BACC
Sereechai Puttes/Time Out Bangkok

Ten years of BACC: the unseen faces and the untold stories

More than the galleries, exhibitions, activities and the building itself, what drives Bangkok Art and Culture Centre’s success are the people behind its affairs

Written by
Time Out Bangkok editors
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It's been ten years for the Bangkok Art & Culture Centre (BACC). The city’s most recognized cultural institution, is celebrating its 10th anniversary on the edge of a precipice, at a time when it’s experiencing a high point but also facing uncertainty.

Last year, BACC welcomed the biggest number of visitors—1.7 million—since its opening, eliciting a sense of triumph among all those who worked in the center. Finally, it seems like everyone’s hard work was paying off.

But the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration (BMA), who legally owns the land BACC is built on, snuffed out the celebratory mood. Earlier in May, appointed Bangkok governer Aswin Kwanmuang expressed his intention to take Bangkok’s largest public art and culture facility under the control of BMA, citing that the center survives due to great support from the administration (around B40 million per year to be precise, which accounts for around half of BACC’s managing budget). He also claimed that BACC doesn’t support the real needs of the people. The statement was shocking, to say the least, especially for those who believe that the art center deserves to be located on prime land.

Though talks and discussions have led to the cancelation of the governor’s proposal (we all know how BMA can fuck up the management of an arts facility), BMA is still unable to provide support to BACC like it has been for the past ten year due to a law contravention that needs to be amended. And without the support of BMA, the future of BACC remains uncertain. Its current director Pawit Mahasarinand has revealed that, with the remaining money they have, BACC can only survive until mid of next year.

It is in these uncertain times that we celebrate ten years of BACC. Ten years of being the driving force of the local art scene. Ten years of igniting our passion for art. Ten years of providing a space where everyone’s voice can be heard, regardless of which side of the argument they’re on. Ten years as an independent organization that’s working to shape the minds of our children.

We celebrate this momentous occasion by getting to know the individuals that have taken part in shaping BACC. After all, no structure comes alive without the hard work and dedication of the people behind it.

A brief history

Saranyu Nokkaew

In 1995, Bhichit Rattakul, the governor of Bangkok at that time, on behalf of BMA, agreed to erect a public contemporary art center on a vacant site at the corner of the Rama 1 intersection. However, a change in leadership delayed the process (there was an attempt to build a mall instead), which led to protests by a number of art and cultural organizations. The dispute ended when Apirak Kosayodhin was elected governor in 2004 and he resumed the project. Four years later, in 2008, BACC opened to the public.

The faces of BACC

The architect
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The architect

“Our design is based on the combination of function and requirement. We also felt we need some characteristics—being Thai without looking like a temple. The first inspiration was in fact the site, a strange site: an angled corner. In one way it’s very good because the corner is very exposed, but it’s always difficult to make a corner building. Because, you know, there always should be a front and a back but with a corner like this you don’t really need a front or a side. And that’s why it started as a curved shape. We took the curved shape, then took some Thai shapes—Thai hats and Thai fingers when they’re dancing— and we use those as ideas. This was how the shape evolved. Basically, we wanted it to have a Thai look without being obvious. Even if I could go back, I wouldn’t change anything. Well, maybe some finishes or materials, but the design is really okay for the site. You would want to rip it down and make a new one but to take an existing design [and renovate it]. It’s always awkward. In our experience, when people renovate our buildings, they really mess it up. So I’m not sure, maybe ripping it down and starting over again is better than trying to renovate. There are some of our buildings in town that have been renovated and I don’t want to look at it them. Every building has two faces: the inside which, in our opinion, belongs to the people who live there or use the space, and the outside, which belongs to the public, to the city.”

Robert G. Boughey is an architect and founder of Robert G. Boughey and Associates, the company behind the winning design of the BACC building

The guide
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The guide

“We need guides because—we have to admit—we didn’t grow up being educated in art. People come expecting to see paintings, but we, in fact, offer art in many other forms—photos, installations. Conceptual exhibitions that need interaction are the most difficult to explain to the audience because these go against our rule of never touching art pieces. So there are times when people don’t touch where we invite them to, but do so on pieces they shouldn't.”

Jirarat Chaiyarach is BACC’s senior docent. Jirarat graduated with a degree in food science but her passion for art has paved her way to becoming a guide. She has been with BACC for almost three years now.

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The gatekeeper
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The gatekeeper

“We have to admit that the King Rama 9 exhibition last year drew more people and more attention than anything we’ve ever done, and it created a positive aftereffect. Before that, people didn’t actually know what BACC was all about. People didn’t know the reasons for its existence. But with that much attention, people have learned. If it were a graph diagram, the line would go straight for long then soar upwards and not decline—even until now."

Surut Buapradit is a receptionist at BACC. Most of you may have talked to him at the counter, whether asking for information or, most importantly, how to use the locker.

The librarian
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The librarian

“The Art Library first opened as a public library inside BACC before being reformed into a library of art books in 2012. The place draws a broad demographic of visitors— retired citizens would come to read newspapers while students come here and use it as a co-working space. (Only a few come for the art books.)”

Kamolrat Sookmark has been a lead chief librarian at the Art Library for six years. She reveals that the library’s collection consists of almost ten thousand books. If you can’t find what you’re looking for, she’s more than happy to recommend any information regarding the books.

