Every edition of the exhibition ‘The Enclosed Garden’ explores the intimate paradoxes that lay at the core of our societies. Through lockdowns, rules, and oppression, we have all become isolated in our fears, our desires, our needs.
The safest strategy seems to be to obey. Keep quiet and lay low. But is silence a shelter or a prison? Who decides who gets to speak, and who remains unseen, invisible, unheard? Aren’t the spaces that we consider intimate and private also, in the end, shaped by the hierarchies of power?
Some words by the co-curator, activist and visual artist Bussaraporn Thongchai:
“What does silence mean in Thai Society, a place which is ruled by the religious, royal, and national hegemony? Here, breaking silence always leads to bad consequences –we become an ungrateful person, doomed to bring bad karma upon ourselves. We become a heretic, an enemy against our parents, teachers, against the country. To put it simply, we become an alien in our own society when we speak out…”
The voices of being ‘the other’ are of course rarely being heard (since a voice is not just a voice but it’s a potential power). And it is not only a matter of loudness and magnitude; it’s also about voices that have been silenced, actively, through coercion, through a construction of the Thai nation. In 1932, Thai-ization really began occupying a dominant position and created this Thai identify through a centralised state, with school programs promoting the central Thai language over others, and actively discriminating against other cultures and ethnic groups. As the national anthem says explicitely…
Thailand unites the flesh and blood of Thais … The land of Thailand belongs to the Thais … Our sovereignty will never be threatened, we will sacrifice every drop of our blood for our nation … We are ready to die for freedom, security, and prosperity.
The definition of Thainess has long been used continuously as an apparatus to control and redesign the people’s mindset. It defines how to be Thai in every aspect of our life, how to be a good child, or a good woman. Anything else is irrelevant, is the other, is pejoratively perceived, still by the majority of the population.
Over and over, the state and the monarchy have gained power beyond us and oppresses us. In religious terms, those who break the silence are considered as a bad person. For the Nation, this person is considered an ungrateful person. For the monarchy, this person is considered a rebel. Their punishments include social sanctions, jail, as well as threatens to kill or danger.
There is no empty silence when we listen carefully. Erasure and discrimination seem like a void at first, but they do have a sound, if we can attune to it. So how do we practice this attunement? To follow up on Audre Lorde’s argument for the Transformation of Silence into Language and Action, we need to ask: why cannot we break silence? What are the words needed to feel fulfilled, to release? What are the tyrannies that we swallow day by day and attempt to make our own, until we die of them, still in silence?
During a two-week residency, isolated in nature, artists carefully work their way toward creating a show of unprecedented form: an exhibition, a performative show, a happening. They create a metaphorical & surrealistic Enclosed Garden (or Hortus Conclusus, a concept which appeared in many countries from East to West around 1100 in literature, philosophy, theology, crafts and architecture, and which explores the female psyche).
This creative process is about how we can work together to create collaborative, holistic artworks. The way we live and exchange is a work of art. The way we interact, and how we create is also part of the challenge. Shared activities included: body works and somatics, dance, polyphonic singing, clay sculpting, emotional bonding, speculative fiction writing, walking, harvesting wild plants, farming, and thinking together.
At the core of the collective, is the question: how do we work together and feel together? We all come from different countries and backgrounds. We may have disagreements and debates, which can be nourishing. We always strive for understanding and care, and for this we ask each artist to practice nonviolent communication and be aware of their ego and aggression. We work together to build a stronger team where we uplift each other.
The exhibition, from 23-25 April 2021, reopened the doors of the old Bumrungvicha School in Klongsan District, Bangkok, to create an immersive multisensory exhibition at night: an ‘explosition’, which is different from conventional art formats and white cube spaces. It sought to imagine the different shapes, sounds, smells, textures and embodiments of silence from feminist perspectives.
As a Gesamtkunstwerk, the entire space of the school was turned into an Enclosed Garden. Trance-inducing performances, fantasmagorical set designs and political debates framed the concept into an artform impossible to translate or replicate. Rooms focused on rituals of care and liberation; on the domestic spaces that structure childhood, women’s labor, and beliefs in Thai society; on the physical and metaphorical bonds between bodies and territories, colonised on various levels that may differ across the world, yet all present a triangle of domination (oppressor; victim; and witness); and finally, on the imaginative possibilities of undoing harm, remolding bodies of pain, and caring for each other within a community.
The Heroines’Wave project in 2021 was supported by the Co-Production Fund of the Goethe Institute, by the Institut für Auslandsbeziehungen, and the French Embassy in Bangkok, as well as the generous support of private sponsors and friends who preferred to remain anonymous. We are grateful for the many people who have involved themselves in this project; without them, it would not have been possible.