Chatchai Puipia on Bangkok art: It’s quite a pretentious scene (1999)

Imagine what art magazines could be like if we all published stories about what we talk about away from the media gaze.

Gridthiya Gaweewong, R.J. Preece (ADP)
Creative Business & Entrepreneurship | 23 February 2012
The following is an excerpt of an interview previously published in ART AsiaPacific, 22, pp. 68-73 in 1999.

R.J. Preece & Gridthiya Gaweewong: What do you think about the art scene in Bangkok?

Chatchai Puipia: It’s too conservative, too conventional, and still attached to some principles that control expression. It’s quite a pretentious scene, and artists often attempt too much to “become” artists. This doesn’t offer the best opportunity for creation.

Artists, especially those from Asia, who become part of the art world need to accept certain kinds of conditions.

P & G: What kind of conditions?

Chatchai Puipia: Marketing, administration, organisation and trendsetting. It’s impossible to make it without support from our own community. Unfortunately, this is derived from international administration, which sometimes has questionable objectives.

There is a big gap between local knowledge, concepts, and even information compared with international curators. From my experience, if we could spend the same amount of money to generate our own activities, create our own seminars, it would help us share within our community. Obviously, part of existing activity is a continuing search to be the centre of the world. This might not be as graceful or beautiful as our oriental dream.

P & G: In comparison to international administration, what do you think is the major reason for artists and arts professionals not receiving funding within Thailand?

Chatchai Puipia: As an artist I am not in a position to request any help from the government. Powerful leaders, both economic and political, lack artistic awareness, which results in no policy and no support. This actually results in a different kind of art, which might not be so bad. As a result, we might have a group of artist-activists who create an unconventional movement. In the current system, if we just live without trying to network with each other, then nothing happens.

The meaning and value of the artist here will always be different. The relationship of art to society will always be different. Because it is different.

P & G: Do you think these dynamics affect the number of artists working in Thailand?

Chatchai Puipia: Yes, that might be true. The problem is how we categorise artists and how we perceive artists in this country compared to other places. For example, in the past “artists” were people who won prizes in the national competition; now we are judged by our inclusion in international art shows, biennales and/or the grants we receive to travel abroad. If we use this criteria, there are few artists here. But, if we talk about people who make art, are trained in schools or self-taught, then there are many artists.

P & G: When funding becomes available from international sources and international curators come to town, you are one of the few people who benefit from it. How do you feel about this?

Chatchai Puipia: Disgusted with my own existence. It’s weird how we survive. With the limited opportunities in Thailand, it seems like we exist in an outside world, rather than in our own community. It’s rather depressing considering the opportunities we have, and I feel uncomfortable that I don’t really belong to either of the two art worlds [international and Thai].

P & G: Have the major shows you’ve participated in, such as “Traditions/Tensions” and the Queensland Art Gallery’s Asia-Pacific Triennial changed your life?

Chatchai Puipia: It’s hard to tell. The fact that my paintings were selected is different from, say, an installation artist. Unlike conceptual and installation artists [for the most part], I didn’t go and install the work and have the opportunity to meet people and exchange ideas. After my works were chosen, for a while I forgot about it. Then the works returned with the catalogue of the show.

P & G: You seem to have several concerns regarding the Thai art system and the international system. Yet, with your success, you have obtained a certain amount of power. What are you doing to help make the Bangkok art scene better?

Chatchai Puipia: Power? I don’t think I have power per se. If I have power—like Andy Warhol said, fifteen minutes of fame— then my time is running out, and I wouldn’t use it like people who have power now. I will use it in a different way, a better way.

Actually, being part of this kind of art scene, I don’t feel like talking or being active. Preferably, I would like to be free from obligation to the outside world and have more freedom in my own life and control my own thoughts. Yet I still enjoy observing people around me and analysing the situation.

To read our interview in full, click Chatchai Puipia interview: Cracking beneath the surface (1999).