Translation of Episode 3: Interview with BIPAM Founder and Artistic Director

November 5, 2019




 Episode 3 Excerpts

BIPAM, or the Bangkok International Performing Arts Meeting, is back for its third year, this time from October 16 to October 20. Just to let you know, Bangkok Offstage is BIPAM’s media partner. And in this episode, we talk to BIPAM founder Chavatvit "Should" Muangkeo and BIPAM artistic director Sasapin"Pupe" Siriwanij about the founding of BIPAM, their vision for the festival, and this year’s highlights.

On how BIPAM came into being (2:00)

Chavatvit: BIPAM or Bangkok International Performing Arts Meeting is a platform of performing arts professionals. There is this type of platform all over the world. What inspired us to create BIPAM is the invitation to the 2017 TPAM [Performing Arts Meeting in Yokohama] by Japan Foundation. They were looking for artists and people in art management who are interested in visiting this platform […] When I was there, I found that, firstly, the lineup of TPAM is mostly made up of Southeast Asians. That may have been because of their policy to connect with Southeast Asia. And we just all thought it was so funny that we had fly to Japan to see each other. Why don’t we take an hour flight to Bangkok instead? Why do we have to take a six-hour overseas flight to see each other in Japan? I felt I learned a lot from TPAM. And today, Mr. Hiromi [Marukoa], the director of TPAM, continues to support us from a distance. He was helping us during the first and second years of BIPAM.

Having this kind of platform really helps support the ecosystem in our country, if we’re successful. So we started with asking for money from the government. I had the opportunity to work with TCEB, or Thailand Convention and Exhibition Bureau, a government agency that had been working really hard at drawing talents and knowledge and travelers from abroad to Thailand. So I wrote a simple proposal that in the performing arts world, there’s this type of platform, and it would really help many people, would they support us? They gave us a budget, a very cute budget, enough for us to work.

For the first year, we worked with BTF [Bangkok Theatre Festival], because they’d been around for a long time and had helped a lot of artists. So we [linked up] with them [and] hosted the events at the same time. Artists could see shows at the BTF and have a meeting at BIPAM [or vice versa]. I asked Hiromi whether he was interested in coming to see it, and he agreed to come before even seeing the program because he wanted to see how we were going to bring together artists in the region or at least in Bangkok. He came and saw our work, commented on it, and was there almost every day. He’s number one in this industry, and he still took this much time to be with us.

On what they learned from the first year of BIPAM (5:50)

Chavatvit: The first year, there was BTF, there was a performing arts expo to see what’s in the whole [ecosystem]. We learned a lot from that first year. We learned that each year, many people decided to study performing arts, about thousands each year [in Thailand], I mean performing arts graduates, theatre, music, dance […] There are many schools that teach this stuff outside the system. The performing arts ecosystem just within Bangkok is not small at all, but since there’s no audience-development program to help people, audiences, and those who are interested to meet, it’s all over the place. So when we organized small events like this, we started to [understand] that there’re people interested in [this type of event]. Of course, the people at the top of the pyramid are the artists. And by organizing these events, I learned right away that the artists are very talented. They’re part of lineups abroad and are featured in festivals all over the world, but these works never get the chance to be staged in Thailand because there’s no management. So the question was how to keep pushing this forward? After the first year, we got a promising picture. There were meetings and discussions and exchanges […] In the first year, many of the artists invited other artists they knew in Southeast Asia; some of whom paid out of their own pockets to come to BIPAM. Partners that have continued to work with us, like Five Arts Center in Malaysia or Center 42 [in Singapore], are still working with us. We try to be like, “What’s there in KL? You’ve worked with people in Jakarta or Yogyakarta? What else is happening and where?” Everyone begins to be more connected. So in the second year, I knew that I couldn’t do it by myself. But Heaven sent me an angel from the hills [laughs], who came up to me and said, “OK, I think I can help.” The people who know about organizing and resources should keep doing what they know, while there’s an artist who has a clear artistic direction. So I asked Pupe [Sasapin] to help, and she had a vision that she wanted to deliver, and it aligned with what I wanted to happen, which was the coming together of Southeast Asia in Bangkok.

