Distant Neighbours

Over the later half of the 20th century, the cultural wind of Thailand (like several other Asian
countries) headed westward. We looked towards Euro-American arts and cultures, which we regarded as "modern civilisations", as role models. There was also a great sense of anticipation on the part of Asian countries to be recognized by the western world.

However, the more we try to mimic the west, the more we realize that we are only at our best when we are ourselves. We have studied the cultures, philosophies and art of the west with great interest, sometimes at the expanse of learning about our very own cultures and that of our close neighbours. Would it have not been possible to develop our interest in both Asia and the West at the same time?
This is a question that has been frequently asked at both the individual as well as the state level. With the impact of globalization, we have begun to think locally and regionally in order to secure our foothold in the new global and economic era. It takes only two and a half hours to fly between Bangkok and Singapore. Yet, we know little about each other's arts and cultures, despite the flourishing trade and business partnerships between the two countries. As commonly observed, trade always takes precedence over culture. I first encountered the works of Vincent Leow in 1993 at the 1st Asia Pacific Triennale in Brisbane, Australia. However, it was only recently that I have had the opportunity to learn more about Vincent's works and his other projects. Vincent visited Tadu briefly back in 1999 but it was only in the following year that contact between us was firmly established. Through Plastique Kinetic Worms (PKW), an artist-run space in Singapore, founded by Vincent and his friends, we made arrangements to start the travelling show 'Keep Your Distance' which featured 8 young European and Asian artists in Bangkok in 2000. At the time, we had also discussed other issues concerning the development of contemporary art in Southeast Asia, which was still very much a myth to many of us, even those working in the field. I also remember telling Vincent that though I had read reports about Singapore's multi-racial society, I hardly realized the fact until on my first visit, I saw signs in all four languages above the door of an underground train.
In subsequent meetings with Vincent, in Singapore and Bangkok, at his studio, at my husband's studio and at restaurants, we exchanged stories and experiences about how we felt like strangers travelling in some Asian countries. There was so much to be learned about each other's history and culture and this learning could have been made more accessible if there had been more Asian art exhibitions and exchange programmes for artists working in various independent art organizations in Asia.
Certainly, this is a good time to start. Art and cultural links have now started to fully enjoy the
benefits of joint ASEAN initiatives, resulting in the easing of strict travel regulations, and lower
travel costs and import duties. We have also noticed the increasing interest in contemporary Asian art happenings among our Asian counterparts as seen in seminars and exhibitions organized by various organizations. Besides, more contacts have been initiated and developed among Asian artists, curators and art administrators.

'Four Eyes, Cloudy Skies', a painting exhibition by Vincent Leow in Bangkok, is the fruitful
outcome of years of contact. However, what we hope to bring forward in organizing this exhibition is not merely to nurture such links, but to understand some of the issues that we as residents of the same region share, such as how our existing cultural values and identities are coming under threat from the overwhelming process of globalization. This is reflected so well in Vincent's paintings, where forms and images are placed layer upon layer. I hope that the Thai audiences as well as other visitors will enjoy peeling off the meanings underlying the surfaces of his paintings, which may trigger us into thinking about our presence in relations to others. I strongly believe that this is a start to understanding ourselves and our Asian neighbours, with the
hope that we will become at least close strangers.

Luckana Kunavichayanont
Tadu Contemporarv Art, Bangkok