BANGKOK — An unusual street display turns the audience itself into the spectacle. Through performance art, an artist encourages not only physical participation but asks the audience to question their daily assumptions.
As part of his work for Bangkok’s first ever Art Biennial, performance artist Taweesak Molsawat hopes that involving his audience at public locations in Bangkok will encourage them to question their perceptions of society and interpret his art for themselves with their own personal meaning.
“I think we cannot really separate art from life,” he said. “It is influenced one way or another by daily life. You grow up, the way you think, your attitude is influenced by society.”
No two performances will be the same as he surprises bystanders weekly from July to September at popular spots such as Siam Center, Victory Monument, Democracy Monument, Hua Lamphong, the Bangkok Art and Culture Centre. Even motorcycle taxis are his stage.
His ongoing series, called “Body Politic,” focuses on political commentary by using his own body to convey his message. For example, Taweesak held a performance Saturday, July 21, 2018 entitled “How is the Taste of My Body?” where he created edible works shaped like hearts, kidneys or even feet.
“Art is about politics,” he said. “The human body is about politics. You make art to express something.”
In a performance this past weekend entitled “Blind Leading the Blind,” Taweesak and his assistant wore buckets on their heads made of ice and red food coloring. They walked along the street outside of Bridge Art Space, and as the ice melted, their white T-shirts were stained red.
Then they walked to the gallery’s exhibit “A/Part” displaying in the back. The audience stood outside in a covered metal cage only accessible through the gallery as Taweesak and his assistant stood facing them on a pedestal.
The building behind the exhibition was itself a part of the art. Sathorn Tower, aka the Ghost Tower, is an unfinished residential skyscraper abandoned during the 1997 economic crisis. The backdrop contributed to a haunting mood during Taweesak’s performance.
“It’s about the opportunity to be a part of the conversation,” he said of his performances afterward.
Taweesak, 49 of Phitsanulok, got his start in jewelry and metalwork. But instead of the usual way to think about jewelry, he focused on using jewelry as a way to communicate. From there, he began thinking about what jewelry would be like if there was no body.
He kicked off his performance art in 2015 with a jewelry and metalwork exhibition at his first Biennial titled “Radiant Pavilion” in Melbourne, Australia.
“I approached them about the disappearance of objects and focused on the memory of wearing,” he said. “That’s kind of the starting point of my interest in performance, particularly the body as an art form or the body as a medium and also as a cultural signifier that I’m really interested in.”
From there he began challenging both society and the law; performing in spaces that would usually not allow this type of art.
He also has an international background, teaching at American colleges and holding art exhibitions there. When he came back to Thailand, he said he found new ideas in conceptualizing a sense of belonging and place.
“I started to realize that it is not about what group you belong to,” he said. “It’s about who you are; how you would like to present yourself to others.”
Photos by Taylor McAvoy