Currency Crisis: Southeast Asian artists talk money in Bangkok – picture feast

The first regional group exhibition at Bangkok’s Whitespace Gallery addresses the ubiquitous issue of money and its place in our world. 

From 2 November to 29 December 2013, six artists from Thailand, Singapore and Myanmar are using their art to encourage conversation and new ways of thinking about the value, function and materiality of money. 

Green Zeng, ‘Malayan Exchange (Studies of Notes of the Future’, 2011, digital print on Hahnemuehle paper Edition of 10 + 1 AP, 21 x 29.7 cm. Image courtesy of Whitespace Gallery Bangkok.

Green Zeng, ‘Malayan Exchange (Studies of Notes of the Future)’, 2011, digital print on Hahnemuehle paper, edition of 10 + 1 AP, 21 x 29.7 cm. Image courtesy Whitespace Gallery Bangkok.

Titled “Currency Crisis”, the exhibition at the Whitespace Gallery in Bangkok is curated by Singaporean Tang Fu Kuen (b. 1972), who was the sole curator of the Singapore pavilion at the 53rd Venice Biennale in 2009. The exhibiting artists are Latthapon Korkiatrakul (Thailand), Pisitakun Kuntalang (Thailand), Pornprasert Yamazaki (Thailand), Sai Hua Kuan (Singapore), Green Zeng (Singapore) and Moe Satt (Myanmar).

According to the press release, the exhibition – a hybrid of visual art, installations, video and performance – is “a collection of existing artistic practices in the region” in which,

…money – as both image and object – is re-imagined and transformed. Each artist questions the layers of meaning that currency stands for. Through radical action and humour, the artists collectively alter money – its representation, economy and ideology.

Latthapon Korkiatrakul, ‘Malaysia Ringgit’, 2013, sandpapered bank note and residue, 38 x 18 x 2 cm. Photograph courtesy of Whitespace Gallery Bangkok.

Latthapon Korkiatrakul, ‘Malaysia Ringgit’, 2013, sandpapered banknote and residue, 38 x 18 x 2 cm. Image courtesy Whitespace Gallery Bangkok.

Money as a physical object

Thai artist Latthapon Korkiatrakul (b. 1988) highlights the physical nature of paper money by systematically disintegrating notes to blankness and dust using sandpaper. Titled Neither Greater Than Nor Equal To. Neither Less Than Nor Equal To (2013), the work presents this powder and blank note as a transformation of the original object “erased of its look, its value, its history,” questioning whether the object remains unchanged in its worth. Latthapon studied at the School of Fine and Applied Art at Bangkok University, using sandpaper as his medium for his graduation show, and has exhibited in Bangkok and Singapore.

Sai Hua Kuan, 50 Yen coin installation, 2013, 4cm. Photograph courtesy of Whitespace Gallery Bangkok.

Sai Hua Kuan, ’50 Yen’, coin installation, 2013, 4cm. Image courtesy Whitespace Gallery Bangkok.

In 50 Yen, also an exploration of the materiality of money, Sai Hua Kuan (b. 1976, Singapore) saws coins in half, a metaphor for the passage of Japanese troops through Malaya and Burma during World War II, which had a significant impact on the region. Sai Hua Kuan’s work and installations often make use of everyday found objects and, according to his profile on the Singapore Contemporary Young Artists website, “breaking down and transforming a space, and dismantling and reconstructing materials and objects are the important processes in my creation of work.” His work is currently exhibited at the Singapore Biennale.

Sai Hua Kuan splitting a coin at Whitespace Gallery. Photograph courtesy of Whitespace Gallery Bangkok.

Sai Hua Kuan splitting a coin at Whitespace Gallery. Image courtesy Whitespace Gallery Bangkok.

The ideological value of money

Pisitakun Kuntalang (b. 1986, Thailand) questions and subverts the value of currency by drawing and literally constructing money, and then attempting to exchange it for “real” money, in an installation called We Need to Talk About Money. He is interested in the use and function of objects and symbols, and the “circulation of the banknote in the aesthetic sphere where the audience can participate in the economy of exchange.”

