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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.”
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).
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’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.
- Strength in numbers: 4 Southeast Asian art groups – October 2013 – Art Radar highlights four art groups in Indonesia, Vietnam, Cambodia and the Philippines
- What to see at Singapore Biennale 2013 – in pictures – October 2013 – the focus is on Southeast Asian artists at this edition of the biennale
- History, memory, nation: Thai artists depict a country of complexity – picture feast – May 2013 – six contemporary artists reflect on the complexity of modern Thailand
- Southeast Asian gallerist Valentine Willie retires from commercial art world – October 2012 – three of Willie’s four Southeast Asian galleries will close in favour of not-for-profit art centres
- Questioning “Made in China” – Interview avant-garde Beijing artist Huang Rui – October 2009 – the artist talks about China, commercialisation and his exhibition Comerchina, which uses motifs of currency and banknotes
Subscribe to Art Radar for more on Southeast Asian artists and exhibitions