The Great Dragon and Covid square off

Central Chidlom hopes the mythical beast will bring good luck to customers as year of pandemic gives way to Year of the Ox

Internationally acclaimed artist Kantapon Metheekul, aka Gongkan, is showcasing a gigantic sculpture of the Great Silver Dragon to help ring in the Year of the Ox.

On view at Central Chidlom until Feb 28, this work is part of "Central The Great Chinese New Year 2021" campaign with retail space being adorned with thousands of colourful "Great Chinese Lanterns". Shoppers can enjoy a programme of fun activities and entertainment like lion dances, a Chinese market and a luck parade to give away coupons that runs until Feb 21.

"We give customers love, hope and freedom as the Chinese New Year festival coincides with Valentine's Day. On this occasion, we have worked with young Thai artist Gongkan to create The Great Silver Dragon and bring fortune to everyone. This work is a part of Gonkan's 'Teleport' series with us, with more installations to come," said Rvisra Chirathivat, chief marketing officer of Central Department Store.

Kantapon Metheekul aka Gongkan. (Photos: Varuth Hirunyatheb)

"Our flagship store is also beautifully decorated with 'The Great Chinese Lanterns' to light up good luck and success for all. At the Chinese Market, customers can enjoy shopping and get ready for a fresh new start with a new selection of cosmetics, fashion and home décor, with great promotions available both in-store and online. The Great Silver Dragon will also teleport to Central@CentralWorld, Central Lardprao, Central Pinklao, Central Rama 2 and Robinson Rama 9 before returning to Central Chidlom next year. We want to wish everyone hope, joy and strength for their new beginning," Rvisra said.

After collaborating with Central Embassy and CentralWorld a few years ago, this year Gongkan displays a 3m silver dragon head on the backdrop of a clear sky in the evening to catch the eyes of passersby around the Chit Lom intersection.

Made from fibreglass and aluminium, the mythical dragon teleports to the City of Angels to give people good fortune after experiencing a tough year. Travelling through a black hole, some parts of the dragon's body sweep through the ground floor of the shopping mall while its tail embraces a wall outside.

"I want to present the elements of Chinese New Year celebration and the dragon represents fortune, strength and prosperity in Chinese culture. Therefore, the concept is to teleport good luck and good health to people after facing tough times. The dragon-like sculpture comes in silver to symbolise glory, while its eyes are pink to grant everyone strength and joy for a fresh new start," Gongkan said.

"I love comics. In the Japanese manga series Dragon Ball and Harry Potter movies, the dragon is designed to be a guardian of the earth. It's surreal that you can see a mythical creature flying out from a black hole into the real world. This will boost people's imagination. The sky-inspired backdrop makes us feel like being in a fantasy."

The dragon comes with four magical silver orbs engraved with four meaningful Chinese words -- luck, love, hope and freedom. There's a screening of short animation recounting a journey of the fabled dragon on digital platforms like the Central pages on Facebook and Line and its own website.

"Actually, this was expected to be Central's big project, but we had to scale down due to the second wave of Covid," he said.

Initially, plans called for five characters seeking the mythic dragon, with promotional activities allowing shoppers to win prizes. For now, Gongkan said this work seems like a "teaser campaign" for a full-scale installation coming next year.

"We also plan to create a collection of festive merchandise and a small LED lighting room for art lovers and shoppers to enjoy. The story may change to welcome the Year of the Tiger," he added.

Gongkan has been recognised for his iconic character that travels through a black circle -- which he calls teleport art. He graduated from the School of Arts at Silpakorn University before moving to New York and working with advertising agencies to follow his dream of being an artist.

He became a rising star in Manhattan's street art scene, with his black hole characters on display throughout the city to symbolise people travelling through a black circle to a better world.

"I'm interested in equality and freedom of thought. Sometimes, I notice that something is tyrannised by society and the world isn't open widely for everyone. In New York, people stand for equality, so we can see protests in different forms like Pride Month or Black Lives Matter. This inspired me to create teleport art to represent freedom. It's good if we have a door to transport us to a better society or a better life," he said.

"New York is a dream city, so my work encouraged people who are striving to achieve a goal in life. On my return to Thailand, I presented a new collection of paintings and sculptures for the latest solo exhibition in 2019. My drawings are fun but simple. At the same time they reflect Asian sense in pop art style."

Gongkan gained notoriety with drawings of former US president Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un, supreme leader of North Korea, kissing each other.

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