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Thailand's unlikely art capital expands


Despite its relatively small population, Chiang Mai has become known as one of Thailand’s cultural capitals. Aided by figures such as Rirkrit Tiravanija, the budding art community has expanded to Chiang Mai’s rural surroundings. The most recent addition to the city’s art scene is Mai Iam, a new contemporary art museum that will repurpose a former factory. Monruedee Jansuttipan writes about Chiang Mai’s developing art scene for BK Asia City, in partial below.

For a city dubbed the country’s art capital, Chiang Mai has long lacked galleries befitting its reputation. That is about to change, thanks to places like Mai Iam. Looking at it from the outside, you’d never guess that the non-descript warehouse in Sankhampaeng district, a 30-minute drive east from Chiang Mai center, is about to be transformed into the biggest contemporary art museum in the North; a space which aims to foster a new generation of talented artists in what has become one of the most thriving modern art scenes in all of Asia.

Mai Iam is only one of a number of ventures cultivating a legacy of progressive creativity in the ancient Lanna Kingdom. On the other side of town, amid a landscape of vast rice fields in Sanpatong, you’ll also discover a small group of wooden houses. These are the eco-artist residences of Rirkrit Tiravanija, the award-winning Thai artist and Noughties poster child for the Relational Aesthetics movement; and Kamin Lertchaiprasert, whose work has been exhibited at the Guggenheim New York and the Venice Biennale.

Together, they formed The Land Foundation as an open space for agriculture as well as a residence for artists from around the world who want to recede from places they know to live among farming communities. The latest addition, designed by Frankfurt-based architects Nikolaus Hirsch and Michel Müller, successfully raised funds of more than 81,000 euros through Kickstarter last year—nearly double the original 45,000 euros pledge goal.

Rirkrit isn’t the only internationally acclaimed artist to come out of Chiang Mai. Cannes film festival-winning artist-director Apichatpong Weerasethakul, filmmaker and videographer Araya Rasdjarmrearnsook, Silapathorn Award-winning artist Navin Rawanchaikul and pioneering Thai contemporary artist Mit Jai Inn all choose to make the area the base of their work.

Chiang Mai’s flourishing contemporary art scene did not arise by accident. It can be traced back more than two decades to when, in 1992, a group of young artists including Mit Jai Inn created the Chiang Mai Social Installation Project (CMSI). Their initiative was a revolt against traditional methods of displaying art pieces in galleries, instead taking their work into open spaces in an effort to create deeper connections with society.

*Image of Gallery Seescape via BK Asia City