Art without borders

Art without borders

Creatives gather in Chiang Rai for the Thailand Biennale

Art without borders
Aerocene by Tomás Saraceno. Office of Contemporary Art and Culture (OCAC)

Organised by the Office of Contemporary Art and Culture (OCAC), the third edition of the international contemporary art festival, "Thailand Biennale, Chiang Rai 2023", returns with the theme of "The Open World" from now until April 30. "The Open World" was inspired by the Buddha image in the posture that is called "open world" at Wat Pa Sak in Chiang Saen District.

Artistic directors Rirkrit Tiravanija and Gridthiya Gaweewong, along with curators Angkrit Ajchariyasophon and Manuporn Luengaram, explained that the theme, "The Open World", aims to present new perspectives to the contemporary art scene by connecting diverse cultural traditions of Chiang Rai through thought-provoking techniques and messages to encourage viewers to think about and interpret the artworks.

The festival features selected artworks from 60 prominent artists from 21 countries. Artworks are showcased at several main venues in Chiang Rai, including Wat Rong Khun (Chiang Rai White Temple), Chiang Rai International Art Museum (CIAM), the Office of Arts and Culture in Chiang Rai Rajabhat, The Old Chiang Rai City Hall, the Tobacco Warehouse in Chiang Rai Tobacco Office and the Chiang Rai Train Library. In addition to exhibitions at these main venues, artworks are also displayed at 13 pavilions and there are collateral events in various districts in Chiang Rai.

Tomás Saraceno and Aerocene, created from plastic bags. Office of Contemporary Art and Culture (OCAC)

Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin at the Chiang Rai International Art Museum. Office of Contemporary Art and Culture (OCAC)

Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin arrived at the Chiang Rai International Art Museum (CIAM) on Dec 9 to open the "Thailand Biennale, Chiang Rai 2023". The Minister of Culture, Sermsak Phongpanich, revealed that the goals of the festival are to attract over five million tourists and create over 8,000 jobs. This initiative is expected give a boost to the economy and generate a circulated income in Chiang Rai and northern Thailand of no less than 30 billion baht during the five months of the festival.

The curator of the festival, Angkrit, explained that the intention of "Thailand Biennale, Chiang Rai 2023" is to encourage international artists to collaborate and develop their works with local people.

"We aim to build relationships and impressions with international artists, so that they feel comfortable and want to experiment with and understand Chiang Rai from various perspectives. The festival focuses on exhibiting artworks that result from interactions between local people and artists," said Angkrit.

Before the opening, Life had the opportunity to visit some venues of the festival and here are some highlights.

Tomás Saraceno and Aerocene, created from plastic bags. Office of Contemporary Art and Culture (OCAC)

Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin at the Chiang Rai International Art Museum. Office of Contemporary Art and Culture (OCAC)

Sarah Sze, an artist from New York, has on display an installation, Pictures At An Exhibition, on the first floor of the Chiang Rai International Art Museum (CIAM). The installation exhibits a collection of numerous pictures and videos projected from six different projectors.

Angkrit, the curator, explained that Sze has interests in architecture, engineering, technology and current events. The installation portrays fleeting images on mobile phones which reflect the flash of images that we consume on mobile phones for at least a few hours each day.

"The installation conveys that since we are bombarded with short and rapid bursts of images every day, all moments turn into a fleeting image. We no longer construct our memory as a constant moment in time," Angkrit said.

On the second floor of CIAM, Almagul Menlibayeva, an artist who works in Kazakhstan and Germany, presents photographs from her works over the past 20 years. The locations of the photo shoots are venues that were used as a nuclear plant or a detention camp when Kazakhstan was part of Soviet Russia. Located in the centre of Europe and Asia, Kazakhstan is important strategically.

Her two new photographs were generated by artificial intelligence (AI). Menlibayeva explained that these AI generated photographs were inspired by questions which have been raised by the development and increasing implementation of AI: What is technology and what is creativity?

