17 Oct There Is No Thai Park Full Text by Abhijan Toto
There Is No Thai Park is an exhibition at the S.A.C. Gallery, Bangkok, realized in collaboration with the un.thai.tled collective, Berlin and with the support of the Goethe Institut, Thailand. The exhibition brings together artistic and archival projects that respond to the history of what was colloquially called the “Thai Park” in Berlin, a weekend food market at the Preußenpark that had existed for over twenty years. Its informality and popularity led to conflicts with the park regulations and triggered public debates. At the same time, it is a social urban space where Thai women have been the main actors in the development of this community for many years. By reconceiving the exhibition for the context of Bangkok it complicates the narratives around Thai identity formation through a transnational lens. The exhibition brings different discourses to an art space that sets into motion discussions about urban developments and public memories in motion. By decentering the current dominant discourses of unlawfulness and touristic attraction, it paves the way for the Thai/Asian community; the space of plural voices and histories. Histories of immigrations and asking questions home, borders and identity through the voices of Thai artists living and working in Germany. The complex ways we move across borders through family and marriage are a central concern in this show, as well as the production of Thai diaspora cultures.
Using the histories of the Thai Park in Berlin, the exhibition opens up questions of Thai identity in a multiply globalized world, beyond the over-simplifying framework of the nation-state. The Thai diaspora and its various movements complicate any uni-directional narrative of ‘Thainess’ and instead forces us to consider what forms of otherness are already entangled in who we conceive of ourselves to be. Indeed, it may be argued that Thainess itself has always been produced through complex, often adversarial, negotiations with otherness – from the complex histories of colonialism in the region, to the pressures of the Cold War, and the subsequent and ongoing intrusions of neo-imperialisms – all of which played a crucial role in the formation of the contemporary identity of Thailand as we know it. It therefore becomes all the more crucial to reclaim histories otherwise lost in the tumult of the motion of these grand narratives, that nonetheless are crucial to the process of identity formation.
The historical archive of the Thai Park, assembled by the research of Sarnt Utamachote presents the point of departure for the exhibition, presenting historical documentation of the Thai Park throughout the years, but also critically analyzing the ways in the German media have represented it, and the formation of stereotypes in this process. Wisanu Phuart-dun’s work ‘Homesick Recipes’ dives into the relationship between food and identity in diaspora, presenting a photo-essay and installation woven together with interviews of different immigrant families. Itirit Hatairatana’s work complicates narratives of a cohesive diasporic community, presenting ethnic diversity and communal fissures among the vendors of Thai Park. Similarly, Theerawat Klangjareonchai’s ‘Memories of Meng’ portrays the stories of Chinese migrants in Thailand, with their memories and carriers become scattered and fragmented and found their places in spatial constellation in the exhibition room. Bussaraporn Thongchai’s “No Rain Tomorrow” shows another side of Thai/Preußenpark, inviting us to revisit and rediscover the park and recognize other forms of spatial occupation of this place as practised by other marginalized groups, whose voices cannot be heard enough in the current discussions. Rosalia Namsai Engchuan’s “Complicated Happiness” reflects on imagining the community dreaming together of a dimension where their struggles (discrimination, inequality) were absent, their togethernesswas solidified and a dialogue withhistories possible. It is to deflect the Orientalist gaze, to complicate the flat, one-dimensional discourses about happiness and Thai women and fill it with vitality and a sense of solidarity. Finally, Suchart Wannaset’s ‘Herrschaft (Dominantion)’ considers questions of power and scopic regimes, and the production of a diasporic gaze, through found footage from Germany and Austria of tamed landscapes.
‘There Is No Thai Park’ brings to the fore questions of identity beyond the nation, which gain additional weight and urgency in a world of increasing nationalism, the hardening of borders and the rise of xenophobia. The current pandemic has shown the always precarious position that immigrants, especially those stereotyped as a ‘model minority’, occupy in their countries of residence and affinity, and how quickly our worlds can come crashing down around us. It is with these considerations that we turn to the tenuously pieced-together narratives of Thai Park, as told by the projects in the exhibition.
