Recently I listened to a New Yorker Fiction Podcast in which Nobel Prize winner Orhan Pamuk spoke about the impact on a reader of honing in and challenging the backbone of a story—its structure—and the multitude of stories and character that revolve around it. It struck me that this was the essence of our intention for this exhibition, and one that would allow the collaborative approach that we felt was so necessary. So, taking inspiration from the “composers of great moving deep novels,” such as Italo Calvino and Jorge Luis Borges, this exhibition applies a tried-and-tested
literary concept to our history and our sites
The focus of the 2018 exhibition at the Bangkok Art and Culture Center, Wang Na Nimidt, was to inspire people to “imagine” the environs of the Front Palace during this seminal era of Thai history in which we had two kings, two brothers, ruling simultaneously. The use of LEAP sensor technology and the creation of 3D reconstructions focused on the tangible elements of the space, but the goal has always been to bring people into the story; not just to read it from afar. Much like novel is not its structure; the history of this site is not merely a single and tangible narrative. In the same way the stories woven around the backbone of a novel gives us texture; in a site like Wang Na so too do the layers of time and residues of stories of characters past.
And so in this second installment of this two-part exhibition, we focus on concerning ourselves with the people whose lives have informed the structure and whose lives have been informed by it. In a sense we are playing acrobatics with the backbone, creating space between the stories of the site and the stories of the characters which mirror each other despite the distance of time between them. History is personal, and any deep understanding of it must focus on the subjective experience: these are the histories that will give us texture; these are the histories that will enmesh the
reader and the visitor alike.
So perhaps some will prefer to view this as a social experiment, because in inviting artists to Isara Winitchai Throne Hall to create site-specific installations, we are inviting dialogue. Whichever of the various ‘ghost’ layers of time and space that pervade the site and resonate with the artists, are made vulnerable to contemporary interpretation, and in doing so we open the door to building relationships between people and eras. But our heritage is not only our political history; our heritage is not only the remnants of our tangible culture. Some of the most sensory elements of our heritage—such as music, language, and taste—are intangible, and it is this very nature that make them that much more difficult to relate to for people today. And again we were faced with how a traditional museum could display such subjective and sensory experiences in a way that resonated with a contemporary audience.
This is really how the idea to invite collaborators—experts in their respective fields—to come and create at the National Museum evolved. Through these contemporary recreations of intangible elements of our heritage, visitors’ own senses may be stirred, triggering within them a connection to the past. By embedding within the heart of the exhibition, truly subjective experiences of a specific time-period, we hope to give recognition to the site in a beautifully engaging way that constructively challenges the conventionally prescriptive role of a museum.
Exactly how these collaborations will be received and experienced by visitors or by critics, I cannot say. I can only speak for how the creative efforts of these collaborators have strengthened and enhanced my own connection with the site and with these intangible elements of our collective history. In integrating the contemporary with the history, in creating dialogue between past and present, in questioning structures and definitions, I hope we are able to similarly enmesh people in the story of this site, and as Pamuk describes, “create some space for elasticity” in the understanding of the Wang Na, and of our fast-fading heritage.
- Sirikitiya Jensen, Director