– Autumn/Winter 2003

Numbers! Colours! Surasi Kusolwong's Alternative Economy

Doryun Chong

We all learn to be vulgar in Surasi Kusolwong's market. In thinking about his extended installations, the idea of fun inevitably arises. The purpose of this essay is to show that there are more complex ideas behind this Thai artist's lively, good-humoured work, but that's stating the obvious, for operating beneath the fun lies an economy that is alternative to the market as we understand it.

Like many of his contemporaries, Kusolwong always works with a given space - a museum or gallery most often, but at times the outdoors, and even an airport in one instance. In this space he sets up tables, covering their tops with stretched fabrics of solid colours. Sometimes scaffoldings and poster boards go up as accompaniment and a shack may be added. Once the temporary set up is done, with utmost care and with certain sculptural sensibilities, Kusolwong stages hundreds of imported goods, which he previously shopped for at an open market in Bangkok and shipped to the exhibition site. What gets laid out, stacked up, and displayed are mostly mass-produced, gaudy household items, ranging from T-shirts to strainers, from plastic superhero masks to plastic tiny stools. In the centre of the bazaar, a transparent Plexiglas moneybox is placed. Video projections of Thai-pop karaoke and a recording of previous works may supplement the display. A vision of chaotic plenitude is created by the arrangements of flat images and round objects.

The opening of Kusolwong's

  1. The work was installed as part of group show 'Time After Time: Asia and Our Moment', curated by Eungie Joo, Rene de Guzman and myself at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts (25 April-13 July 2003).

  2. Karl Marx, Capital, Vol. 1, trans. Ben Fowkes, London: Penguin Books, 1976; Reprint edition, 1990, Chapter I, Section 4 'The Fetishism of the Commodity and Its Secret', pp.164-65

  3. Georges Bataille, The Accursed Share, Vol. 1: 'Consumption',Richard Hurley (trans.), New York: Zone Books, 1991, p.69

  4. Ibid., p.106