Monday, April 22, 2013

ASIATOPIA’S CHUMPON APISUK (Second of four parts) (April 15, 2013)

Chumpon Apisuk during the Perfurbance Performance Art Festival in Jogjakarta, Indonesia in 2009

Vim Nadera: How did Asiatopia all begin?
Chumpon Apisuk: The performance artists in Thailand in the early 80s were working together, collectively organizing performances and events in Bangkok’s galleries. I used to have an art center called Concrete House, so the building automatically became a center where we all could meet. There were Surapol Panyawacheera, originally from Korat; Vasan Sitthiket, a versatile artist; Kamol Paosawasdi, a lecturer at Chulalongkorn University; and my wife Noi. We were the main active members of the group at the time. Later Paisan Plienbangchang, Jittima Pholsawake, and Mongkol Plienbangchang came in during the beginning of Concrete House in 1993 or 1994. Nopawan Sirivejkul and Padungsak Kotchasumrong came in afterward. But they helped us do Live Art, a platform for performance artists in Thailand. There were artists and artist groups that did something which could be called performance art since early 70s. A group named Bangladesh Band made sound and action art in Korat Technical College in 1972. Some artists did serious campaign against capitalism by throwing real money, around 10,000 baht, into Chao Praya River around the same time. However, there was conscious, or continuous, movement. Things died out when the Civil War broke out between the military government and the communist party in mid-70s. In 1985 the political situation in Thailand got better, the government and the communist reached an agreement to stop fighting. Most intellectuals who joined the communists came back to the city. Thai students who went to study abroad came home. It was the time that we could get back together again. I was working for an art center called Bhirasri Institute of Modern Art, so the center became a hangout for artists, writers, and theatre people. I helped in coming up with an event called Wethi-Samai: Contemp-tre in 1986. It was a collective idea of Vasan Sitthiket, again, and Chatvichai Prommadhattawethi, a secretary of the board of Bangkok Art Centre; and Suvanich Virojanalak who passed away in 1998. Wethi-Samai attempted to introduce performative art form and to combine divided disciplines among the art-related activities. It was crucial in building a strong artist network today. I think the idea of performance art began in Thailand during that time. Around same time, I did a performance outside Thailand in an art festival in Indonesia. The news about my performance in Bali was louder than in Bangkok. Newspapers and magazines wrote about it. In 1987 I did a one-year solo action called Bangkok-Chiangmai. I caught newspaper pages again. Add to that, I was invited to participate in a regional artists’ exchange in Western Australia known as ARX 87 in 1987 and in 1989. So I became recognized as a performance artist by the press then. I have been busy with activities at Concrete House since it was founded. In 1996, I participated in the Nippon International Performance Art Festival. It became the idea of organizing a platform in Thailand.

VN: Is there a need for a performance art? Why?
CA: I was asked this question so many times. In return, I asked them: “Why do we need apples in the market? Why do we need strawberries? Why do we need peaches from China? Why do we need art?” So, if you can think of all that, then naturally the next question could be: “Why do we have to stick on the artforms that we usually have.”

VN: What about a performance art festival? Why?
CA: Festivity seems to be a better word and it does not sound so heavy. It is basically a platform for artists from different places to meet and work together in same situation and same site. In performance art in many countries or areas, artists do not have places to perform that often, or they have to work among themselves, so the festival was a kind of event wherein artists can come together and share what they do. At the same time, the viewers also have a chance to see art and be part of it.

VN: How was it received before? Did the reception change through the years?
CA: Art is not popular or easy for the market to chew. So it always has limited audience. Many art forms like conceptual art or performance art have lesser audience.

For me to organize a performance art event, I do not expect a large number of audience. But I was surprised and happy that each year we have younger and younger people who join our workshops. Especially in 2012, we have more than 50 young students taking part in performance workshops in Bangkok and Korat.

VN: Why did you have a performance art conference in Bangkok? Could you tell us more about it?
CA: The performance art conference organized regularly by an artists organization called the Art Service Association or ASA run by Boris Nieslony from Cologne, Germany. He organized the conference many times in many countries before. Rolf Hinterecker, another artist from Cologne, helped Boris organize the Bangkok Conference. At the time, Concrete House was the only artist-run center in Thailand. We used to be the only space for performance art. I think this is the connection. 

During the conference, artists can present their work by talking about them, showing video or perform, etc. And it was all for and about artists, not for public. There were a few hundred artists from all over the world who attended. It was great event. And I learned a lot and I enjoyed a lot.

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