On how BIPAM has grown (9:35)

Chavatvit: Our vision from day one is still the same. As I said before, we were inspired by our meetings with Southeast Asian artists in Yokohama, which doesn’t make sense. We’re trying to present ourselves […] as the platform where everyone in Southeast Asia meets for performing arts exchanges. But at the same time, once we’re gathered, we become a window for the world to get to know performing arts in Southeast Asia. The first year was small, fewer than a hundred people [attending], a few performances, just for the sake of having some performances to fulfill our proposal in order for us to continue talking to other people […] We put together BIPAM in three months the first year. As soon as the budget was confirmed, we started. The curation was not very clear. We just wanted to make it happen. In the second year, when Pupe started working with us, the clearest change [could be seen]: once we had a clear direction, we got works that were exciting and inspiring. And more importantly, when it became clear what we wanted to achieve, friends in neighboring countries with the same vision were ready to hop on board, help us, exchange with us […] This year, I’m focusing on figuring how to create sustainable resources, instead of running around finding sponsors every year. Pupe is helping with that, along with many producers. The program this year is one step up, a leap. Let’s just say exposure of Bangkok within three years in terms of contemporary performing arts have changed significantly, from not being on the map to people recognizing this place as a center, a hub, a space that welcomes exploration.

On how she became involved with BIPAM (13:10)

Sasapin: While Should [Chavatvit] got to go to TPAM, at around the same time I got invited, as I don’t know what, to platforms that are curation-related or platforms where I got to meet producers, curators, managers from other countries. I have been going to these platforms continuously for three or four years. And actually, I had been thinking of doing a festival, but at that time, I wasn’t thinking of a large platform like BIPAM, but more like a one-off thing because after seeing certain shows, I wanted them to [have more exposure]. Two performances this year had given me an idea [of organizing a festival] even before I started working with BIPAM. So when I saw that Should was doing this, I wanted to support [it] […] The two of us had been talking for a long time, but I wasn’t ready to commit […] In the second year, we were both at TPAM, and there was a conversation, and we were throwing around ideas, and we had a picture of what TPAM was, and I knew about BIPAM, so I felt that I really wanted to be involved with it, but I was still kind of afraid. But the more we talked—I suppose the craziness was still within me—I thought, if I didn’t accept this, it wouldn’t happen […] One thing I knew right away was that I couldn’t do it by myself. So I formed an artistic board […] It’s a group of people in the performing arts scene whose vision I trust. The program is built by this group of people with me. My job is to bring the [ideas] that come up during artistic-board meetings and make them happen through management […] You can’t say that the curation is mine. It’s the board’s.

On challenges of organizing this type of festival in Bangkok (35:40)

Chavatvit: When people say Thailand doesn’t have resources, I tend to challenge that notion. We do have resources. Our government has money. We have spaces. Our artists are talented. We have many art managers who graduated from universities abroad. But the most challenging thing about working in this field in our country is people’s attitude toward the arts. And it’s reflected in all levels of society—the government’s attitude toward the arts, audiences’ attitude toward the arts, artists’ attitude toward the arts. So when people say it’s hard to make art in Bangkok, that there’s no space, that there’s no money, that there’s nothing, actually, based on my years of experience before BIPAM, it’s not that there’re no resources, but there’s no right perspective toward the arts. Corporations don’t think of spending money to support the arts because it’s nothing compared to sponsoring other forms of entertainment. Or the government doesn’t allocate budgets for the arts because there are higher priorities, which is understandable. So the main problem is not lack of resources. It’s the attitude. This is something I’ve been fighting against all along. As soon as we have access to those resources for [thee arts], our main job is to invest in making people understand what we’re doing […] So what’s the challenge of doing the kind of platform we’re doing? If Thai people begin to think of spending money on art as something normal, our lives will be much simpler […] We can do it little by little. It’s improved a lot.

