In Convo With: Judha Su
Coco Petrachaianan sat down with curator Judha Su to discuss the concerns of the Thai art industry as expressed through her exhibition “To Whom it May Concern”.
September 08, 2017
"To Whom It May Concern" was a group show curated by writer Jane Judha at Bangkok Citycity Gallery that took place from August 9th to September 3rd. The Gallery invited Jane Judha to curate a show based on her point of view as an art critic working in Thailand.
Coco: Can you tell me about your background?
Jane: I majored in Art History. I worked here and there, lived in Chiang Mai for a year then came back to Bangkok. I work freelance, curating occasionally. But I only do it so often, perhaps once in two years because curatorial work is energy consuming. Another project I worked on was Speedy Grandma. It was started by Lee Anantawat. I helped running the space for almost a year before getting a grant from Asia Center Japan Foundation. This was back in 2015. It was a fellowship I proposed between three countries: Indonesia, Philippines, and Japan.
I had to travel around to do the research. It took about nine months. The topic was a continuation on the studies from my bachelor diploma, which was about art criticism and writing. What the research got into wasn't about physical materials but rather focused on the artists’ cognition. Because we lack the tradition of art criticism like the West does, the platform for art writing, criticism, or even reviews, it just doesn't happen in the Thai art scene. We only have exhibition openings and that’s it. There are reviews here and there but not really the process that will push art to another level or bring more life to it. So in my research with Asia Center, I want to understand how, given the lack of a formal critical background, what is the critical thinking of artists. How does their practice leads to certain cognition and vice versa. The research was titled “Thinking in Critical Constellation.”
What ignited this exhibition?
I got offered the opportunity to curate an exhibition at Bangkok CityCity Gallery in the summer of 2016. It took me several months to think of the concept. I wanted to make an exhibition that reflected the Thai art industry, not that I would dare to claim the whole industry. Let’s say, the conditions I grew up in: the friends I’ve had conversations with or the subjects that I am interested in. You could see in this exhibition that the artists I’ve curated all went through mutual growth with me.
One thing that is missing from the artistic mode of production is conversation. There is no process of learning through discussions that is so crucial to forming ideas and art pieces. This was the spark for the exhibition. I asked for each artist to meet and talk weekly and each session was recorded. In the beginning we didn
Can you talk about the title of the exhibition?
The reason I choose the phrase “To Whom it May Concern” is because it is ambiguous. There are two main targets I had in mind: one is the higher ranking people in charge of the art industry, which, as we all know, don't really care. At the same time, I also want to reach out to the audience. I want to explore who does actually art work with? It is impossible to talk about the art industry without touching on politics. The industry has its own politics and structures that hinder growth. Simultaneously, I asked the artists about how much they are concerned their audiences. How much they envision their audience when making art.
What's the significance “writing” has in this exhibition?
It is very significant. One journalist asked me, if I want to talk about writing why not just make an exhibition about writing? Doing that is too easy and doing that, one assumes that the exhibition space doesn’t have authority. Or its own language. It is naive to think that if I want to talk about writing then show the audience writing! To me the platform of writing is not galleries. People can read anywhere. Hence, I am questioning how space interacts with people and ideas, or even the mechanics of the space itself.
Back to writing, if you look around the exhibition room, you’ll find that there is no text explaining each piece. Sometimes when you want people to be aware of something you have to take it away from its default setting. Still, the room is full of things people can read, but it’s up to them to read it or not. The writing I’m talking about is not necessary pieces of writings; I would like to bring out the process of writing into the exhibition. The process of making art is actually the very same process of writing.
Do you identify yourself as a writer?
Yes, I write. When I returned to Thailand, I planned to establish a platform called “Soi”. But I haven’t done it yet because I’m quite occupied with this current project. I want to make it a bilingual platform about art. Visual art is my comfort zone, but I also want to work in theatre. I want to take visual art out of its box. So this platform will point out how different kind of arts are actually all interconnected. How the process of thinking is triggered through walking through exhibitions. In other words, I want to work on the production of knowledge, which is something we really lack. A lot of discourse isn’t being challenged as it should be. All the artistic discourse and narrative are still from the West.
What do you want to stir within the audience?
There are many layers of experience within the exhibition that I thought about. I wanted the viewer to enjoy the exhibition, but there are other aspects, such as the manner of the space, artists, the work itself, and also the viewers themselves, that will affect the experience. There is no set goal of what I want to stir within people, but I want to observe the audience. I want to see how people deal with the different factors.
Art isn't all about reflection or communication. Art is about augmenting or suspending a condition to show something. In everyday life, we might get the chance to stop and look at certain details that an art space can present us with. Art recomposes reality and fabricates a special condition for people to think about certain topics. This is why I am interested in observing how people react to or interact with the exhibition. Experience from art is a very personal one; all learning experiences are actually personal. Each person will react differently due to their personal backgrounds. This is what I am observing. I see a gallery like a laboratory more than a place to exhibit works.
Can you elaborate more on the exhibition space?
I want to deviate from gallery conventions; you can see that there are no wall texts. All the information can be found in this booklet. I want the audience to be more observant when walking through the exhibition.
Do you know the history of the “White Cube”? The Nazis favored the style. Some people feel uncomfortable in the structure, but that’s the psychology of the White Cube. There is arrogance within itself. The point of this kind of architecture is for everything within to be exposed. One person even mentioned that he felt naked when he was inside the gallery. This is why the concept of the White Cube is extremely modernist. The White Cube contrasts with the theatrical “black box”. While the black box merges all margins, the white box highlights every nooks and cranny. People who embrace this kind of architecture tend to embrace a kind of aesthetic. They tend to believe in perfection and grids. Me, working in this space, I tried to not follow any grids.
What is your concern for the Thai art scene?
To be an interesting artist in the contemporary world, one has to be in a different mode of thinking. And in Thailand, we don't have a lot of this kind of artist. The contemporary artworld no longer believes in labeling grand narratives. Art should not be stuck in a box. There must be more dialogues and thinking involved. There has to be more diversity and interdisciplinary approaches to art. There should be more cooperation between different industries.