Out of the Gallery and into the Taxicab
Navin Rawanchaikul takes art out onto the streets and into the daily lives of ordinary people. Setting up the Navin Gallery Bangkok in 1995, he began using a taxicab as a space in which to exhibit artworks in order to overcome the divide between the public and contemporary art world that is aggravated by the poor art infrastructure in Thailand. Collaboration is central to his work. By inviting the public to participate in his projects, he encourages them to become co-creators of art works. This process of involving local inhabitants, not only in Bangkok but also in other cities across the world, produces a diverse body of works that are each intimately bound to specific locations and experiences.
´The relation between the public and the private is very important and I always try to integrate this relation in my art. People are integral parts of the work; they participate in the work rather than just viewing it; the work is an actual event that takes place in everyday life.´
Navin Rawanchaikul emerged on the art scene in 1992 as a co-organiser of ´Chiang Mai Social Installation´, a three-month long alternative art and culture project in his home town in the north of Thailand. Initiated by a group of young artists and students, the event comprised installations, performances, talks and social events held in temples and cemeteries around the city. A practice devoted to taking art out onto the streets and into the daily lives of ordinary people had begun.
Within three years, Rawanchaikul founded the Navin Gallery Bangkok, when he began using a taxicab as a space in which to exhibit artworks. The idea behind this mobile gallery was, he explains, ´to overcome the gap between contemporary art and our daily life´. The impulse was particularly acute, given the status of contemporary art in Thailand, where there are hardly any galleries, almost no support for young artists and very few gallery goers. For Rawanchaikul, the challenge was therefore to ´put art directly into the community´.
With Bangkok´s notorious traffic jams, the minicab was the perfect vehicle in which to do so, and one that also brought together civic and intimate spheres. Rawanchaikul explains, ´Taxis can be an alternative site for art since they cover many streets and their function is public; but once you enter into a cab, the relation between yourself and the driver becomes a private one. You didn´t know the driver before and he didn´t know you, and the communication that takes place is very interesting.´
In 2000, Rawanchaikul took the concept of his mobile gallery to the UK for the show ´as it is´ at the Ikon Gallery, Birmingham UK. The curatorial framework was inspired by travel writer Jonathan Raban´s concept of the ´soft city´ - the fluid architecture of the urban sprawl, constructed from the nightmares, aspirations, fears and dreams of its inhabitants. Rawanchaikul´s contribution transformed the invisible and mundane into a colourful world of fantasy.
Entitled ´Shakespeare in Taxi´, his work began in a series of informal conversations with local cab drivers, who told him about their experiences of living and working in Birmingham. Responding to the stories he heard, Rawanchaikul produced a comic book about the adventures of a young Thai artist (himself) and his Japanese wife who meet a West Midlands taxi driver and William Shakespeare during their honeymoon in Birmingham. Distributing the comic free of charge in the back of the city´s taxis, Rawanchaikul invited passengers on a trip through art, life and fantasy.
Rawanchaikul also exhibited a stationary taxi-come-comic-reading booth outside the Ikon Gallery. Two poster artists from Thailand had painted the cab with cartoon images relating to the comic book characters and their adventures. Rawanchaikul has often collaborated with painters and explains the significance of the use of paint, which he describes as a ´simple medium´, in his work. ´It is quite easy for the public to enter into its stories and perceive what the artist wants to express - experiences and memories ´through colours and brushes´, he says. Reminding us that humans have used paint to record their lives and express themselves from the earliest ages, Rawanchaikul adds, ´Even though we are now in the hi-tech media era, the creation of a simple drawing of a painting has still an essential value for our history.´
With public-oriented projects such as these, Rawanchaikul has been successfully tapping into the everyday experiences of inhabitants of specific locations, whether in Sydney, Tokyo, Birmingham or indeed, Bangkok. The process, however, becomes a two-way conversation and the artist insists upon the vital active contribution of the public in the evolution of his work. ´On many occasions,´ he says, ´I have been able to develop my next pieces as a result of discussions with a monk, street vendors or taxi drivers in different cities or even the unexpected comments from the passengers of my taxi-gallery. I have learnt a lot by putting my works in temples, streets or in taxicabs.´
Sources include: Text by Deborah Kermode in the ´as it is´ catalogue, Birmingham, 2000 and ´Navin Rawanchaikul´ an interview by Hans Ulrich Obrist, Flash Art, January/February 2000.
Author: Diana Yeh, Visiting Arts
Navin Rawanchaikul was born in Chiang Mai, Thailand in 1971. He currently lives and works in Fukuoka, Japan and has participated in exhibitions worldwide.
Exhibition / Installation,
2003 Shugoarts, Tokyo
2003/2002 Shanghai Biennale
2002 Shugoarts, Tokyo
2000 ´Furioso: Art on the Highway´, Pescara, Italy (catalogue)
2000 5th Lyon Biennale, Lyon, France (catalogue)
2000 ´As it Is´, Ikon Gallery, Birmingham, UK
2000 ´Over the Edge´, SMAK, Ghent, Belgium (catalogue)
2000 ´Game Over´, Watarium, Tokyo, Japan
2000 ´Continental Shift´, Archen Contemporary Art Museum, Archen, Germany
1999 ´Cities on the Move´, in collaboration with Rirkrit Tiravanija, Hayward Gallery, London; Krisma, Helsinki; Bangkok; Artspace, Copenhagen; Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, Humlebaek, Denmark
1999 ´I Love Art´, Watari Museum of Contemporary Art, Tokyo, Japan
1998 ´Cities on the Move´, in collaboration with Rirkrit Tiravanija, PS1, New York, US; CAPC Musée d´Art Contemporaine de Bordeaux, France; Wienner Secession, Vienna
1998 2nd Kwangju Biennale, Kwangju, South Korea
1998 ´New Generation of Asia Art´, Yonako City Museum of Art, Ehime Prefecture Museum of Art and Miyakonojo City Museum of Art, Japan (catalogue)
1997 ´Art in Southeast Asia 1997: Glimpses into the Future´, Museum of Contemporary Art, Tokyo and Hiroshima (catalogue)
1996 ´Second Asia-Pacific Triennal of Contemporary Art´. Queensland Art Gallery, Brisbane
1996 ´Yumeooka Art Project´, Yumeooka Building, Yokohama, Japan (catalogue)
1996 ´Traditions/Tensions: Contemporary Art in Asia´, Asia Society and Queens Museum of Art, New York (touring to Vancouver Art Gallery, Perth Musuem of Contemporary Art and Taipei Musuem of Art, Taipei
1998 ´Memorealism´, Museum City Fukuoka (catalogue)
1998 ´Out of India: Contemporary Art of the South Asian Diaspora, Queens Museum of Art, New York