Visiting Thai artist inspired by book she never read

14 October 2015

Thai artist Sutthirat Supaparinya’s first solo show in New Zealand, Steal This Book, opens at Toi Pōneke Gallery on 30 October.

Video still of man by Sutthirat Supaparinya.

Steal This Book by Sutthirat Supaparinya

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Based in Chiang Mai in Northern Thailand, Supaparinya is the 2015 Wellington Asia Residency Exchange (WARE) artist, and says the latest pieces are a departure from her recent focus on video work exploring the impact of the electricity generation.

Steal This Book reimagines the content of a banned book as an art exhibition, and is a response to limitations on freedom of expression in Thailand following the military takeover of 2014. Consisting of both new and earlier works, Steal This Book reinterprets the infamous publication, ‘Steal This Book’ by American social activist Abbie Hoffman, which was banned in 1971.

Supaparinya did not read Hoffman’s book, but instead used the title as a provocation for creating content in her own narrative, and says she imagined she’d begin the project by presenting it in a country where the banning of books was not such a pertinent issue.

“The concept of the exhibition gave me a lot of room to imagine situations, but it was interesting to find out about a real-life situation in New Zealand. When I arrived I discovered that a local book (Ted Dawe’s Into the River) had recently been banned.”

Supaparinya is exploring the possibility of restaging Steal This Book upon her return to Thailand, although given the political situation in her home country, and the likelihood that the works will be exhibited in a Bangkok library, the connotations will be vastly different.

“Since 2006 there has been a lot of change in Thailand. Before that nobody cared about politics, but now people question what’s happening in our country,” she says.

“It’s like our world was an illusion, but today people are looking for the real story – they are addicted to politics, monitoring every movement. In Thailand so many books are banned, but now when the government announces a book is dangerous, everybody wants to read it.”

Co-founder and director of the artist-run initiative Chiang Mai Art Conversation, Supaparinya has a BFA in painting from Chiang Mai University and studied media arts in Germany. The WARE residency is the artist’s first visit to New Zealand and her impressions are positive.

“What I like most about Wellington is the walkability, it’s designed for walking. There are lots of paths with benches to sit and watch things. It’s a short walk from the mountains to the sea,” says Supaparinya, “And I like the wind. It has a lot of energy. When the exhibition is over maybe I’ll do a wind-inspired project…”

Through the WARE programme Wellington City Council in partnership with Asia New Zealand Foundation (Asia:NZ), offer Wellington-based arts organisations wanting to work with an Asian arts practitioner, or Asian artists wanting to visit and develop work in Wellington opportunities to connect.

Successful applicants receive full support including return flights, a daily allowance, and accommodation for up to 3 months at Bolton Street Cottage.

Steal This Book opens to the public from October 30 and runs until November 14. Supaparinya will give an artist’s talk, discussing the exhibition and other recent projects on Friday 13 November.