Following the talk I gave at Rumpueng Artspace I was invited to give the same talk to a cohort of sculpture students at Chiang Mai University (for which I was paid a fee – ‘its policy’). Apparently the students are usually quite reserved so it was encouraging that they were engaged and asking questions. They were keen to know more about Girl Gang; what is it exactly? Did we ever fail?
Girl Gang is deliberately slippery; we are not all artists, the actions we do could be art or could be something else. Girl Gang means something slightly different to everyone involved – for me it is about supressing my inner ‘police officer’ to give myself permission to behave in ways that gently push against the boundaries of what is socially acceptable. By resisting categorisation we remain open; to new possibilities, new forms and new ways of thinking. On failing, I explained that failing was an essential part of succeeding. Failing shapes understanding and allows things to be taken forward in a more informed way.
The evening of the talk saw the first Girl Gang Chiang Mai action take place. At our meeting we talked about what Girl Gang Chiang Mai could be – something that had to be decided by those living here. The dare format we often adopt in the UK was inappropriate here and closed off the discussions so we decided to open things up by thinking of ways to simply occupy particular spaces differently. Basketball was suggested as a ‘male space’ on a particular court usually occupied by men only. This was to be a loud and ballsy introduction to GG; in costume. But when our plans to disrupt the basketball games were scuppered by the monsoon rain, Girl Gang found other ways to play; on a more locally accessible athletics track we ran rings around the athletes, forced the runners to play basketball and generally got in the way – all to a specially selected soundtrack. Girl Gang always triumphs in the face of adversity.
After a great weekend visit to Mai Rim for a party and a swim in a beautiful waterfall, I spent some time preparing to give a talk about my work, and host an English themed ‘Mad Hatter’s Tea Party’ – complete with scones, cucumber sandwiches and chocolates that I’d brought from home.
Like the process of writing applications, giving talks is also a useful exercise for pinning down what you actually do as an artist. I selected about 6 works since 2005 to talk about that were tied to the ideas I’m pursuing in the residency.
I ended talking about Girl Gang and inviting the women to set up a Girl Gang in Thailand. We are going to have a meeting this weekend to discuss what it means to have Girl Gang in a Thai context – the group will decide what the parameters are. It’s very important that it is a collaboration – the women who join are all equally Girl Gang. If our activities can be described as art then they are all equally the artists who produce it. All involved have the power and agency to direct and influence our activities. This is not participation. I will not be the leader. And this especially important in this context because its absolutely not for me to say what is daring or not daring in this context, and I don’t understand the culture well enough to know the nuances of socially acceptable behaviour.
Almost a week into the residency and Chiang Mai is beginning to feel more familiar. I’ve visited Seascape gallery, Pong Noi gallery, went to a talk about artist-led activity in Japan at 31st Century art space (made of shipping containers) and been to openings at Sangdee gallery and the Chiang Mai University Art Centre – one of the major contemporary art spaces in the city, where an exhibition between Thai and Japanese exchange students and their tutors was being previewed. It’s refreshing to see a significant institution like this investing in students and local artists in this way – though perhaps unsurprising given the close ties it has with the university.
The faculty of fine art itself has impressive facilities – if not the polished veneer we might expect of a university in the west. Not excluding the vast painting, ceramics, wood workshops, sculpture, metal works and textiles spaces, they are certainly not wanting for space with generous studio provision provided to each student.
Apart from the art, I’ve learned to ride a scooter and taken it tentatively for a spin (!), been for an intensely hot run, got caught in a downpour, indulged in a lot of Thai food and copious amounts of iced coffee – cafés and coffee shops are super trendy. I’ve visited the recycling centres and markets for inspiration and supplies and started making art works. I’m gravitating towards doing something related to the monsoon and the copious stacks of multi-coloured products in the markets.
On Monday we are hosting a tea party where I will give a talk about my work and see if I can garner any willing collaborators; alongside some sculptural works, I want to explore the possibility of instigating a Girl Gang-esque dare while I am here – whilst being keen to avoid any cultural insensitivities.
After an epic 40 hour journey I have arrived in Thailand. Katie Hawker who runs the artist-led project Surface Arts along with her assistant a local artist called Pitchaya, have been showing me the ropes, introducing me to local artists and the local scene. There is a lot going on here – Chiang Mai is a ‘creative city’ – part of a long-term regeneration strategy that sees culture more significantly invested in. Katie, who first came here 3 years ago, saw the potential for realising projects here. She set up this residency programme and is now looking to develop an exchange programme between Chiang Mai and a space in London.
Last night we went to a photography exhibition by a Korean American artist about plastic surgery and the extent to which it is normalised in Korea, then headed to an alternative experimental music night.
The food is amazing.