By Laura Shen
Tang Fu Kuen is an independent Bangkok-based curator and producer in contemporary visual art fields. He was the sole curator of Singaporean pavilion at the 53rd Venice Biennale. A Singaporean though, he has spent his art life in Bangkok for over a decade. In this issue, he shares with our feature writer Laura Shen about his observation of Thai art as an optimistic and self-helping survival enduring tough challenges.
LS: As a Singaporean, you choose Bangkok to be the base of your art career. How do this city and this country motivate you? How has art scene here developed and what stage is it stationed now?
TFK: With its well-connected airport, Bangkok is the perfect base for one who has to traverse much within the Southeast Asian region, to East Asia and to Europe. Thailand - poised between the extremes of contemporary aspirations and traditional mentality, between the disparities of rich and poor, urban and rural, spirituality and corruption - is naturally a fecund ground for creative development. It has the natural resources, the know-how, and a colorful and buoyant imagination to go very far internationally. Having based myself in Bangkok for over a decade, I observe, however, that there are big institutional lack-of in terms of artistic leadership, arts education and audience development. Many creative developments have evolved from independent and private initiatives, away from state intervention, and this can be paradoxically good and healthy. The next level of artistic growth depends much on the amount of political space given to the essential freedom of speech and critical ideas that contribute to a progressive society.
LS: How do Thai creative industries, especially visual art and its market, associate with the outside? Where shall we locate it in the region and world?
TFK: Given the recent phenomenon of the growing number of galleries, despite the current military government and economic downturn, the domestic art market is, at the end of the day, not big at all. There is not enough development towards cultivating art collectors. The directors of the big art fairs in Asia do not yet identify Thailand as a global player. Perhaps visitors to Thailand still see the country as a holiday destination than an artistic crucible. There are promising sparks in the Thai art scene every now and then, but unfortunately the overall momentum is not given the great push that the scene needs and deserves in order to impact a global recognition.
LS: What kinds of institutions facilitate Thai creativity and how do they achieve it?
TFK: The setting up of the OTOP scheme and Thailand Creative Design Centre around the mid-2000s, under the mandate of the ex-prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, did much to galvanize both the craft and design industries towards domestic excellence and import quality. The participation of Thailand in key platforms such as the Venice Biennale also raises the profile of contemporary art of the country. However, these platforms have suffered internal organizational problems and always struggle to find legitimacy within the bureaucratic structures and the domestic communities. Nevertheless, the Thai spirit in being optimistic and self-helping in one's own survival makes the overall production of contemporary art and creativity endure.
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