and minimalistic atmosphere. The exhibition space resurfaced the old airport in Kallang with a collaborative resonance. Rungjang’s
scrutiny of the idea of cohabitation and translocation of art objects redirects
the approach to art spaces that prompt an ephemeral juncture.
Simply by touching the sensibility among cohabitants, audiences are
stimulated to scrutinize their political involvement and self imagination.
Rungjang prepares the ground for political sensibility insomuch as domestic
political deadlocks prevail nowadays.It’s the old hackneyed cycle, it still holds
true. Rungjang’s thinking is organized around both analytic and skeptic
interrogation,the prescription forwhich is formed by the distant cohabitation.
When he connects two segregated political landscapes by inviting Thais in
Singapore to collaborate and asking villagers to recounttheiranecdotes back
in Thailand, a narrative is formed.
What is important at this juncture is the ability to host Thai expats in a
makeshiftfurniture warehouse. By allowing Thai collaborators to swop IKEA
furniture, the circulated items will bring about an allusion to creating a
desirable living space. However, it seems peculiar to bridge the gap of people
from the Third World that was facilitated by a modernist standardization
and universalization of geometric criterion by IKEA furniture pieces. Physically, the exhibition space looked like a store room or furniture shop.
A pile of furniture was thus swopped with used furniture brought by Thais
in Singapore. The exchange had two levels: a spontaneous one is material,
another one is narrative. By interviewing people who used to live near the
border between the Thai Khong river, Rungjang and his colleague produced
a video interview with film shots en route from Bangkok to Nakorn Phanom.
His approach to community is not suddenly noticed as community intervention at first glance. Secondly, Unequal exchange/No exchange can be unequal involves industrial-minimalist products from IKEA. In this way, two trajectories
– old forms, new forms – converged. In The girl asked me to bring her a river based
on the narrative of people who take refuge and settle in rural parts of northeastern Thailand, the interviewed participants in the video were not only
recounting their history, but also filling up the imagination about the place
and landscape they inhabited. The narrative structure in Rungjang’s Unequal
exchange/No exchange can be unequal and does not intentionally ask the participants to bring forth a comment on the hardships they suffered.
Rungjang is certainly in a position to comment on the fragility of politicocultural bonds between the periphery to the centre ofthe nation. Even political
dissent is always caught in an aporia of binary oppositions. On some level,
Unequal exchange/No exchange traverses the idea of an institutionally endorsed
project. Paradoxically, this project might be condemned as both inclusive
and discriminatory by allowing Thai people to acquire furniture for free taking
advantage of Singaporean taxes.
The narrative structure clearly epitomizes historical, ethnical and political
tensions that propagate political segregation between the urban and the rural
parts of Thailand. Fragments of anecdotes fromThai people can be conceived
as a memorial conduit, as uncovered community tales. By free association
oftheir personal narrative,the verbal gesture allows political imagination to
reinvent their imagination.
As an artistis trying to create a space that permits the irresistible of political
incommensurability between the partitioned communities, Rungjang frequently creates the structure encompassing a circulation of thoughts and
dialogues. In his fresh proposal Let’s make sense, 2011, Rungjang embraces a
collaborative context by producing conviviality in an art space. Rungjang still
articulates his deep interrogation and exploration into the idea involving the
poetics of space. For his coming collaborative works at West, Rungjang will
fill up the gallery space with works conceived by his artist colleagues. Collaboration produced from multiple sources certainly articulates conviviality
in certain directions, as the space will open up with an assortment of items
ranging from foods to furniture.
As part of the collaborative element, Rungjang will ask Rirkrit Tiravanija
to send instructions for cooking a Thai dish, and Chitti Kasemkitwatana will
send his furniture blueprint. His colleague KornkritJianpinidnan will export
his idea by asking a photographer to create an invitation postcard, Shooshie
Sulaiman will explore a Dutch painting found in Melaka Malaysia and, with
similar flowers as in the painting, she will decorate the vases found in The
Netherlands. Together with a short film conceived and produced by Sivaroj
Kongsakul – a young Thai filmmaker who won the Tiger Award at the 40th
Rotterdam International Film Festival. On one hand, these kind of practices
seem outdated in the sense of a post-‘relational art’ generation, because
some wantto produce a new narrative or orientthem in a different direction
by freely associating collaboration from diverse disciplines. Providing facilities by borrowing people’s hands to envisage the transient community rather than validates the relationship between an authorial supremacy of each
artist whose works have an individual touch.
In these realms oftransient cohabitation, Rungjang’s Let’s make sense seems
to cut across disciplinary allocation. Bringing a kind of collaboration into the
situation is notjust addressing a collaborative valence, but also clearly wraps
up the exhibition space into one single structure. Let’s make sense will once
and forall create amicro communitywhere anyone can traverse geographical
limits. This cohabitation may be transient and provisional. Through the
work’s open-endedness that fills up the art space with loosely knit interpretive collaborations, the work may also articulate new symptoms of cohabitation by drawing people’s attention to ‘realize that people are living amongst
one another, and we are not living on one side’, says Rungjang.