Rosalia Namsai Engchuan is a social anthropologist and filmmaker based between Berlin and Southeast Asia. She is currently pursuing her PhD at the Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology in Halle, Germany on community filmmaking in Indonesia as collective modes of worldmaking. She investigates how cinematic epistemologies produce and socialize knowledges and argues for taking the arts seriously as an arena of knowledge formation as well as an adjustment of some of the (Western) categories through which art is predominantly studied. Her upcoming research will be a collaborative endeavor with artists and cultural producers in Southeast Asia and the diaspora aiming at a complex, situated, and concrete understanding of artistic investigations and interventions into problem clusters of modernity that pivot around what is commonly referred to as ‘environmental crisis’. As a firm believer in filmmaking as a social practice and micro-political resistance, she curates film screenings and dialogues with a focus on Southeast Asian/ Diaspora independent and experimental film, often in collaboration with the Berlin based collective un.thai.tled.
Itirit Hatairatana had a professional practice as an architect for 4 years in Bangkok and 1 year in Berlin before pursuing his M.Arch at Universität der Künste Berlin(UdK). At UdK, he has experienced a wider perspective in architectural fields, including socio-spatial perspective in urbanism and ethnography which inspire him to become interested in communicating with people through art. He believes that art can communicate with people in a higher level of consciousness and architect should act as an agency of space in a public sphere, generating conversation among people.
Theerawat Klangjareonchai, Bangkok-born Berlin-based, is a media artist who engages himself in many genres of visual arts. He was born in Bangkok, Thailand, in 1989. Having grown up in Bangkok’s Chinatown where is infused with mix culture and also a famous cluster of markets selling electronics, toys, and video games enabled him to explore his interest from a very young age. Throughout his life, he has been fascinated by new technology and new media and how to use them to visualise his imagination. The interest grew intensively during his teenage years and further developed when he opted to study communication design for his bachelor’s degree. He then pursued his career path as a motion graphics artist for commercial projects in Thailand. Wanting to expand his curiosity to the next level in a realm of space and scenography, he decided to continue his studies in Berlin, Germany for his MA in Media Spaces. He is currently developing his practice based on the question of reality within the combination of digital and physical spaces.
Wisanu Phu-artdun (Q) is a Berlin-based creative director who has professional backgrounds in advertising and marketing. Wisanu started working on his artistic projects during pursuing his Master of Fine Art at Bauhaus Universität Weimar, Germany. His works are focusing on the relationship and interaction between individuals and being human as such. He has been using a variety of lens-based and other media in his works such as film, photography, performance, video art and digital media. Aside from working as a creative director for a startup company in Berlin, he has been currently experimenting on multimedia art projects as well as co-founded the collective of Thai creative in Berlin ‘un.thai.tled’.
Bussaraporn Thongchai is a Thai artist based in Berlin. She is known for her provocative drawing and painting. Her early work, rather autobiographical, exposed some of her personal experiences of being a woman in a patriarchal family. Most of her works depicted female bodies in a grotesque form which represented her self-image as well as the relationship between repression and resistance. Recently, Bussaraporn has developed her work through a variety of media and formats including text, collage and video installation. Since 2017, she has devoted herself to social engagement by working as a cultural and language mediator at a shelter home for migrant women in Berlin. Regarding this experience, she has expanded her work to the realm of social practice art, questions her role and identity as an artist, therapist and language mediator. In parallel with her own practice as an individual artist, she is also one of the managers of Heroines, an international & transdisciplinary network of women.
Sarnt Utamachote is a Berlin-based filmmaker, photographer and curator. He studied Industrial Design (BA) at Chulalongkorn University, and Cinema Studies and Literature Studies (BA) at the Freie University of Berlin. He is a founder of un.thai.tled, a collective of Thai/diasporic creatives in Germany. He curated “un.thai.tled Film Festival Berlin” (2019-) as well as “Beyond the kitchen: Stories from Thai Park” (2020); which the collective un.thai.tled researched, collected the archive of Thai migrations in Berlin, and how migrant spaces are relevant to the postcolonial urban studies discourses. He is the 2020 recipient of Xposed Short Film Fund from Xposed International Queer Film Festival Berlin, for his upcoming short documentary about mental health and queer belongings.
Suchart Wannaset focuses on the nuanced relationship between culture and nature. The shaping of natural landscapes by humankind is followed by far-reaching consequences: for preservation, their relationship with one another and the shifting of perspectives in light of change. The search for nature plays an essential role in his artistic work. Wannaset’s work deals with social, cultural and natural phenomena, while he implements his concepts transmedially through video, sculpture, performance and photography.
— Abhijan Toto