On developing personnel (42:28)

Chavatvit: If we want longevity and sustainable development with sufficient resources, one of the things I want to do is to form a group of young people who are interested in art and culture management. In any successful industry, 80 percent of the people in it are not those who create the content but managers. Look at the film industry, there aren’t that many directors, but how many companies are supporting that system? That’s something that I want to do. How do we have enough space and resources to do an annual event but also train new generations of people while those who are already part of the industry help one another build a system that can transfer resources from one place to another in a systematic and sustainable way? That’s what I want to do the most: develop art management in our country.

Sasapin: I partly agree with him that we have to train people whose work support the artistic [community]. But in terms of artists, it’s not my job to tell artists to develop themselves but what I’m passionate about is creating a space for exchange. It’s not as if artists in Thailand had no potential. They all have potential, but sometimes there are obstacles. For example, if you don’t speak English, it’s going to be difficult for you to go abroad. It’s going to be difficult to engage in conversations in English. So I feel BIPAM is unique in this regard. We take conversations that can take place elsewhere or are taking place elsewhere and make them happen here. And we try our best to make them accessible for Thais regardless of their English proficiency. So I hope that this space will give birth to something else because I believe that people don’t need to be told that they will learn this and that from listening to this talk. We just have to create a space for people to meet, and each person can choose for themself what they want to do with it. Apart from BIPAM, I personally like to organize little projects and events because that’s what I’m interested in: how to build an ecosystem that’s more complete. Apart from artists—directors, performers—there has to be other parts to it. There can’t just be artists, or else [the system] will wilt and die. […] Right now my big question is audience development. This may become part of BIPAM in the future—what else do we have to build? Right now we have to build personnel. But when it comes to building personnel, part of it has to come from training and skills, another part is about empowerment. We have professionals. But sometimes they feel like, “But I’m not an artist. I’m not a director. There’s no spotlight on me. So what I am is not important. No young people will be passionate about it and want to grow up to become a manager or grow up to become a dramaturg.” We don’t hear these voices. So what can we do to have more of these voices? We have to create spaces, discussions for people to see that they can aspire to do what they’re already doing without having to compare themselves to artists. You can be you and grow in this path. And this will make the whole system strong.

On the future direction of BIPAM (46:45)

Sasapin: I’m not thinking that far ahead. I have many plans, but I’m in a position where I have to do constant reality check. I have long-term goals and short-term things that I should and have to do. So just short-term goals this year, I tried to answer the question I had had for myself since last year. And that’s “Who are we talking about when we talk about Southeast Asia?” And I’m executing that this year. Last year, I found that there were only half of us from Southeast Asia. And I was like, “Well, where’s the other half? How can we not address them? How can we say we’re a platform for the region?” I’m waiting to see what big questions will BIPAM leave for me this year. And I will keep executing that every year. That’s one part of it. Another thing is each year’s theme. I’m not sure. Maybe it will eventually be an event with no theme. But now it’s theme-driven. So the theme this year, it’s been my personal mission to address this with the public. So each year will be like this: what do I want to talk to our society about?

Chavatvit: Now that we’re in our third year, and Pupe has been helping so much. She’s developed it beyond my expectations. So now I have more space and time to do other things, not outside BIPAM, but to build other infrastructures to support the growth of this platform. I can now see what the problems are in our ecosystem, how we should tackle those problems, who else we should bring into our ecosystem in a way that everyone can benefit. So I’m looking at the coming together of the performing and contemporary arts industries in Thailand. Right now, it’s in the making. We’re in the process of forming an organization called Contemporary Art and Culture Industry Promotion Association in Thailand. But it’s in the making. We’re in the process of making it legal and bringing people together to create resources that are supported by the government, parts of the private sector that see our community as a target for marketing—not CSR. So it’s another scaffolding, another foundation that I’m building so that BIPAM can continue to grow […] But this is a marathon, not a sprint […] In the future, I want every layer of this platform to send the younger generations farther than we ever wanted to go.

