Since 2012, Thailand’s population has gradually climbed to 66.79 million people. The capital, Bangkok, is home to over 8 million people. Over eighty percent of the population is Thai, with smaller groups of Chinese, Sino-Thai, Malay, Khmer, and Vietnamese. Thailand was known as Siam years ago and is found in the center of the Indochina peninsula, which is in Southeast Asia. At present day, Thailand is a constitutional monarchy ruled by the beloved king Bhumibol Adulyadej since 1946 making him the longest serving head of state. There is also a Prime Minister, Yingluck Shinawatra, and is the first female Prime Minister. The official language of Thailand is Thai, which has a unique alphabet that has roots from the script of Khmer, which in itself is from Brahmic Indian writing. Ninety five percent of those living in Thailand practice Theravada, a branch of Buddhism. There are also small percentages of other religious groups such as Catholics, Muslims, Hindus, Sikhs, and Jews within Thailand.
The geography of Thailand is at the heart of Southeast Asia, covering 198,00 square miles with a coastline stretching 3,219 km along the Gulf of Thailand as well as the Andaman Sea. With its borders touching Burma, Las, Cambodia and Malaysia, there are many different cultures and diverse people that come into contact with Thailand. The economical structures of the Thailand where shaken in 1997-98 when the GDP growth fell, but ever since, Thailand has bee growing at a steady rate. Their largest economical boost has depended on electronics and automotive manufacturing exports as well as financial services, tourism, and export of rice.
The first time that Thais had entered what is now Thailand was in the 10th century when they fought off the governing Khmer empire and established the Sukhothai Kingdom as well as its rival the Ayutthaya Kingdom, which became the more powerful of the two and too over most of southern and central Thailand. Later, in 1767, the rule turned under Siamese rule but only lasted for a couple years until Rama I replaced the Siamese leader and founded the Chakri dynasty which continues to rule Thailand today. But in the 19 century, Siam was suspicious of European colonialism sweeping their neighboring countries. As other states where taken over such as Vietnam, Laos and Burma, Siam alone was not colonized. In 1932, there was a military coup, which transformed the country into a constitutional monarchy, and where then invaded by Japan, then the Thais took Loas from the French. But when Japan was defeated in 1945, they had to give back the Loas. Since King Bhumibol’s rise to power and to the present day, power has continued to move back and forth from military hands and back to civilians’ hands.
Description of pavilion’s art at the biennale:
In this years Thai Pavilion, there where two artists representing their country with their artwork. They had both decided that they would do separate exhibits but under the same theme, “Thai Cuisine.” This theme focuses on the contemporary culture and local traditions of Thailand. With each other their own interests taken into account, Arin and Wasinburee, looked through the cultural streams, documented history, and oral presentations of Thailand to find their inspiration for their installations at the Biennale.
In Wasinburee’s exhibit, he has a video and sculpture installation, which he titles as “Poperomia.” This name was inspired by an earlier biology class the artist was in years ago, which is a term for an osmosis experiment they had done in class. The artist believes that this term could be used as another way to describe how the traditional core cultures and the external culture in Thailand are intermixing. The sculptures in his exhibit are inspired by his hometown of Ratchaburi and are all based around agriculture and craftsmanship. In every corner of the exhibit, he has briks that where made from the soil and rice husks of his hometown, wrapped in multicolored yarn, which was done by the people living in Ratchaburi. The wrapping of the bricks with these colorful pieces of yarn and the help he had by the other people, is a symbol of unity. His other sculpture is that of a water buffalo made out of fiberglass, which is a symbol of Thai agricultural society which he believes is fading away slowly. The water buffalo holds a large amount of cultural history to the Thai people and he believes that this symbol especially is fading. Above these sculptures, Wasinburee hung buffalo leather on the brick walls of the pavilion and projected the documentary “TongPan” which illustrates the difficulties that Thailand faced as its advancement in social and industrial developments began rooting itself in the country.
On the other side of the Pavilion, Arin has his exhibit, which is also made of sculptures and a video. His exhibit is titled as “The Golden Teardrop” and recounts the story of Maria Guyomar de Pinha and her husband Constantine Phaulkon. Following her rise to influence within the Siamese Court, to her lose of her husband and to her enslavement in the royal kitchens of the Siamese court. There she was an influential figure to Thailand cuisine and history. Maria’s story is called the “Golden Tear Drop” which is also the name of a dessert, the Thong Yod, which is a sweet dessert made of egg yok and very difficult to make into the teardrop shape. This dessert is always served in traditional Thai weddings and because of their shape and color, they symbolize sweetness in love and good fortune in a married life. Taking tis powerful cultural symbol, he brought it to Venice in the form of over 8,000 beaten bronze peices in the shape of the Thong Yod teardrop. The bronze sculptures where then hung with various lengths of rope to fill the room. Along with the sculpture, a 27-minute documentary runs along side it, telling the story of Thong Yod as it traveled from Portugal to Japan then to the city of Ayutthaya in Siam and in turn recounting the story of Maria and her husband Constantine. Combining the 700 years of history between Portugal, Japan and Siam/Thailand, Arin also combines an interview with a Japanese woman whose mother and grandmother had survived the atomic bomb, all intertwined with the history of the Thong Yod.
Analysis of the “success” of pavilion:
Thailand is relatively new to the Venice Biennale, their first time presenting was in 2003, and all the previous times before, the artist matched the overarching theme of the Biennale, but this was the first year that the artists decided to make their own theme to go with the Biennale’s. The two artist, Arin and Wasinburee, where chosen this year because of their influential presence in contemporary art in their country and outside. Arin and Wasinburee have both produced exhibits and installations for museums in their country and others around the world as well. Overall, the pavilion was successful in its depiction of the Thai culture. While Wasinburee was more interested in the attempts to show the mixed cultures that are being produced in the present day Thailand, Arin balances him by returning to the past to map out a cultural element that is still present in today’s Thai culture and others around the world. This balance of exhibits is what I believe has helped them in their success. The two artists have very different approache yet are very similar that they seem to go hand in hand. One is concerned with present day the other with how the present day has been affected by the past. In both their works, they had help from those in their country; Wasinburee had help to wrap the bricks while Arin had help to beat the bronze sculptures.
Biography of artists:
Wasinburee Supanichvoraparch was born in 1971 in Ratchaburi, Thailand, where he still lives today. He attended Berufsfachschule fuer Keramik in Landshut, Germany and went to study ceramic engineering in order to take over his family’s pottery business when he graduated. But during his time in school, he was inspired by artworks and museums to pursue a fine art’s degree and went to Kassel. He is now a ceramicist and a photographer. In Ratchaburi, Wasinburee is now the artistic director of Tao Hong Tai: d Kinst, which is the first conemtporary art center in his hometown. Along with being art director, he has also initiated biennial community art projects at the center.
Arin Rungjang was born in 1975 in Bangkok, Thailand. He graduated with a Bachelor of Fine Arts from Silpakorn Univeristy in 2002. Since his graduation, he has been extensively exhibiting abroad and is a recognized pioneer of installation practice in Thailand. While his work is still linked with local conditions and histories of the world’s cultures, he has come from a generation of contemporary artists who belong to the ‘post-minimalist’ ideals. Overall, his artwork is full of personal experience and Thailand’s complex political and cultural history.