An interview with two Chiang Mai activist artists

Activist artists from across Thailand are beginning to express themselves

By | Mon 3 Aug 2020

With so many protests and forms of activism popping up around Chiang Mai recently, two young performance artists speak up.

Benz Pisuttisakand and Yossunthon Ruttapradid or ‘Ten’ as he’s called, are both Fine Arts students at Chiang Mai University. They are in their fourth year of study and both are majoring in Media Art. Media Art is an interdisciplinary field that deals with current developments in digital art, new media art and electronic art.

Benz is 22 and Ten is 21 and they are both blossoming Thai performance artists. A slight rain began as we stood under a tree just outside Tha Pae Gate in between performances.

“I come with a friend, we study art together,” said Benz about the performances, “I just want to practice my way to express freedom of speech and action in a public space. As an artist. As a citizen of this country.”

Benz is short with patchy whiskers, shaggy hair and black round-frame glasses.

He continued, “There are a number of performers from The Lanyim Group, and I’m with my friend for today. We just come to observe and to practice our artwork.” The performance began at 7am and ran until midnight with performances at every hour of the day at Tha Pae Gate. Multiple local art organisations unified for this event.

The name of the performance was entitled “EAT (I’M) ARE”. The title is wordplay based on the famous steak eatery in Thailand called ‘EAT AM ARE’. According to one CMU student the title alludes to, “Someone or something that has more power. And, that someone or something is trying to eat, limit or disqualify their freedom and rights.” The concept echoes other recent public performances with the constant motif being ‘freedom’.

Benz performed emotional drawings on a lime green easel. He said, “Today I chose the action of drawing as my self expression while using a public space. I don’t expect people to feel anything specific because I can’t really predict the direction it would be. I just expect them to see me there. That’s enough for me. I want to make it recognisable that we have the right to free speech and the right of using public space. There are a lot of absurdities that happen these days.”

Ten, who is taller and sported a white tee-shirt with red writing scribbled across it said about his motivations, “I wanna try my first time performing art in a public space and I have a message that I want to share with the public. I think this place is more impactful than any art gallery and I think the engagement of the audience is wider than any art gallery.”

In Ten’s performance, he laid with his head on a pillow looking up at a cardboard guillotine with the words “Lucid Dream” painted on it. “I want to tell people about the violence of the government. My body position and the pillow express irony with a sense of comfort and danger. When I perform, I really try to sleep, but I cannot because of my anxiety about the danger I see.”

Both Benz and Ten are calm and cool as they speak. Surprising so, considering the police that were present during their performances. When asked about their concerns of law enforcement Ten commented, “I’m not scared,” he slowly pulled a cigarette from a box, “But, I use the advantage of art to speak as the message. And, if I were to ever get in trouble, I just think that I choose this path by myself. I prepared my heart quite well.”

The rain picked up just as the two artist friends finished packing up their performance gear. And, just as the three of us finished saying our goodbyes, another performance artist began laying a black blanket on the ground in preparation.

There would be another 14 hours of performances to go.

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