Arin Rungjang on Cooking up “Golden Teardrop” for the Thai Pavilion in Venice

BANGKOK — Conceptual artist Arin Rungjang was recently confirmed as one of two artists due to helm the Thai Pavilion at this summer’s Venice Biennale (the other being Wasinburee Supanichvoraparch). Surprisingly, it appears that his contribution will be quite un-Rungjang like in some respects — free of the audience activities or site-specific responses for which he is renowned.

Yet, one feature that has been pivotal in some of his shows will remain: food. Though an exploration of the epic historical and geographical journey of one dish in particular, an egg yolk-based Thai desert known as thong yod, Rungjang hopes that hidden meanings and cross-cultural connections will become apparent.

In part one of our two part look at Thailand’s 2013 Pavilion, the softly spoken Rungjang, who also has a show entitled “Faraway So Close!” about to open at The Hague’s Galerie West, explained more to BLOUIN ARTINFO.

How did your Venice commission come about?

Back in December and January, I was in New York working on a group project with multidisciplinary artist Hatuey Ramos-Fermín about sugar across Southeast Asia and the Caribbean. In it we explored the connections between thong yod, an old Thai dessert made from egg yolk that looks like a teardrop, and Bomba, a type of dance created around the same time by West African sugarcane plantatation workers in Puerto Rico. When I came back, the Ministry of Culture, which wanted to do something about Thai cuisine for Venice, heard about it and invited me to take part.

How has this idea evolved since?

The work I’m going to present is called “Golden Teardrop” and about the era of Thai history thatthong yod hails from. Its story reveals the connection between the Thais, Portuguese and Japanese, and begins about 700 years ago in Portugal.

Tell us about the pieces you have created?

I’ll be presenting a documentary and a sculpture installation made with combined materials. The documentary tells the story of how thong yod travelled from Portugal to Japan to the old Siamese city of Ayutthaya. The most important part of the Thai section is the story of Greek adventurer Constantine Phaulkon, who was a counselor to King Narai about 350 years ago. The history of thong yod also intertwines with the story of a Japanese woman whose mother and grandmother lived in Hiroshima and survived the atomic bomb. Altogether in the documentary, these little stories combine to form a work about the fragmentary nature of history and collective memory.

What about the sculpture?

In the video trailer (see below) you can see laborers working on creating 8,000 pieces of beaten bronze, each one shaped like a thong yod teardrop. These will be hung from a wooden structure salvaged from an old wooden house from Ayutthaya and combined with a metal beam that came from a railway train factory from the Second World War 2 period. Almost three meters in diameter, it will hang like a mobile and be shaped like a circle.

Participatory art practices often feature in your shows. Will this be the case at Venice?

No, not really. The way in which I hope audiences do participate is by them finding a thread of the story that connects to their own.

How closely have you collaborated with the other artist Wasinburee Supanichvoraparch?

We decided to do our own projects. It was only in January when they contacted me, which would have given us a very short amount of time to collaborate. We’ve divided the space in to two, and will each have our own entrance. Where there will be some relation between each project is the concept – Wasinburee talks about food and history too, but in the modern industrial era.

What’s the current status of your group art collective “As Yet Unnamed” with Rirkrit Tiravanij, among others?

Over the past two years we’ve all been busy with our own things, but we still help each other. For Venice, fashion photographer Kornkrit Jianpinidnan helped me take photographs, andWorathep Akkabootara is one of the curators. We plan to do something together in the near future, hopefully at the end of this year.

Anything else coming up?

I’m just about to fly to Europe as I have a new solo show, “Faraway So Close!,” opening at Galerie West in the Netherlands on April 25. In it, I will use erotic images from Thai movies produced during the Cold War to explore themes of sexuality and violence.