Pisitakun Kuntalang, ‘We Need to Talk About Money’, exhibition installation, 2013. Photograph courtesy of Whitespace Gallery Bangkok.

Pisitakun Kuntalang, ‘We Need to Talk About Money’, exhibition installation, 2013. Image courtesy Whitespace Gallery Bangkok.

Pornprasert Yamazaki, ‘Fighting Fish’ money installation, 2013, fighting fish and bank notes, 10 x 7 cm and 50 jars. Photograph courtesy of Whitespace Gallery Bangkok.

Pornprasert Yamazaki, ‘Fighting Fish’, money installation, 2013, fighting fish and banknotes, 10 x 7 cm and 50 jars. Image courtesy Whitespace Gallery Bangkok.

Another Thai artist, Pornprasert Yamazaki (b. 1973), presents his 2007 installation Fighting Fish, which consists of fighting fish in fifty individual jars standing in a row with twenty Baht notes slipped between the jars, blocking each fish from its neighbour’s view. In the press release, the artist says that “money binds us in ways that we become blind to each other.”

Pornprasert Yamazaki, ‘Butterfly’, 2013, blood on paper, 120 x 244 cm. Image courtesy of Whitespace Gallery Bangkok.

Pornprasert Yamazaki, ‘Butterfly’, 2013, artist’s blood on paper, 120 x 244 cm. Image courtesy Whitespace Gallery Bangkok.

Above the installation hangs a painting, Butterfly, also by Yamazaki, which is a distorted rendition of the portrait of King Bhumibol (whose face is depicted on the notes) from the fish’s viewpoint, playing on the idea of perception and relative significance. The medium of the painting is the artist’s own blood, as in his previous solo exhibition “Suicide Mind” (Whitespace Gallery Bangkok, 2009). He has also previously dealt with themes of money, consumerism and happiness in a material world in his exhibition “Want to be Rich” (Whitespace Gallery Bangkok, 2007).

Green Zeng, ‘Malayan Exchange (Studies of Notes of the Future’, 2011, digital print on Hahnemuehle paper Edition of 10 + 1 AP, 21 x 29.7 cm. Photograph courtesy of Whitespace Gallery Bangkok.

Green Zeng, ‘Malayan Exchange (Studies of Notes of the Future)’, 2011, digital print on Hahnemuehle paper, edition of 10 + 1 AP, 21 x 29.7 cm. Image courtesy Whitespace Gallery Bangkok.

Currency and symbolism

The works by Green Zeng (b. 1972, Singapore) and Moe Satt (b. 1983, Myanmar) deal with the images and symbols depicted on currency. Zeng is a visual and theatre artist whose films have been shown at international festivals, including the Cannes Film Festival. His 2011 exhibition “Malayan Exchange (Studies of the Notes of the Future)” in Singapore was an attempt to re-examine interpretations and constructions of history and national identity, and re-present collective memory through the images and symbols on national currency. He created digital currency notes with a different set of symbols, images, dates and texts that invited a reconsideration of Singaporean history.

Moe Satt, ‘Full of Kyats’ video and miscellaneous objects installation, 2013. Photograph courtesy of Whitespace Gallery Bangkok.

Moe Satt, ‘Full of Kyats’, video and miscellaneous objects installation, 2013. Image courtesy Whitespace Gallery Bangkok.

Moe Satt, ‘Full of Kyats’ performance, 2013. Photograph courtesy of Whitespace Gallery Bangkok.

Moe Satt, ‘Full of Kyats’, performance, 2013. Image courtesy Whitespace Gallery Bangkok.

Moe Satt’s performance piece, Full of Kyats, addresses similar issues in the context of the Burmese kyat, narrating and retelling the stories behind the national symbols on currency using a range of props. Moe Satt is the founder of the Beyond Pressure International Festival of Performance Art in Yangon and has performed across Asia and Europe.

Kriti Bajaj

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Related Topics: Southeast Asian artists, gallery shows, picture feasts, art about money, Myanmar artists, Thai artists, Singaporean artists, events in Bangkok

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