AND COLLECTIVE WORLDS COLLIDE
an interview with
Arin Rungjang, installation view of Rice, (2018)
Produced for Echigo-Tsumari Triennale 2018
Image courtesy of the artist
WHERE PERSONAL AND COLLECTIVE WORLDS COLLIDE
An interview with Arin Rungjang
16 June 2018, Sai Mai, Bangkok, Thailand
How would you position yourself and your practice in the Thai art world?
Well… How… My career, right? I’m an artist. I studied art and I have been making art after graduation. And I am making art to show in art institutions, at universities, and in galleries. I am an artist in the Thai art world. Something like that.
Your work seems to be socially engaged. Is this a conscious decision?
I accept to do work. So, I am invited, right? For example, I made a work with a Thai farmer and a Japanese farmer because this exhibition took place in the best location in Japan to grow rice. The area was involved in a conflict over agriculture, over rice planting. Before the Echigo-Tsumari Triennial, Fram Kitagawa and his team conducted research on how to shed light on the problems in that area, and make it… What is it...? A factor; so, it could become a factor for creating work. They used this problem as a theme for the proposal and developed it into a project for the Echigo-Tsumari Triennial. That was in 2000. He has been continuously doing this for more than 10 years, or 17 years. And things have gotten better. This town used to have a high suicide rate amongst the elderly because the young had moved out because working on the farm and growing rice didn’t inspire them. They wanted to move to the city. So, in this town the school had to close down because there were no students. But there were a lot of elderly people in this town. But nowadays, for example, at the beginning of the event, people in the community volunteer to be a tour guide and they are proud to present contemporary art. So, this is about making space that might have been with... What is it? A non-contemporary art form. And contemporary art has been utilised for this creation. When I accepted to do this project, I had to use this problem as a starting point for my work. Then the question was: I… My body of work is about the personal. One thing is public memory or the collective; that is the public. So, this relates to the structures that regulate people. Another is personal memory, personal life. Something like that. Showing a picture of farmers from two places makes us see humanity. It also shows us the different structures of these two places that manifest themself in the work. So, the intention… Suppose that... To answer the question about being socially engaged, it’s not that I intend to use my work to make socially engaged content. But the journey of a work, like mine in Echigo-Tsumari, reflects on what has already existed and I participate in that. That is the factor that causes these things to happen. There is no… I think… Using an abstract grammar to summarise the situation, or a practice or a particular way of working to analyse it, limits creativity.
So, in my opinion it is not my intention to make art that is socially engaged, but it is about working on what has really happened. And then creativity must be used
in that space to produce something. Something like that.
How has the presence of international art world professionals and institutions in Thailand developed over time?
The example that I have that took place in my time is Cities on the Move. Here, outsiders came to introduce themselves to the people that lived here, and we were invited to join the event. That is an example that I experienced as a teenager. I cannot really talk about how it has evolved, especially before, because I didn’t personally experience this. But my direct experience with Cities on the Move is that it caused excitement in us, so that we wanted to introduce ourselves to the world. There was an attempt to work, and there were some… There were various types… There were artists whose approach was similar to what foreign artists did; or artists who were trying to present Thailand to the world abroad. We tried to make ourselves part of the world.
What is your personal experience with interactions with international art world players?
It helped me to extend my understanding and to extend my needs, and to have more cultural exchanges. From my experience, I think… I am an artist, right? I make art. But I don’t overlook the fact that we live in society. So, art and artist are part of society. We live in society, work, take care of ourselves, take responsibilities and accomplish things. But while we have a chance to extend… What is it? Our opportunity or potential or our work more broadly, this is also a chance to meet and develop our creativity. One thing that happens all the time, is that we use our practice and training in making art. It makes me see… like me, I call it ‘beauty’. Beauty that has appeared, or the value that comes out of what I’m working on. So, one thing is that we take responsibility, do our work, and are aware of humanity. Also, while we still have a chance, we use it to increase creativity. This is probably the whole picture that I see.
Under which conditions will biennials play a positive role in the development of contemporary art in specific places?
I think that everyone participating in these exhibitions or being part of these projects should be aware of the whole process. If the event uses public money, there should be an awareness that we are spending public money. And the result will be that we use it creatively or we use it to meet… It depends. Each person is different. But it’s only… Actually, these things… If people are aware of creativity, it will lead to agreement in society. But if they organise it uncreatively, if they discriminate or whatever, agreement in society will not emerge. It will not develop. So, this is important I think. If we want to develop more, we should be aware of that from the beginning. Starting with the space that we use, which is a public space, a common space. We should have a public consciousness. This also means that we should have mutual awareness. If we have this mutual awareness, participants won’t only come from the art circle. Others will feel that they are part of it, and want to see it again next time. This is important I think: whether it is a biennial or whatever, that it takes place in public. It’s necessary to have this kind of awareness.
Do you think that this will be the case in Thailand?
That is also one of the factors that makes me see that… Whether the government hosts the biennale or a private company hosts the biennale or whoever, what we cannot predict is the outcome. Whether they use it as an instrument, like in your question, to attract tourism, or use it in a way that serves a political purpose, or an entrepreneurial end. If it is realised, then it is realised. This is… What is it? Actually, it is complex. I mean... Especially in the current political situation in Thailand, where everyone is made to see things in the same way in the same direction. To make them… the people, aware of the fact that the things that have happened and their outcomes will have impact on our lives. It is difficult. Because now we have been made to believe and see things in the same way. And most people seem to see things in the same way. One thing… If you ask for my opinion on what has happened; we have to look or ask the organisers to have an intention that will result in creativity. Or… Actually, I don’t want to… I don’t want to criticise, since I think to criticise is like putting myself in their position, right? For my part, which is my art, I’m just working on it. But if you want me to give an opinion about how it will unfold, I would probably give you my previous answer, which is to create awareness and make them aware of the space that they use, which is public space, and the money that they use, which is public money.
What are the benefits of the presence of the international art world in Thailand?
Actually, in my opinion... For instance, I have just shot farmers in Kut Chum and Niigata. Whether they are artists or farmers or whoever, you have to know what you are creating, what you are doing. Only then we will get benefits and it will be through what we create. After this creation, how it will be utilised, where, or in what form, this depends on our intention as well. For instance, the arrival of international people means that what we will get, like I mentioned earlier, a chance to expand our practice, and our work… What we are practicing yields a variety of results. Apart from this… It is like before I started to work and I lived in Thailand and I worked in that context. But I had this practice of mine, and when I got to use it abroad, it suddenly yielded different results. It expanded. That is the benefit in my opinion.
What are the disadvantages of the presence of the international art world in Thailand?
For example, this year is phenomenal for contemporary art in Thailand because there are three biennials; or actually two biennales and one biennial. And I understand that there will be a lot of pop-up events. So, in itself this is a good thing. But another thing... As I have mentioned... Maybe it is a double-edged sword, destroying itself that… For… Like I’ve said… If there’s no readiness, or if what is presented… Because Thailand is now in the spotlight and people keep an eye on it. This draws attention, which is an advantage, as it shows people what we are doing. On the other hand… On the other hand, people can judge if what we are doing is good or bad. This is what is happening. So, it could be both an advantage and a disadvantage.