As an organization dedicated to diversity, and working closely with the Thai Art Council in Los Angeles, LA Artcore developed the concept of an International Exchange Show between countries, to build on the foundation of relationships it had made with various communities in the Los Angeles area. With people from nearly every nation on earth calling the city home, it can be said that people from cultures beyond our own form a voice that is part of the arts in the city, and making an exchange of ideas and outlooks could only strengthen the unique character of visual arts in LA.
From the first exchange with Thailand in 2004, these events were possible only through significant cooperation of the Thai Royal Government, its Office of the National Culture Commission, and a range of public and private institutions and universities in Thailand. This year the Promotion and Conservation Program of Thailand is a significant sponsor. The program has provided visiting artists from Los Angeles an opportunity to survey Thai arts from a central view, conducted under government auspices. The artists arriving from Thailand have been able to explore the landscape, intensity and sheer scale of the art world in Los Angeles, the international character of life in the city, and the natural beauty the American Southwest has to offer.
The upcoming exhibit in Thailand is taking place at a newly opened Ratchadamnoen Contemporary Art Center in Bangkok, near the Grand Palace. The artists will make presentations to an assembly, dine with the Minister of Culture while cruising the Chao Phraya river, attend a large salon of Northern Thai artists at Naresuan University, visit the archaeology site at the ancient city of Kamphaeng Phet. The group will then head south to repeat their presentations, and make art together at the Thaksin University, before attending the opening of the Exchange Show in Bangkok, concluding their journey by attending the National Artists award banquet.
Past participants from Los Angeles include educators and other people who influence the art scene in the city, returning with their trip with an expanded awareness of art in Thailand, and reflections on the impact of culture on contemporary art developments.
At this point a number of artists are making their second voyage to Thailand, drawn independently to various elements of the structured experience, the culture, and the landscape itself.
Marla Fields, who attended the Exchange in 2008 found herself swept along to a grand and elaborate event. She recalls the government was different, it rolled out the red carpet including police escort. The artists stayed in a highly secured hotel where the princess was staying, and from her window she could see the navy protecting them just offshore. The exchange went beyond a trade-off of gallery shows, she met artists not only from Thailand, but from China, Vietnam and India as well. And these meetings were not limited to grand meals – they worked together, making art for the public to experience the feeling and movement of being artists. Kamol Tassananchalee, a tireless facilitator between two worlds, tried his best to arrange a three dimensional picture of the country, accommodating them in ways that went far beyond an ordinary academic conference. They met the Prime Minister, dignitaries, and chanting Buddhist monks.
Marla reflects most strongly on the lasting friendships she developed while traveling, and moments just beyond the periphery of the events – a tiny, empty temple in the south she found difficult to leave. The way everything is decorative, the way choice of materials revealed the passage of time. She remembers coming across ruins on a stroll, where one of the group sat down spontaneously to meditate, then looking up through the trees to see a hot air balloon rise at just that moment. The country had a consistent, dreamlike magic to it.
Edem Elesh is also a repeat participant, and had much to say about the kindness and cleanliness of the people, returning to this topic often. He finds the culture is solid in itself, old and established in a way to which the U.S. can’t quite compare. It has a customary visual language that is very exotic to an American, whose culture is only a few centuries old, and largely based on a negation of the past (in favor of progress for its own sake). In the Thai setting there is a set way people do things, so creativity is more spontaneous, more broadly accepted as an action instead of a concept or chain of meaning. This is eye opening for any westerner to see, art as action instead of some objective containment of it.
Edem added that there is more than just the pleasant ways of the people, that he personally is drawn to. There is something of the exotic there, not just in continuity, or the unique results of being of the few remaining Buddhist countries on earth. There is a tolerance of the unusual, a scope of imagery and acceptance that he regards as far superior to America, where moral judgment is the daily fare. No doubt due to Buddhism, but also the abundance and lushness of the lands, there is a tolerance, a lack of self-centeredness, that is refreshing, strange and produces a unique view of human society that cannot be encountered in European settings.
He finds scale has its influence on the way a Western artist works. There’s a sense of something cooperative, that one must keep a reference point towards the center of the group. There’s a Western belief that the cumulative weight of history shapes the individual at work. It’s used as a way to track the idea of ‘originality’ by having a conceptual center with which to compare one’s individual expression. He explains another distinction - there is such a long vernacular tradition of creativity playing a role in the daily life in Thailand, that there remains no such thing as a problem with repeating elements taken directly from the techniques of others, including the traditional.
At the same time, the West has its own advantages that may be valuable for a Thai to interact with. The conceptual framework, history of theories, and visual movements all have a way of breaking down the self into participation with forward movement and progress. Whether it’s breaking it down to the individual’s feeling or perceptions, or breaking down a concept behind our ways of communicating, there’s a reduction that is an accepted part of art in Thailand, that they don’t have as intensely in their higher level discourse.
The International Exchange program has extended its reach to include programs with a number of other countries, including Japan, Italy, and Korea. Thailand remains the most in-depth, thanks to the significant placement and tireless, selfless efforts of Kamol Tassananchalee and members of the Thai Art Council. It remains one of LA Artcore’s strongest education programs, and of a force of understanding and mutual feeling on behalf of the city of Los Angeles.
Reception: Sunday, April 6th, 2014
Exhibit on View April 1 - 16, 2012
LA Artcore Brewery Annex
650A South Ave. 21, Los Angeles, CA 90031
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