Poklong Anading, a Filipino artist, showcases his video at Chiang Rai Train Library. Anading is interested in rivers because water connects to us to life and the living. He surveyed the Kok River, which flows in the middle of Chiang Rai. He filmed reflections of water and sunlight while covering the camera which created abstract images. Anading also collaborated with local people in Chiang Rai by shooting videos of them. In the videos, people, who stand by the riverside or in the Kok river, hide their faces behind a mirror. This way, each person represents any human individual. The video portrays a connection between humans, the land, the river, the sun and nature.

From left, Angkrit Ajchariyasophon, curator, artistic directors Rirkrit Tiravanija and Gridthiya Gaweewong and Manuporn Luengaram, another curator. Office of Contemporary Art and Culture (OCAC)

Tomás Saraceno, an Argentinian-born and Berlin-based artist and researcher, is another artist who collaborated with Chiang Rai locals. Driven by a dream of harmonious coexistence between humans and nature, Saraceno created Aerocene, a project that transforms plastic bags, often viewed as environmental hazards, into a balloon. 5,000 plastic bags were donated by Chiang Rai residents to create a balloon, currently located at the Tobacco Warehouse in Chiang Rai Tobacco Office. The balloon was flown by clean energy on Dec 5 at Singha Park.

Next to Aerocene, there is the Flying People project created by Shimabuku, a Japanese artist. Shimabuku started the project by creating a life-sized kite in his own image. While he was flying the kite, he felt exhilarated. Therefore, he wanted to share this special feeling by inviting Chiang Rai residents to create their own life-sized kites and fly them together. 120 Chiang Rai people participated in the project.

Brazilian artist, Maria Thereza Alves, presents her research-based project, Curing Dismembered Knowledges, at the Tobacco Warehouse. Intrigued by the Kok River's historical transformation from a fertile riverside to concrete roads and a dam, Alves embarked on a journey to discover what was lost. She collaborated with Suthi Malithong, a biologist at Chiang Rai Rajabhat University, who has researched various plants on the riverside of the Kok River.

Almagul Menlibayeva with a photo, right, that was made using AI. Suwitcha Chaiyong

Alves discovered the names of 60 plants which used to be on Kok's riverside from archives in London and Paris. These archives were recorded by naturists who visited Chiang Rai when the UK colonised Burma and France colonised Laos and Vietnam. After obtaining the name of the 60 plants, Alves tried to identify which plants are available and bring back these plants as soon as possible.

"The project encourages viewers to question themselves about their roots and question what civilisation is and what will happen next," Angkrit, explained.

There are many environmental projects, but Paddling Mekong River at the Mekong Basin Civilisation Museum stands out. Artist Wit Pimkanchanapong created a 10-day travel journal on the walls of the museum, chronicling his journey from Chiang Khong to Luang Prabang. One side of the wall displays a map of his route and provides details of each day's events. Some of the incidents include local people blasting fish in the river and many boats coming to collect the dead fish; children catching a swarm of cicadas and a stolen tent. A video screen next to the map captures the river's beauty in spite of the damages left by dam constructions.

On another side of the wall, there are photographs taken during the trip. These beautiful landscape photos will later be destroyed to symbolise the damage to nature in real life.

Pictures At An Exhibition by Sarah Sze. Suwitcha Chaiyong

"We record the number of visitors each day and will divide this number by 10. For example, there are 341 visitors today. 341 divided by 10 is 34.1. Therefore, we will punch 34 holes on one photo. We started by punching holes on a photo of a dam to represent that nature has been destroyed," explained Wit.

"Thailand Biennale, Chiang Rai 2023" runs until April 30. Admission is free. For more information of the festival, artists, artworks and venues, visit

Poklong Anading, a Filipino artist, left, at Chiang Rai Train Library. Office of Contemporary Art and Culture (OCAC)

Flying People by Shimabuku, a Japanese artist. Suwitcha Chaiyong

Curing Dismembered Knowledges by Maria Thereza Alves. Office of Contemporary Art and Culture (OCAC)

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