Under the Same Sky - ASIA ART REVIEW

Asia Art Review Vol. 4 , 1 September 2016

This paring of Tada Hengsaphul, a Thai artist whose career has yet to achieve international recognition, and Chai Siris, a slightly older, more seasoned professional who has shown at Documenta 13 (2012) and the Venice International Film Festival (2010) - among other high-profile platforms - arguably raises questions about the politics of why some artists 'make it' (and others don't). For the specific context of Thailand, Under the Same Sky is acutely interesting in this respect, in the main because this is a context in which the politics of those works (and their makers) that do rise to the surface, so to speak, is either carried lightly or deeply conversative.

In keeping with that, Under the Same Sky gently probes historical political cultures in Thailand. Hengsapkul and Siris layer artefacts with ideas of memory as it operates in personal and collective registers. There is much for both to draw on : Hengsapkul is interested in the American military presence in the northeast of Thailand, from where it bombed North Vietnam and Cambodia during the 1960s and early 70s; Siris's works were centrally inspired by his mother's crossing of the Salaween River into Thailand in order to escape a coup d'etat in Myanmar. While Hengsapkul's photography, video and objects dance between the literal and symbolic, arranging what are described as mortat tailfins from the war to spell 'bliss' - also the title of the work (all 2016) - Siris is strictly metaphoric. His film Day for Night (2016) explores the very impact and condition of memory, dust appears to float across the screen and images of a torch searching a dilapidated cinema emerge from darkness.

A large sign that dominates the downstairs space, by Siris, declares, in Frence, 'Love Is Dead. Long Live Love'. This sentimental paradox haunts the exhibition as a whole: both artists attempt to give shape to relations between the individual and the collective within political histories of Thailand and the region. An aesthetic of nostalgia pervades the exhibition (the works foreground memorabilia, old photograps, imagery in decay), but the personal pusehes against the collective individual experience vies with more generalised structural insight. Hengsapkul, however, stages the very relationship between experince and insight. In the video projection Future Loop Foundation (2016), two naked and blindfolded figures conduct an arm wrestle amidst a cicle of the mortar tails that evoke markers for an ancient ritual site rather than, as the area is, a place of modern violence. However, the nakedness of the figures, their combat and hidden faces, push us towards murky truths. A murkiness that Siris, comparatively, appears to disitract from with more ethereal and abstracted forms.

The  authoritarianism of contemporary Thailand, with a military-drafted constitution recently passed, seems cemented for the future, and one might wonder about the value of radical and less radical gestures made by artists in terms of their attempts to help us think through the problems of history and their current resonances. This come to mind while looking over Under the Same Sky: thoughts about what is signalled and not, and what is shrouded and why.   Brian Curtin