Illuminating Khon Kaen

Art festival hopes to 'Awaken' world to the beauty of Isan culture

The Khon Kaen Kaleidoscope installation draws inspiration from Isan culture.

Thanks to the network of roads connecting the city's transit system, the illustrious neighbourhood of Srichan has remained Khon Kaen's vibrant commercial district and entertainment hub serving mouth-watering street food destination for more than five decades. It is linked with Na Muang and Klang Muang roads, home to the historical Khon Kaen Rama cinema, Bank of Thailand, 66-year-old Mui Chin cafe and a 60-year-old Chinese medical store.

Through this Sunday, the neighbourhoods are illuminated at night with vibrant art installations and multimedia artworks to highlight the area's history and Isan culture, while the iconic "Awakening" light festival broadens its creative horizon from Bangkok to Khon Kaen before heading to Chiang Mai this winter.

Under the theme of "Esan Spectrum", the festival starts its journey through the northeastern region by displaying a collection of 27 eye-catching lighting and mixed-media installations at 14 venues as well as concerts from famous artists such as Scrubb, V Violette, Safeplanet, Anatomy Rabbit and Telex Telexs.

This is a free-standing opportunity for experienced artists and art students to contribute their talents to enhancing the nightlife economy. It's a collaboration between Time Out Bangkok, the Tourism Authority of Thailand, Khon Kaen Municipal Office, the Khon Kaen Chamber of Commerce, Thailand Convention and Exhibition Bureau, Diageo Moet Hennessy, Grab Thailand and Tipco F&B.

"This is the first 'Awakening' festival held outside Bangkok and all lighting installations are displayed in historical buildings and other ruined structures to depict the tales of each neighbourhood. The initiative 'Awakening Khon Kaen' encompasses 14 locations in a radius of 3km and provides visitors with free songtaew shuttle services," said Pongsiri Hetrakul, executive director of Time Out Bangkok and festival director of "Awakening Bangkok".

"Following our success, the 10-day 'Awakening Bangkok' attracted 126,681 people and generated an estimated 150 to 160 million baht, with each visitor spending between 500 baht to 600 baht during their visit. Our festival targets youngsters who adore utilising social media and Khon Kaen is a university town, making it a perfect location."

TimeHopper.

Since last week, people have been allowed to go without a mask in outdoor spaces and all new arrivals to Thailand are no longer required to register for Thailand Pass or get Covid-19 insurance. Despite these changes, social distancing concerns remain among organisers.

AwakeningBangkok.com was created to offer tourists convenience throughout the walking tour. Visitors will be given their own QR code for monitoring and they can use the web map to keep track of how many people are at each location to avoid waiting in line. At the same time, visitors can go over the events schedule, discover recommended food options and the concepts behind the lighting projects.

Located on Srichan Road, artist duo Wimonwan Wichaikhamjohn and Raksina Namsorn turned the 3rd floor of the 1502 Srichan Creative Sharing Space into a green indoor backyard called Tai Duen Ngai to reflect charming daily life.

This interactive audio and lighting installation utilises a giant low pressure sodium lamp to simulate moonlight. Visitors can picture themselves in the middle of a lush rice field and use a torch to look for frogs for cooking. Many insects start chirping as you walk through a bunch of edible plants and local flowers such as globe amaranth, Siam tulip, forget me not, Vietnamese coriander and basil.

"My friend and I were born in Maha Sarakham. My friend graduated in design media arts from the University of California, Los Angeles, and I received a degree in architecture urban design and creative arts from Maha Sarakham University. Our artwork depicts the way of local life in the northeastern region," Raksina said.

Ba-Dan (Underground). (Photo: Awakening Khon Kaen 2022)

"Villagers would seek frogs in rice fields after it rained. Low pressure sodium lamps were employed to produce the monotone yellow lighting. It's as if we're in the moonlight. When we shine a torch around, we can see different-coloured plants and flowers. When we light a lamp over electronic nano board balloons, we will also hear the sound of animals and insects."

Just a two-minute walk to KhonKaen Innovation Center (KIC), local artist siblings Nichakorn and Suttamon Hengratsamee are projecting a colourful graphic titled Khon Kaen Kaleidoscope on the towering wall of a car park.

