Kay Walkowiak at Jim Thompson Art Center / Bangkok

Kay Walkowiak in collaboration with Teerawat Kage Mulvilai
Utopia Now

curated by Stephanie Damianitsch

11 March – 30 June 2023

Jim Thompson House 
6 Soi Kasemsan 2, 
Rama 1 Road

Images courtesy the artist and Jim Thompson Art Center

In his works Austrian based artist Kay Walkowiak put into question the fundamentals of the Western tradition and the liberal-capitalist world. In the face of the current worldwide social conflicts, resulting from global warming, pandemics and capitalist power play, this could also be seen also as a political approach – an approach that forms the center of the exhibition project Utopia Now.
As the title indicates, the exhibition tries to outline a new form of utopian thinking, mainly based on the thoughts of sociologist Avery Gordon. For Gordon the utopian moment is not something that lies in an intangible future and is connected to modern ideas of progress. Utopian thinking is the ability to see what can be done in the particular present for a better life – a state she also describes as “being-in-difference” to the existing social system. Based on this idea of the utopian, the works presented in the exhibition act as projection screens that invite to think about possible alternatives for the way we interact with the world and our fellow humans. They propose a shift of emphasis from individualism to consider new forms of coexistence, collaboration and therefore also democracy.
Central work of the exhibition is the film Neon Ghost, in which one accompanies a ghost embodied by the actor and performance artist Teerawat Kage Mulvilai as he explores various dilapidated or abandoned places. The jerky, grotesque gestures of his movements are striking, which, like the white paint on his body, are borrowed from the Butoh dance tradition: a dance that from the very beginning saw itself as a resistance to the principles of modern (Western) society.
It is no coincidence that many of the haunted places are also iconic metaphors of a neoliberal, globalized world – be it department stores, airplanes or cinemas. However, they seem like relics of a bygone era and give Walkowiak’s film a dystopian, post-apocalyptic character at first glance. The central institutions of capitalist society appear in the cinematic representation like resonances of their demise and thus their negation.
The utopia no longer seems to be just a place in the middle of nowhere, where fictions and fantasies are projected, but the utopia reveals itself as the negation of a concrete place that exemplifies a specific form of society and its values. Nevertheless, the film opens utopian horizons precisely through the overlapping of temporal levels. By irritating the familiar, which is presented as past and decayed, it invites us to think about an alternative future that is worth fighting for.
But not only the film Neon Ghost provides a projection surface that invites us to think about alternatives to the present state of our society. The idea of the projection “screen” that opens up an imaginary space for thinking about future concepts of the world and by that becoming a political instrument, connects all the works in the exhibition. This is very clear with regard to the work Fundamental Values, a series of protest banners showing abstract geometric forms. Even though the protest banners claim their space with purely abstract and poetic demand, their political connotation is very clear. Whether this demand for fundamental values might be a fight for social rights, democracy or the quest for free artistic expression – it is left to individual interpretation and experience of each spectator. The abstract geometric forms on the banners also reappear in the works Encouters and Drifters, that extend the topic of future justice also to non-human life forms. With this approach Kay Walkowiak underlines that current utopias should also revolve around figures of thought of interconnectedness and around a relational understanding of the nature-culture constellation.