March 31, 2023
BANGKOK – Chiang Rai, Thailand’s culturally and ecologically rich northernmost city, will transform into a global arts hub when the Thailand Biennale 2023 opens this December.
The international contemporary art festival will showcase works by 60 artists from 25 countries across Chiang Rai and Chiang Saen’s Golden Triangle area from December 9, 2023 to April 30, 2024. The city will be rejuvenated by specially commissioned site-specific works.
The first Thailand Biennale was launched by the Culture Ministry’s Office of Contemporary Art and Culture in the tourism province of Krabi in 2018. The second was held in Isaan’s Nakhon Ratchasima (Korat) in 2021.
By moving between regions with strong and distinctive art personalities, the Thailand Biennale decentralises artistic activity and highlights site specificity while reinvigorating local history, urbanisation and nature.
December 2023 will see the Biennale return for its third edition in Chiang Rai, dubbed “art city” for its 300-plus local artists.
Co-hosted by the ministry’s Office of Contemporary Art and Culture and Chiang Rai province with a budget of Bt150 million, the Thailand Biennale 2023 aims to turn the northern city into an international arts and culture hub and tourism magnet.
“We aim to use this international contemporary art festival as ‘soft power’ to generate income for the locals and boost tourism. We expect to create more than 8,000 jobs and earn about Bt30 billion from tourism during the four-month festival,” said Culture Minister Itthiphol Khunpluem.
This year’s curatorial team is led by internationally acclaimed artistic directors Rirkrit Tiravanija and Gridthiya Gaweewong with curators Angkrit Ajchariyasophon and Manuporn Luengaram.
Chiang Rai, situated between the Mae Kok and Mekong rivers, has a long and complex history dating back at least 800 years. As the gateway to the Golden Triangle with Laos and Myanmar, Chiang Rai is a crossroads of multi-cultural exchange. The ebb and flow of civilizations has transformed it from a commercial hub to an outpost town, symbolising how societies throughout the world change over time.
Inspired by their research trips around this ancient city of diverse cultures and rich history, the curatorial team came up with “The Open World” for the biennale’s theme.
“The theme takes its name from the Buddha image enshrined in Wat Pa Sak in Chiang Saen built in 1295, one of the most important historical sites in Chiang Rai. The posture of the Buddha standing with his hands open at his sides represents wisdom and awakening as he descends from Tavatimsa Heaven to perform a miracle of revelation. With his power, he opens the three worlds – the god world, the underworld, and the human world so that they can see one another,” explained artistic director Gridthiya, a native of Chiang Saen.
Through this theme, Thailand Biennale 2023 aims to “open up” the world of visitors and their perceptions of art using references to local history, and engage them with contemporary global issues.
The present-day Lanna traditions and cultural heritage of the city – from its architecture, culture and craftmanship to storytelling, beliefs, and ecology – all originated from ancient kingdoms.
“The Open World” also looks wider to our post-globalisation era of borderless mass migration – both of people and transnational capital.
But unlike previous editions, the global theme will be rooted firmly in local reality. Chiang Rai’s biennale will be powered by the Art Bridge or Kua Silpa, an association of more than 300 local artists and 60 studios.
National artist Charoemchai Kositpipat, with support from a local real estate developer, has raised over Bt45 million to build a new International Contemporary Art Museum for the biennale in the heart of the city.
Located on 20 rai of land, the two-storey museum will host galleries spread over 1,500 square metres of floor space. Construction is well underway and will be finalised in time for the biennale’s opening in December.
“Thailand Biennial 2023 will be the artistic platform for local and global artists to learn and share their art practices together. In addition, driven by the dynamic contemporary art and culture here, the biennale will open up our region to the world,” said artistic director Rirkrit.
Besides the new museum, dozens of site-specific works will grace venues like the White Temple, Black House, Mae Fah Luang Art and Culture Park and Golden Triangle spaces. Local artists will also open their studios during the four-month festival. Spontaneous arts and culture activities will mushroom around town.
Among the headliners are internationally acclaimed artists including German Tobias Rehberger, Brazilian Ernesto Neto, Korean Haegue Yang, Vietnamese Nguyen Trinh with Thais Apichatpong Weerasethakul, Baan Nok Collective and Navin Rawanchaikul. They will create newly commissioned works for the Chiang Rai edition. Other artists are Indonesian Citra Sasmita, Singaporean Ho Tzu Nyen, Taiwanese Michael Lin, Japanese Ryusuke Kido and two Myanmar artists, Sawangwongse Yawnghwe and Soe Yu Nwe. Artists from Thailand include All(zone), Sriwan Janehuttakarnkit, Nipan Oranniwesna, Busui Ajaw, Sanitas Pradittasnee, Kamonlak Sukchai, and Roongroj Paimyossak.