Of myths and legends

Of myths and legends

Thai artist Hongtae brings old characters to life in his 'Creatures Of Triloga' exhibition

Of myths and legends
From left, Tinna Ratchasee, Bantu Ratchasee, Kraisorn Ratchasee and Kala Ratchasee. (Photos: Chanat Katanyu)

Traibhumi is a universe in the Thai novel Traibhumi Phra Ruang, which aims to encourage people to not engage in negative behaviour. In Traibhumi, there are several mythical creatures with Garuda, Ratchasee and Giant being the more well-known ones. Artist Konthorn Taecholarn, better known as Hongtae, recreated Traibhumi and its mythical creatures in his exhibition "Creatures Of Triloga". Konthorn, the director of Art of Hongtae, and his team created Triloga from their own interpretations of Traibhumi.

Although the mystical creatures in Triloga have similar names to creatures in Traibhumi, these look different from the usual forms people are familiar with since they were inspired by ancient living creatures. For instance, people are familiar with the image of the Garuda, the powerful half-man and half-bird, but Konthorn and his team think it was improbable for this kind of creature to exist in the Traibhumi. They looked through ancient living creatures and came across pterosaurs, which were flying reptiles. As a result, the 3m Garuda skeleton in the exhibition was inspired by the pterosaur.

"Pterosaurs' wings and chest structure were human-like. Although they were reptiles, their heads looked like birds. The traditional Garudas have crowns on their heads. The crown reminded us of the helmeted hornbill whose skull looks like a crown, so we used the helmeted hornbill as a reference for the Garuda's skull," explained Chakorn Kajornchaikul, the project manager.

An area at the entrance resembles Konthorn’s work room.

The new interpretation of Traibhumi in "Creatures Of Triloga" may cause negative feedback, but Konthorn is not worried since this is not the first time that he has raised questions about old beliefs. He once curated and organised the exhibition "Flip The Fan", to question the objective of the talipot fans monks hold while praying. His most famous exhibition is "Bodhi Theater: Buddhist Prayer Re-Told" where he and his team created a projection mapping inspired by the Buddhist chant known as pahung. It was a daring move since the projection mapping was screened on a Buddha statue and on the walls in the ubosot at Wat Sutthi Wararam. Konthorn, however, believes that "Creatures Of Triloga" will not cause negative feedback.

"I have worked on several projects about old beliefs before. I think if exhibitions come from good intentions and are based on solid research, it won't cause criticism. Nobody criticised me for making 'Bodhi Theater: Buddhist Prayer Re-Told'. I also have confidence in 'Creatures Of Triloga'. I know my true intentions. If people question me about the exhibition, I can explain everything," Konthorn said.

According to Konthorn, Triloga is a tribute he dedicated to Prince Narisara Nuvadtivongs, who is known as the "master craftsman of Siam" since he was inspired by the letters that Prince Naritara wrote to his relative and correspondence, Prince Damrong Rajanubhab. In the letters, Prince Narisara discussed and criticised many subjects such as literature, architecture, city plans and lifestyles of that time.

Thao Wessuwan, the ghost king.

"The letters made me realise that we can criticise, reconstruct and present new perspectives of the 'traditional culture doctrine'. I chose to redesign mystical creatures and scenes because I was amazed at how the author described things in Traibhumi. For example, Garuda's wingspan was described as having the same length as the diameter of the Earth. I recreated Traibhumi into Triloga not because I dislike Traibhumi. I actually really like it," said Konthorn.

On display at Thailand Creative & Design Center, "Creatures Of Triloga" is divided into three main zones -- Thai Verse, Triloga Verse and Multiverse. An area at the entrance was created to resemble Konthorn's work room. Konthorn explained that he wanted visitors to see the work that goes on behind the scenes and the source of his inspiration for the exhibition. Hanging on the walls are traditional Thai paintings and sketches of mythical characters. Other items in the room are character design books, fantasy fiction, literature books, boardgames and fibreglass skeletons.

The first zone, Thai Verse, provides information about Traibhumi and mystical creatures in their usual forms, as well as the new forms based on the team's knowledge of ancient living creatures and ancient humans.

The Garuda skeleton inspired by pterosaurs.

Next, Triloga Verse exhibits the redesign process of four Ratchasee clans -- Tinna Ratchasee, Bantu Ratchasee, Kraisorn Ratchasee and Kala Ratchasee -- and a Garuda skeleton. The 2m mace of Thao Wessuwan, the ghost king, is also displayed in this zone. Chakorn explained that people assume Ratchasee in the literature are lions. However, the character design team believes that Ratchasee are not lions.

"Kala Ratchasee in Traibhumi are described as herbivores, so they are definitely not lions. Since Kala Ratchasee are described as having long canines, we developed the character of Kala Ratchasee based on the prehistoric species uintatherium, which resembles a rhino with sharp canines," said Chakorn.

"Kraisorn Ratchasee is the king of carnivores and a powerful creature. Its earsplitting roar could be heard from many kilometres away and cause pain to even a big animal like an elephant. Kraisorn Ratchasee appears white in colour with a tremendous bite force. Its wide mouth was designed on the mouth of the Tasmanian tiger which can open up to an angle of 120 degrees," Chakorn added.

From left, images of giants from the Sylvan, Varun, Northern, Longka and Baran clans.

For the giant characters, Chakorn explained that ancient men were different from Homo sapiens. Giants were developed based on the possibility that ancient men were a lot taller than us. In this zone, a painting features images of giants from the five clans -- Varun, Sylvan, Northern, Baran and Longka. The images are scaled to the actual size of the real giants.

The Multiverse Zone informs visitors that "Creatures Of Triloga" is in the form of an adventure action game titled The Quest Of Triloga which is available on the metaverse platform The Sandbox Game. Konthorn said "Creatures Of Triloga" is his lifetime project. After the game, there will be a movie and a book.

"We would like to develop 'Creatures Of Triloga' into a movie, but it is still under discussion. In Thailand, we have many talented and skilful artists but the older generation who have financial means and power live in their own bubble, so Thai artists rarely have the opportunity to move forward. In order to have financial support, I need to try to make the project as solid as possible," said Konthorn.

Chakorn Kajornchaikul, left, and Konthorn Taecholarn.

Both Konthorn and Chakorn agree Thai literature has a charm to attract young people, but its presentation is not engaging.

"It is boring to present moving traditional characters on mural art. I saw that since I was a child. In today's digital age, there are many entertainment apps. Thus, entertainment content should be appealing. If not, it will not survive. I hope people will talk about this exhibition and that people with power will see the possibility of developing this project and support it," said Konthorn.

Chakorn added: "'Creatures Of Triloga' is a serious project that deals with culture. I hope that visitors will think of which Thai mythology, folklore or storytelling in a community they want to recreate in their own ways, so those stories will not fade away with time."

"Creature Of Triloga" runs at Gallery Room, 1st floor, TCDC, Central Post Office, until Nov 20. Admission is free. For more information, visit facebook.com/tcdc.thailand and facebook.com/artofhongtae.

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