Unspeaking Engagements

By , October 21, 2009 3:17 pm

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Curated by Brian Curtin and Steve Dutton

Opening Night on Thursday, August 27th from 6pm

The Art Center of Chulalongkorn University, Bangkok

August 27th – October 3rd 2009

Lanchester Gallery, School of Art and Design, Coventry University, Britain

February 1st – March 3rd 2010


Tintin Cooper, Institute of Beasts, Adam James, Michael Lee, Tanya Madsen Mahon, Brigid McLeer, Ho Ming-Kuei, Be Takerng Pattanopas, Kamol Phaosavasdi, Nigel Power and Elias Wyber, Hester Reeve, Jonathan Shaw  and Carl von Weiler

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The Art Center of Chulalongkorn University is very pleased to announce an international exhibition of visual art in collaboration with the School of Art and Design at Coventry University in Britain. Including artists from Thailand, Ireland, Singapore, Taiwan and Britain – though many have transnational affiliations – Unspeaking Engagements will travel to Coventry in 2010.

The artists in Unspeaking Engagements explore processes of physical and/or durational engagement as a means of constituting the artwork. Each address their own or the viewers’ awareness of their body in relation to time and space. At issue are questions of how such awareness can be cultivated, felt, represented and ultimately proliferated through the work of art. Unspeaking Engagements showcases artworks as sites of shifting experiences, in differentiation from artworks that require detached observation and propose fixed or final interpretations.

This exhibition proposes a detailed understanding of major questions within international contemporary art practices – who does what, how, when, and to whom – and consequently links theoretical debates about the intersection of performance and performativity to more recent critical issues of relational or participatory art. However, the international basis of Unspeaking Engagements highlights different terms for understanding common methods and aims. Theories and sensibilities developed in one part of the world can be radically tested in another, provoking unexpected intensities and new formations.

Works to be included are drawing, video, interactive media, site-specific installation, performance and objects.

Note on the Curators

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Dr. Brian Curtin is a freelance art writer and curator based in Bangkok, and is currently an adjunct lecturer on the PhD program in Design Arts at Silpakorn University.


Steve Dutton (RCA) is an artist and Professor in Creative Practice at Coventry University in the UK. His projects have been exhibited throughout the UK and internationally.

Lanchester Gallery, Coventry School of Art & Design, Gosford Street, Coventry CV1 5FB, UK.

Tel: + (0) 24 7688 7660

Educational Programs for Unspeaking Engagements
Friday August 28, 2009
1. Exhibition Introduction by Dr Brian Curtin, curator, 1.30-2.00pm

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2. Artist’s Lecture by Brigid McLeer, 2.00-3.00pm

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3. Special Participatory Project: Chalk Drawing by Tanya Madsen Mahon, from 3.15pm onwards

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*These programs are conducted in English with Thai translation
The Art Center would like to invite you to the opening reception of Unspeaking Engagements, an international exhibition of visual art in collaboration with the School of Art and Design at
Coventry University, UK.

Unspeaking Engagements is curated by Dr Brian Curtin, Bangkok-based freelance art writer and curator, and Steve Dutton, artist and professor at Coventry University. The two curators have gathered 13 Thai and international artists/collectives, whose works range from drawing to objects, video, interactive media and site-specific installation. These works invite the audience to have an engagement – physical, intellectual and emotional. Without the audience’s participation, they will not succeed at all.

The 13 artists/collectives are Tintin Cooper, Institute of Beasts, Adam James, Michael Lee, Tanya Madson Mahon, Brigid McLeer, Ho Ming-Kuei, Be Takerng Pattanopas, Kamol Phaosavasdi, Nigel Power and Elias Wyber, Hester Reeve, Jonathan Shaw, and Carl von Weiler

La Fête Inside Out

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Lecture on the French-Thai Cultural Festival
By Stéphane Négrin, Cultural Attaché, Embassy of France

August 31, 2009, 1.30-4.00pm
At the Auditorium, The Art Center, 7th Fl, Center of Academic Resources (Central Library), Chulalongkorn University
*The lecture is conducted in French with Thai translation.

The Art Center is glad to welcome the man behind the French-Thai cultural festival ‘La Fête’, Mr Stéphane Négrin, Cultural Attaché to the Embassy of France in Thailand, as a guest lecturer on “La Fête Inside Out”

La Fête is an annual festival which promotes both French and Thai cultures and has been organized since 2004. The festival does not present only one artistic field, but encompasses a wide variety of cultural works, including visual art, performing arts, film, music and even gastronomy. Its aim is to illustrate the French culture of today as well as create a dialogue between French and Thai artists and create a new experience for Bangkok viewers.

The success of this event is due to a capable workforce and excellent planning and programming. The festival is a good source of knowledge for those interested in cultural management and organization of a large-scale cultural program as well as a reflection on cultural policies by on a governmental level.

The Art Center would like to invite you to join the lecture on the date and time as stated above. This shall be a good opportunity for you to inquire everything you would like to know about La Fête directly.


Exhibition’s Review

Dissolving boundaries

International exhibition defies essentialism in the hope of solving differences


Published: 10/09/2009 at 12:00 AM

Newspaper section: Outlook-Bangkok Post

Against the backdrop of racial and linguistic tension, which the documentary film Citizen Juling has brought to the contemporary Thai cultural scene at this hour, an international exhibition at the Art Centre of Chulalongkorn University has shunned essentialist and utilitarian understanding of identity and language. Instead, it approaches them in ways that inspire us to relax our clenching palms which formerly clutch to the idea that “self” is an absolute, fixed and detached entity.

