Organised by the Office of Contemporary Art and Culture Ministry of Culture (OCAC), the second edition of the Thailand Biennale, Korat 2021, opened on December 18, 2021. Titled "Butterflies Frolicking on the Mud: Engendering Sensible Capital", the show's theme revolves around the notion of butterflies puddling on the mud to detoxify and re-hydrate – an apt metaphor for our current condition in the pandemic and inspiration for humankind in the face of anxiety and uncertainty.
Yuko Hasegawa, the Artistic Director of Thailand Biennale, was also inspired by the 'social common capital' theory by Hirofumi Uzawa, a Japanese economist. For Hirofumi, 'social common capital' provides services and institutional arrangements crucial in maintaining human and cultural life. It is comprised of three forms of capital: natural capital (natural environment and natural resources), social infrastructure (roads, bridges, public transportation systems etc.), and institutional capital (hospital, school, judicial and police systems etc.). Under the theme of detoxifying capitalism, the biennale concept is to have all the artists work directly with the locals to illuminate the cultural capital of the sites.
This edition of Thailand Biennale, Korat 2021, invites 54 artists from 26 countries and regions to participate in and commissions artists to create site-specific works across the region of Korat, including hospitals, universities, temples, museums, zoos, parks, and communities of ceramic or silk village. ShanghART is honoured to announce that Yang Fudong 's new work "The Bitterly Silent Nights I Hate" was commissioned by the Biennale. The work was filmed in Thailand and China and integrated into a 7-channel colour film installation. It is currently on view at the Phimai National Museum.
The inception of this work takes inspiration from the local Phimai county in Nakhon Ratchasima Province in northeast Thailand, a historically significant town during the Khmer Empire. Today, the site is renowned for its Hindu Khmer temple and protected as the Phimai Historical Park—up until this point, and the locals were not able to set foot inside. For Yang’s installation, he cast three young Thai girls to play the role of siblings in the modern world and the reincarnation of a princess to explore local legends about the site and the conditions of the streets of Phimai. In doing so, Yang weaves Southeast Asian Buddhist allusions into a contemporary context.
Taking “Night Shanghai” as a metaphorical copy of a small town in Thailand enriches a new dimension to the ancient narrative. The footage from this narrative filmed in Thailand was then projected onto architecture in Shanghai, where Yang is based. Additionally, observing the street cats in the evening provides the “third eye” angle.
The new work intends to break through the rigorous playfulness of the past “painting image” for the visual composition and add more improvised documentation and narrative text. Through a more relaxed way, it accommodates the cultural similarities between Thailand and China, and at the same time, more objectively unfolds the divergent visual textures. The simplicity, confusion, and nimbleness naturally revealed from the three Thai girls as if they were confined to the urban jungles, which becomes the rare performing materials in contemporary moving images. Although many new attempts were made, the theme is still in the same trajectory as the past, that is, by using ancient metaphors to probe into the question of the eternal value which is generally missing in people’s hearts today.
Yang Fudong has been committed to challenging and practising the boundary between avant-garde moving images and traditional film narratives. Not only form the distinctive personal style on the visual dimension of “Yi” (sense) and “Xiang” (image) but insist on placing the thinking of the essence of contemporary art into the profound national and cultural background. In addition to capturing the texture of contemporary context, the oriental classical heritage has always been the endless source of Yang Fudong’s works. In the post-pandemic era, when the tide of globalisation has receded and Asian culture can be re-examined, the artist integrates the ancient Thai narrative with his trajectory of creation and expands a new outlook of contemporary video art that is more localised.