The implications, or attitude, of a three-day event of performances, exhibits and installations at Chom Pon Cave in Ratchaburi, which took place earlier this month, added a provocative gloss to the ideals of community art it otherwise aimed to serve: a rebuff to the increased streamlining, and attendant vacuity, of the art world.
Untitled (2013), by Wasinburee Supanichvoraparch.
In view of the ubiquitous spectacle of art fairs, fashion-conscious "showcases" in biennales and art magazines that have come to resemble lifestyle rags, "Metro-Sapiens: Dialogue In The Cave" offered a return to the prelapsarian, literally and metaphorically. Three hours from Bangkok, the cramped entrance to Chom Pon Cave belied the world of wonder within.
However, as the 8th Art to Community Project by Silpakorn University, we should note that what "community art" means in our current era is vexed, much theorised and debated. As Claire Bishop, the pre-eminent critic of the genre, has pointed out, "community art" is now an expanded field, denoting a range of activities under the rubrics of participatory art, dialogic or interventionist art, social practice et al. Bishop also rightly claims that the term "social practice" _ or "social engagement" _ is ambiguous: just how could art not be socially engaged (even in refutation)?
The context of the cave crosses secular and spiritual interest. In mythology, caves can represent a domain of knowledge and symbolise the difficulties of pursuing enlightenment. They are the retreats of sages and hermits and, as they are womb-like, suggest re-birth. Caves are also the earliest form of Buddhist architecture.
Entrance to ‘Metro-Sapiens: Dialogue In The Cave’.
The art on show in "Metro-Sapiens" couldn't have competed with its environment, the surfaces or histories; instead the artists graciously accepted the hospitality of this temporary venue and complemented it in a variety of ways.
A number of artists employed sound. Choei and Rachen Klomklieng used drum rolls from traditional songs of the village of Nong Bua Kai; Amrit Chusuwan mixed diverse sounds to defy a uniform interpretation and activate the individual's capacity to attribute significance; comparably, Anothai Nitibhon's and Jean-David Caillouet's Audio-Sapiens recorded different sounds but from the cave itself, including echoes from the stalactites and stalagmites.
Yuree Kensaku collaborated with the sound designer Maytee Nojinda on an animation based on the Thai folk tale Nang Sib Song (Twelve Sisters) which they reinterpreted with animal characters for a video projection that mapped a primeval, ritualistic sensibility. Wasinburee Supanichvoraparch's untitled installation was outstanding: a German language quote from Goethe that was apparently made from wood and fixed over a large aperture in a ceiling of the cave. Sharp sunlight flattened the material of the text into silhouette and softened its edges. The translation reads as: "There is strong shadow where there is much light."
Amidst these formally subtle uses of the space(s), the irrepressible Michael Shaowanasai could be heard guiding visitors to the variety of performances that ran over the three days. With his vivacious energy and boundless enthusiasm, Michael is a participatory artwork.
Jiradej and Pornpalai Meemalai hired three uniformed soldiers to perform their jarring rituals of marching and standing to disciplined attention, gestures that the artists describe as a universal language. Their outdoor presence at "Metro-Sapiens" highlighted the potential to believe that some boundary might be, or had been, crossed and hence requires protection; or, more dramatically, perhaps we were about to be coerced into some New World Order. These implications are, of course, humourous and subversive given the performative, if not theatrical, nature of Jiradej's and Pornpalai's work.
"Metro-Sapiens" made certain physical demands on visitors, and certainly dragged us out of our comfort zones in the Bangkok art scene. The artist, and curator, Sakarin Krue-On opened possibilities for further considerations of how artists make and re-make the world than is typically allowed for, and embraced the lure of wonder and fascination with a subtle frisson of danger.
"Metro-Sapiens: Dialogue In The Cave" ran at Chom Pon Cave, Chombung, Ratchaburi from April 6-8.
About the author
Writer: BRIAN CURTIN