“Unspeaking Engagements” – under the co-curatorial batons of Brian Curtin, a consistent “scene-creator” of art in Bangkok, and Steve Dutton, professor in Creative Practice at Coventry University in the UK – features works by 13 artists from Canada, Ireland, New Zealand, Singapore, Taiwan, Thailand and the UK. In the exhibition, different kinds of contemporary deconstructive and performative methods have been applied to address the topic of difference, be it racial, national or sexual, however with the mandate of not essentialising it.

“We want a fruitful collaboration which explicitly addresses an international basis whereby national identities are undertaken, yet not reducible to the essential sense of locality,” said Curtin, of his collaboration with Dutton. Unspeaking Engagements, in other words, “explores the production of subjectivities through artworks in ways that race, sex and class are simply not taken as a given but sites of exploration.”

Greeting visitors upon entry to the show is the video work by Eurasian artist Tintin Cooper, which was deemed the most popular among the viewers on the opening night. The work deconstructs media representations by calling attention, through repetition, to the codes of race and masculinity that are at play in Hollywood films.

“From watching her comparison of Bruce Lee with Sylvester Stallone, we can see how ideas of physical power are racialised: The elegance of Bruce Lee’s martial arts skills versus the brute force of Stallone’s boxing and, moreover, how Bruce Lee remains a cold, calculating a-human machine while Stallone’s humanity is revealed through him being bruised and battered. The audience feels for Stallone, but Lee remains the stereotypical inscrutable Asian, and ‘we’ don’t feel desire or sympathy for him,” said Curtin.

The installation Habitat and video work Adroit, a gauche, a gag: Three Tales After Gustave Flaubert by Brigid Mcleer from the UK pivot on the process of making art – trying to communicate and make a connection in a given socio-cultural context. This is in hope that the viewers will develop a better understanding of the body – both as featured in the works and the human body itself regardless of race, sex or class – as more in relation to time, space and labour. “There are times when you don’t quite know what you are producing, you just trust your creative instincts and keep going forward, in the dark, much like a photograph itself appearing in the darkroom,” said Mcleer, on the ontological uncertainty of a work in progress.

Other works which explore processes of physical and/or durational engagement as a means of constituting the “art’s work” – as opposed to the “artwork” – are Jonathan Shaw’s Frenchgate Centre, Elias Wyber and Nigel Power’s Drawn In and Adam James’ Paris Vagabonds. Complementary with these, yet with a distinct power to prompt us “to rethink who is making what or even who is making whom”, according to curator Dutton, is Litter Twin by Tanya Madsen Mahon whose repetition via chalk drawing of naughty doppelgangers exemplifies the performative dimension of subjectivity – the reproduction of the “already there”.

As the metaphor of the Tower of Babel would have reminded us, problems in interracial/international relations come from language difference – a soft example of which is, for instance, the fact that the European Union spends a huge amount of money each year in translation to facilitate understanding among member states. Thus, in line with its treatment of subjectivities as performative, durational and contingent, Unspeaking Engagements also challenges our everyday understanding of language in the utilitarian sense.

Inasmuch as Citizen Juling refuses to condone culture absolutism – it, instead, proffers cultural plurality and appropriation as a process of peace maintenance in Southern Thailand, at least prior to the Thaksinomic era; for instance, Buddhist Thais in the deep South used to exclaim “Allah!” in their emotional rush without any reservation – Unspeaking Engagements, or the tasks that do not speak, handles language in such a way that denies its conventional function to name, describe and define, hence obliterating differences: “Language in the show comes in as a physical effect-deafening, abstract and rhythmic,” said Curtin. Dematerialisation of language in this light are present in Carl Von Weiler’s Not Me In Situation 1, Mcleer’s video work, James’ Paris Vagabonds and, very interestingly, Shaw’s Frenchgate Centre despite without any headset or speaker attached to the work.

Precipitously judging, Unspeaking Engagements may risk being deemed dry due to the highly cerebral concept on which the show is based. Yet with enough time, deep engagement promises emotional responses; here understanding of the human body is felt, not represented. Be Takerng Pattanopas’ Pous Soup 1, one of the most outstanding in this regard, produces a markedly visceral effect on our perception of the human body. The wall-based work which features throbbing blood-like colours by artificial light and labyrinthine metaphorical intestines call for the relinquishment of the viewers’ own body and others’ – putting an end to the corporeal “us” and “them”. Similar to Pous Soup 1, but in a much more light-hearted way, Takerng’s Pous Soup 2 – an adorable rubber floor-piece with funny hairy texture which literally performs the act of breathing and is very popular among younger visitors-arouses in viewers the sense of the primordial and the void from whence we human beings derive from. Both pieces highlight the sensational dimension of the human body and our universal capacity to register touch, feeling and disgust, proving that racial, national, sexual and class differences are simply irrelevant.

Unspeaking Engagements is an exhibition which effectively deploys deconstructive and performative methods to cultivate in viewers the awareness of the futility of allowing the imaginary and contingent nature of subjectivity to blind man to the point of attacking one another. Simply put, Unspeaking Engagements is an international show that radically calls into question the element of being international itself: difference. The works here together produce the ultimate effect of racial/national/sexual undecidability, be it ontologically or epistemologically – under which circumstance the position from whence difference is constituted is entirely too slippery to pin down.

After all, reservations about the absolutism of identity and knowledge cultivatable in this exhibition are proved by Curtin benefit the Thai public and Thailand itself: “Thai culture insists [from politics to art] on the representation of ideas which are claimed as already and unquestionably existing. Arguably, it is unattuned to issues of how ideas are produced and manipulated and can often end up meaning differently than originally intended-look at how notions of Thainess can be widely different and are manipulated to serve political agendas, yet we believe Thainess is fundamentally a coherent and given essence.”

‘Unspeaking Engagements’ is on view until September 26 at the Art Centre of Chulalongkorn University. The exhibition will travel to Coventry, UK in 2010.

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