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The cleaner
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The cleaner

“There are 11 maids in the morning shift, and seven in the afternoon. And I don’t think that’s enough. Look at the gallery floors, there are only two maids and the space is huge! Well, at least it doesn’t have small corners and chambers like the fourth and fifth floors. But the dirtiest would be the toilets on the first floor—oh, and on the third floor too—as people usually go to the washrooms on the lower floors before going up to the galleries. And there are always events as well as passers-by. I’m okay with the work, though, because the pay isn’t that bad.”

Pranom Sompuk is a contract cleaner at BACC. She has been in the center for nearly two years. She’s encountered some unexpected events in the men’s washrooms (but we won’t tell you about those). You can help her by keeping things clean when using the toilets, and saying “thank you”—that’s al

The curator
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The curator

“The achievement of a curator relies upon the outcome: if we can curate an exhibition that delves viewers into understanding the meanings of the works, then we’re overwhelmed. Speaking as a curator, we oftentimes create intellectual content that isn’t able to communicate with the public. And the public is the main audience at BACC. So I try my best to balance between the two: curating basic content while not letting down my standards.”

Toei-Ngam Guptabutra is an art professor and a guest curator for one of BACC’s current exhibitions, Post-Repost- Share. She admits that it’s a challenge curating an exhibition for students, which is the major audience demographic at the center, but also happily recognizes that these individuals may possibly become supporters of BACC later on.

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The protector
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The protector

“Over the years, looking after thousands of priceless works valued at hundred millions or a billion baht, I’ve come to appreciate those by the three legendary artists— Angkarn [Kanlayanaphong], Tawan [Duchanee] and Chalermchai [Kositpipat]. Of the three, it’s Chalermchai’s works that I admire the most, due to the fact that they are usually related to Buddhism, like those religious paintings in the rainbow spectrum [Chalermchai’s signature style]. They’re amazingly beautiful. When they were exhibiting here, I would come in to pray before the painting every morning and evening.”

Thanom Sodrum is a contract security guard who has been watching over BACC’s 8th floor gallery for more than seven years—the longest of all the security staff. The Surin-born staffer lost her only son earlier this year, but that never stopped her from coming to the gallery. Make sure you say “sawasdee” next time you’re there.

The producer
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The producer

“BACC is a true learning hub for art, culture and design. If we look back into the past, art has always been a part of humanity since ancient times. We have been trying to communicate since prehistoric years—cave murals, for instance. Art is the foundation of inscription, of writing, of recording. And art nowadays still serves that purpose— conveying the messages of artists and creators [to the audience].”

Amornman Paimrungrueng is an installation design and installation staff who’s been with BACC since the beginning, making him one of the longest-serving staffers. His duty is simple: turning the wishes of curators and artists into reality.

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The designer
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The designer

“The BACC's logo is unarguably one of my proudest works. I’m delighted that I’ve at least left something behind for the city even when I’m gone. You know, I think it’s a dream of any graphic designer.”

Pakpoom Lamoonpan is a graphic designer who, in 2005, won a logo design competition for BACC. His initial design, which was inspired by the diverse cityscape of Bangkok—where temples sit alongside skyscrapers, was redeveloped by Practical Design Studio’s Santi Lawrachawee into the BACC’s logo we see today.

The baristas
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The baristas

“When we opened this café, we just wanted it to become a small meeting hub for coffee lovers, where they can come and discuss coffee and everything else. And it has become exactly what we wanted it to be. Now, we have plans that move beyond being just a cafe. We now wish we can do something for our customers so they can experience coffee not only from cups, like organizing trips to coffee plantations upcountry.”

Natthiti Ampriwan and Piyachat Trithaworn are founders of Gallery Coffee Drip, one of the very first coffee shops in BACC, which has been serving artists and art admirers for more than six years. Apart from being baristas, the two are also professional photographers.

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The (former) directors
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The (former) directors

“It’s been 10 years for BACC, but if it were a human, it would only be a kid. It needs more time to become established. We have to understand that art appreciation isn’t something that’s born within us, nor does it lie on rigid ground like the sciences. So besides being a platform, BACC also educates people. BACC serves many purposes. While we’ve been serving as a recreation space, we also create human resources in art fields. BACC was born from the ground up—the model of an arts center that we’d never had in Thailand. It was born from the needs of artists and civil society. So the question is, do we deserve support? I do expect support from the community, if they see the same thing we do, if they see what we have been trying to do these past years, if we repay them well—because I think we do. I do wish society would be more active on the subject, to push forward in saving the center. On our side, we also need to work harder to make the people feel the same, then encourage them to stand for our existence.”

Lakana Kunavichayanont (left) spent six years with BACC as the center’s longest-serving director. She was the force behind various initiatives that shaped BACC into what it is today. Lakana is now one of the curators of Bangkok’s very first upcoming biennale.

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“People have been misunderstood in the role of director of BACC. If your realization of BACC were the exhibitions, then the spearheader of BACC would be the head of the exhibition department, who has been showcasing great art over the years. But that’s not what BACC is all about. It’s like a body with many organs— from exhibition halls to shops to event spaces to parking lots to a water purification facility— and my role is to unite them and connect them together. Art exhibitions alone could never drive BACC to achieve its goal as a social-cultural center. Last year, BACC received 1.7 million visitors, which sounds spectacular, right? But when you compare the figure to Bangkok’s population of 10 million (5.6 million, exclusive of those who reside in the city for work purposes), I could imply that most of Bangkokians have never been to BACC—and bringing them here is my goal.”

Pawit Mahasarinand (right)is the director of BACC. He’s currently in the hot seat due to an argument between the art center and the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration (BMA).

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UPDATED: Pawit Mahasarinand was dismissed from his position in late 2019 due to complicated conflict between BACC and Bangkok Metropolitan Administration.

 

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