Annabelle’s exhibition, Insomnia, opened last week. Was it what I expected? Somewhat. I was familiar with Annabelle’s photography, and the premise of her work; a sensitive and strange view on Thai nightlife and its subverted relationship with tourist culture. Annabelle is a master of night photography, her photographs have a toxic, electrical and synthetic aesthetic, which contrasts with the humanness she captures and reveals in each photograph.
What was interesting to me was watching the exhibition plans come together, and trying to glean useful strategies for my turn next month. Annabelle curated the space, wrangled a group of Thai photographers, pulling their respective collections into a sense of cohesion as well as producing two small bodies of work of her own: quite the feat!
The gallery space is a very difficult space to work with. Both walls are open at each end of the gallery, so the typical enclosed white cube is penetrated by the rowdy hubbub of W Market and the visually hap-hazard nature of the surrounding buildings. The end wall is a dirty, faux black brick wall, and the amount of quality wall space, compared to floor space, is limited. This is a challenge for wall mounted works, especially images, because they risk losing their potency and power with so many distractions and ‘air’. Because there are open walls at either end of the gallery, the space cannot be air-conditioned, creating a very stifling and sweaty art experience. The humidity, I also suspect, will not be kind to works with exposed paper.
The artists all worked to photograph Khao San road, the most popular district for tourists in Bangkok, a party hub and mixing pot of Farangs and locals. I have visited a few times, but I feel a little old to be around so many drunk teenagers and I don’t have much interest in kitschy knick knacks lining the streets. However, there are some exciting areas, and because of the constant happenings and colourful clamour, it is the ideal place for people-watching; a strategic and successful decision to focus on this area as the exhibition subject.
The artists approached the challenge from different perspectives. Aside from Annabelle's two collections, the most successful body of work was by Warut Wimolkunarak, whose straight-on portraits were taken against the backlit streets around Khoa San. The explosive pockets of colour in the background bokeh blur framed each face tightly, resulting in these colours reading as auras, extensions of each personality; intimate portraits in a public space that seem both familiar and magical. The grid installation and the repetitive, formulaic nature of these photographs aided in forming a strong installation to sustain a focus of attention in this difficult space. I have since looked at Wimolkunarak's online portfolio of work, and he is a very technically skilled (and successful) fashion and art photographer.
Although I wasn’t overly involved in organising this exhibition, the process and installation seemed a little needlessly stressful and disorganised. Perhaps this is due to different personalities working together, and the usual, oft fraught tendencies of collaborations. Fortunately none of this anxiety was present in final presentation. In preparing for next month, I know this gallery space would strongly benefit from a streamlined checklist for both myself and HOF Art staff leading up to my exhibition...not too mention a really really good clean and a coat of paint.