Text: Worathep Akkabootara
My knees are cold because it is winter in Paris
Kadist foundation, Paris, 2010
My knees are cold because it is winter in Paris (2010) took shape in an irregular sculptural form constructed from used furniture collected from migrant workers during his residency in Paris. Rungjang wove the ideas for this work from a story about his father, an interview with curator Pierre Luigi Tazzi and his own understanding about European history. The work reveals an intricate relationship between small narratives, philosophy and colonialism.
The reality is…I only did all this to get close to you
Gallery G23, Bangkok, 2010
This work consisted with four pieces. The voice recoreded from my french ex-lover by sent him question and asked him to record his answer and send back. The question is about how is he doing with his lover which he had married with Vietnamese guy who live in Canada and also his opinion about the definition of love. (download pdf file http://www.mediafire.com/view/?ad3mu9uqoxhbd0m) The drawing of the portrait of inspector Grosgurin on the wall who were assassinated by Thai during the indo-china by french occupied. (look at The Case of Kieng Chek Kham Muon before the Franco-Siamese Mixed Court on pdf. here http://www.mediafire.com/view/?henjv7bf8wz7wa3 ). The replica painting of British artist who made this painting “French ships Inconstant and Comète under fire in the Paknam incident, 13 July 1893” responded to Franco-Siamese war). The news paper Le Monde Illustre 1961 King rama IIII gave Thai majestic crown to Napolian the third. This crown is now store at Palace of Fontainebleau in France. The news paper Le Monde Illistre was punched to many holes.
Art as space for politics without space
BACC, Bangkok, 2010
A pile of carpets found in storage room installed at the exhibition space.
Ver gallery, Bangkok, 2009
The video was shot at Dusit Thani Hotel where my mother used to work for decades ago. She told me it was when she felt downhearted she loved to go to the summit floor of the building and look through the window into the city below. This she said it helped her relieved from sadness. I went there and stand at the place where she guided in her memory and shot the video through the same window. The video screened at Ver gallery with curtain installed around the gallery space.
read full text of my mother’s memory by this pdf link
would you care to come into my place for a cup of coffee
The project was about tried to settle down with my ex-lover in no one else context that is belonging to the two of us. The gallery has been occupied as a place to live for two months. During three months we invited friends to participated in several activities such artist talk, curator lecture, movies screen, birthday party, karaoke, etc…
Untitled (suit case, video recorder, script, projector)
Art Aids project, 2008
and then love will live in its way, 2007
Illusion is Illumination,2006
Painted fluorescence color on the wall
In defense of lost memory.
Soka art center, Taiwan, 2008
Never Congregate Never Disregard, Bangkok University Gallery, 2007
Never Congregate Never Disregard, Bangkok University Gallery, 2007
Never Congregate Never Disregard, Bangkok University Gallery, 2007
I couldn’t remember what “memory” meant; I only remembered the feeling. It was as painful as thousands, hundreds of thousands of pins piercing into my heart. It didn’t make my heart break, split or disappear. However, it caused a deep pain inside. I have some memories which my mother or perhaps my grandmother told me about. I remembered these as flashbacks in my mind or in my imagination. They were hardly expressed in words. One memory could clearly be seen in my mind, although, I wanted to hide it underneath the earth, as it was a secret that I wouldn’t want to be discovered, but it was always with me in my heart.
When I was young my mother told me several times how much she loved my father even though he had already passed away. Every time I heard an aeroplane’s sound, I would run outside and say “Dad is coming”. That’s what I imagined. Did I really understand what was I saying?
After I had shouted I ran back to my mother. I was looking for her. She didn’t hide, but stayed where she was. I found her. I ran to her and said “Dad is coming”; she was crying but that part I couldn’t remember. I only remembered my grandmother saying “Whoever made mother cry will go to the depths of hell, the most torturous parts of hell”. Perhaps, it was because of this, that I am being tortured now, and always have this pain inside of me. I wasn’t scared of what my grandmother said, but I was afraid that my mother wouldn’t love me anymore. I hardly remember how many times this feeling came to me, but, it is still happening, even right now.
Every morning when I was young, my mother would sit near her dressing table while I was sitting on the floor. I waited there while my mother did her make up. During this time, she always turned on the radio program called “welcome to my world”, which always started with the song “welcome to my word”. I didn’t know who was singing or what the songs meant, I only knew it was the most beautiful songs of that time; and suited these memories perfectly. This is a clear memory in my mind, as if it happened yesterday, and still gives me a fresh feeling every time I think about it……
for the complete text click this link