This three-minute immersive loop shows a range of distinctive Isan-style handicrafts, temple murals and Khon Kaen's tourist sites while synching with funky disco music to illustrate the cohabitation of traditions and modernisation.

"I'm a lighting designer and my brother works as a game designer. We have combined our talents to use kaleidoscopic mapping to depict Khon Kaen from various angles. It draws inspiration from Isan culture, everyday life and tourism hotspots like the renowned hoop tam mural depicting Sin Sai folklore, Phu Pha Man National Park, sticky rice kratib and the Himmapan Marshmello Saga character," Nichakorn said.

Unwind And Existence. (Photo © Awakening Khon Kaen 2022)

On view at Rak An Coffee & Cafe on Pracha Samran Road, Nichakorn also collaborates with her pals, prop designer Piyachat Sriboonlue and music composer Tapanont Teerasart, to create the audio and lighting artwork Koon X Koon.

A bunch of plastic bag lights are shaped to resemble Khon Kaen's symbolic ratchapruek (golden shower) flowers and are choreographed to match a short loop of fun Isan-style hip-hop music, making it a colourful picturesque backdrop at night.

Nestled in the HugzMall, seven graphic multimedia students from Khon Kaen University, collectively known as Jaomae Nakee the Gang, take over the 2nd floor of Florista.HQ and use their stunning visual artwork, entitled Ba-Dan (Underground), to transport viewers to the aquatic realm.

A room has been transformed into a cave-inspired mini theatre, where you may sit on a row of rock-like postal wrapping paper stools and holographic paper lights shaped to look like jellyfish to create an aquatic environment. The wall has morphed itself into a giant screen that shows a colourful hologram of a powerful naga swimming in the river to welcome pilgrims.

Element Of Khonkaen.

"We aim to convey the beliefs of the Isan people. We admire the naga, a powerful guardian in the aquatic realm. This religion has been passed down from generation to generation and is still present in our everyday lives. Our visual artwork uses a combination of current technology and imagination to create a cave where naga reside," said Onuma Seelalote, one of the group.

On the opposite wall of Pixel Bar & Gallery, visual artist Peeranut Pimdee, aka P-Nut, performs the five-minute audio-visual artwork Element Of Khonkaen. Playing with glowing neon effects, he uses flashy holograms of Khon Kaen symbols including the T-Rex dinosaur, the Kan Kaen Koon silk design, molam and the Khon Kaen marathon to honour the rich cultural heritage of Isan.

"I'm a motion graphic specialist. Hologram and glowing neon effects are used in my work to provide enjoyable visual experiences. In parallel, I'm creating brand-new electronic music that draws inspiration from the sound of khaen [Isan mouth organ]," Peeranut said.

Another hotspot is The Wall Khonkaen on Na Muang Road. An innovative mixed-media installation called UFO Social, created by artist Rathamontree Promsui, alias Kiew Savoey, uses the extraterrestrial conspiracy hypothesis to highlight how people nowadays spend hours scrolling up and down their smartphones.

Abstract Light. (Photo © Awakening Khon Kaen 2022)

As visitors pass through the door, lights are dimmed and a radio frequency is used to divert their attention. In the blink of an eye, you may find yourself in a laboratory where aliens are observing Earth's inhabitants and doing tests to gauge human prowess.

"While some people think our technology is alien-derived, we could recognise a familiar scenario from a movie when a spaceman uses a UFO to transport people out of the planet. I thus created a facility in which a bunch of aliens monitor humans and a huge smartphone is suspended from the ceiling. If aliens created smartphones, they would be utilising them to abduct people rather than UFOs. The horoscope on a smartphone illustrates how, despite advances in technology, people continue to have faith in luck," he said.

"Awakening Khon Kaen" continues through Sunday from 6 to 11pm. Admission is free. Find out more details at awakeningbangkok.com.

 

UFO Social.

Khon Kaen Kaleidoscope.

Element Of Khonkaen. 

Element Of Khonkaen.

Sen Sang Sard Song.

Tai Duen Ngai.

Koon X Koon.

Loincloth Growing Up.

Reverie of Meraki.


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