On why they are hopeful (58:50)

Sasapin: Why I am hopeful? Because Thai artists are so talented. I want to showcase Thailand so that everyone knows Thai artists are very talented. That’s my personal passion. But in the past year alone, I’ve received so many invitations as BIPAM director. I’ve traveled a lot as BIPAM director […] A lot of people want to know what BIPAM is and what we’re doing. As soon as they hear “Bangkok” and that there’s a platform like this, they’re like, “Come here. Come talk to us about it.” Things like this happen very often. One thing I feel is that the world is very excited about this. It may not be only about BIPAM, but also the region and the global political dynamic at the moment. Southeast Asia is a territory where people don’t know much about yet. We’re like a teenage girl right now, very enticing. And BIPAM tries to bring Southeast Asia together, so that’s why this is happening. Another thing that’s happening in parallel with BIPAM is a visit from a group of producers from France [Office national de diffusion artistique (Onda)/ the French Office for Contemporary Performing Arts Circulation]—about 10-15 people—organized by the French government. They’re coming to Bangkok and Kuala Lumpur. They want to come here during BIPAM because they want to discover the scene through BIPAM. There’ll also be a few influential producers from Europe coming to BIPAM. You can see that there’s a lot of interest in this region.

Chavatvit: Yesterday, a tour agency from Taiwan emailed us that they’ve been contacted by Taipei University to bring 22 people to BIPAM. They wanted to know whether we have a group price? So we were like, “I guess we’re there. We’re at a point where people are hiring tour agents to bring people here.” And there are people asking when will BIPAM take place in 2020-2021 so that they can make plans. This proves that we do have resources, but the language we use, and the vision of partnership is important.

On what needs to be improved (1:02:20)

Sasapin: For my part, I feel that there’s still not a lot of people who understand the kind of platform that BIPAM is and wants to be. So it’s about educating people on our own team. And everyone on our team is working very hard because they see it as a good thing, but the understanding of what BIPAM is, first, and second, what its potential is, I think there are a few key people who truly understand what it is, but others may not have a full understanding. If it’s possible, I want everyone to be on the same page. When we have the same understanding of what BIPAM is, the result should reflect this understanding and be stronger.

Chavatvit: I’ll speak from the outside perspective because I’ve talked to a lot of people outside BIPAM […] especially those who can affect change. I want to make them understand and see that supporting contemporary art is important for them and us and the society as a whole. We’re happy to see different types of content and different people coming here to see us. But this value, how do we communicate that to the people who have the power to affect change at the policy level, or those who have enough resources to share with us. This is what I want to push. But this can only happen if the people on our team, art managers, people in our community, understand what it is and want to push it in the same direction first.

Lightning Round

1. Which festival would you prefer to be the producer or artistic director of?

Unfolding Kafka Festival or Low Fat Art Fes

Chavatvit: Low Fat Art Fes 

Sasapin: Unfolding Kafka Festival

Siam Street Fest or BTF (Bangkok Theatre Festival)

Both: BTF

Singapore Arts Festival [Singapore International Festival of Arts (SIFA)] or Hong Kong Arts Festival

Both: Hong Kong Arts Festival

Edinburgh Fringe Festival or Festival d’Avignon

Both: Festival d’Avignon

2. Which food would you prefer to be? (Chavatvit owns a catering company, and Sasapin runs a Facebook page called “VeganRan”)

Somtam Thai or Somtam pu plara (somtam with crab and fermented fish)

Sasapin: Somtam pu plara

Chavatvit: Somtam Thai

Pizza Margherita or Pizza Hawaiian

Both: Pizza margherita

Khao chae (rice in cool flower-scented water) or Khao yum (Southern Thai rice salad with vegetables, herbs, and fermented fish sauce called budu; nasi kerabu in Malay)

Chavatvit: Khao Chae

Sasapin: Khao Yum

Chao guay (grass jelly) or Foy tong (“angel hair,” a Thai dessert with Portuguese origin—fios de ovos in Portuguese)

Saspin: chao guay

Chavatvit: foy tong

Durian or Jackfruit

Chavatvit: Durian

Sasapin: Jackfruit








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