A taste of art
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A taste of art

Street Food Theatre's innovative premise and enjoyable performances were let down by poor execution

A taste of art
Something You Might Forget While Eating in front of Im en Ville restaurant. (Photos by Jira Angsutamatuch)

We were told from the beginning to not think of Street Food Theatre as performing art, but rather an "experience". We were also informed of the belief of the project's creator that art can take place everywhere.

Street Food Theatre, by Theatre To Go, is another audio performance that has cropped up in Bangkok since 2020. It ran for seven evenings from April 4-10, with three start times each night. Each time slot was limited to 50 people. I took part on Saturday, April 6, at 6pm, the first time slot.

In her curatorial statement, curator and project director Nattaporn Thapparat writes that Street Food Theatre is inspired by French sociologist Henri Lefebvre's spatial triad. She doesn't explain Lefebvre's theory or how it's been applied to the show. It doesn't matter really, because Street Food Theatre is basically a food tour with an audio experience and outdoor performances.

Of all the performances of this sort that I've seen in Bangkok, Street Food Theatre was the most loose and poorly designed creation. The result was a confusing and distracting experience, even though it was based on a simple and charming idea -- you walk, you listen, you watch and you eat in a neighbourhood. This time, the neighbourhood was Phraeng Phuthon near the Giant Swing in Old Bangkok.

Why confusing? You come to an art event called Street Food Theatre and are told immediately not to think of it as performance art. You download the Echoes app onto your phone to follow the route and listen to the tracks that have been created for sites along the way. Then, you're told that the 3D audio can be disorienting and that you can hit pause and stop listening at any time. So the performance and the walk don't require the audio?

You are then encouraged to roam free with no tour guide. But you're also told that different performances at different sites have specific start times and that you could miss them. So you actually have to follow the route laid out for you and have to show up on time if you want to see the performance part of this "experience" called Street Food Theatre.

Saphan Hok And More.

With a poorly communicated introduction and instructions, we were let loose into the streets, phones in hand.

The three short performances, directed by Kwin Bhichitkul, were enjoyable and had the young director's characteristic whimsy. Something You Might Forget While Eating, which he co-directed and performed with clown artist Kazumi Ishigami in front of Im en Ville restaurant, was the most endearing and visually striking of the three.

All the food was delicious, but the stories of the people behind the food were flimsily told. It also had no connection to the three performances. And since the food belonged to the neighbourhood and the performances were imports, it raised the question of why these performances had to be in this particular spot at all.

Could Saphan Hok And More just change its title and be performed at another bridge of similar size? Could Something You Might Forget While Eating take place in front of another streetside restaurant? Could After Work happen on another street corner opposite another food vendor?

And why distracting? Because the Echoes app and the sound design proved unnecessary during the walk and performances. The entire route was so short that when you ambled from one performance site to the next, you never got to fully experience the audio. The sounds in our ears distracted us from the sound of the street, while the sounds of life in the street distracted us from the audio track.

And what was the point of having sounds from the neighbourhood -- cars, temple bells, birds -- amplified and flushed into our ears when we were already in the neighbourhood? This type of audio experience makes more sense in an indoor environment when you want to bring the atmosphere and sounds of one place into another physical space. In a street environment, the route would have to be designed in such a way that allows for a more sizeable pause from walking.

I sometimes find the notion art should be everywhere, and the insistence on bringing art into any space, to be presumptuous and arrogant.

After Work across from a hoi thod cart in Phraeng Phuthon.

Can art really be anywhere? What does it take to be able to be just about everywhere?

In 2022, a similar but better-realised walking performance, Hope It's Mostly Sunny In Samyan by Circle Theatre, took place in the streets and cafes in Sam Yan. The performance, along with other art projects, was part of a festival and research project supported by Chulalongkorn University, which is also the landlord of those shops.

Street Food Theatre was supported by the Ministry of Culture and other government organisations and took place in a neighbourhood that has been hosting arts festivals for years. It was also free of charge.

According to a recent article in The New York Times, luxury brands and high-end real estate developers are now paying graffiti artists handsome fees to emblazon facades and interiors of residential buildings in big cities around the world, driving up real estate prices and pushing out residents.

And these are the easier projects. The audacious and costly public installations of the late artist duo Christo and Jeanne-Claude sometimes took decades of persuading governments and local residents to be approved and realised. And their policy was to self-fund their projects solely through the sales of their art and to never accept any donations, grants or public money.

How do these realities complicate the notion that art can be anywhere? Perhaps more artists and cultural workers could instead try turning it from a declaration into a question.

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