Untitled (rice), 2014
One A4 document in Thai under plexiglass sheet to be translated in the language used while exhibited
Overall dimensions vary with size of room
In Untitled (rice), Pratchaya Phinthong investigates the political entanglements within Thai society that have brought about the current unstable situation in the country.The world’s largest rice exporter, Thailand is in the midst of a political and economic crisis.Two opposing factions -one side dressed in red shirts and the other donning yellow shirts in public manifestations- epitomise this predicament.The “yellow shirts”are an expression of the nationalistic Bangkok bourgeoisie, which supports the monarchy and the military; the “red shirts” represent the peasantry and the rural society of the country, which supports the different populist regimes that have recently alternated in power.
Swept to power in 2011 with the support of millions of rural voters, the populist Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra established in early 2013 the so-called ‘Rice Pledging Scheme’, in which farmers where invited to consign their rice to government stockpiles in exchange of a mortgage paper ensuring them full repayment within three months. Aimed at gaining the political support of the farmers, the scheme injected the agricultural economy with a consistent flow of cash. However, the recent steep decline in Thai rice prices due to the pressure of competitors on the global market, together with corruption within Shinawatra’s party, led to the government’s failure to raise enough funds for the continuation of the pledging scheme.The suspension of repayment to millions of farmers caused them to miss repayment on their own debts and brought them out onto the streets in protest during late 2013 and early 2014.
In response to these escalating events, Phinthong asked the steirischer herbst festival to use its production budget to buy a rice mortgage from a farmer who was a participant in the pledging program, and who agreed that the mortgage would become an art piece exhibited during the 2014 festival in Graz. Presented as a two-sided framed object, the mortgage document is exhibited at a height precisely corresponding to the amount of rice represented by the loan if it was piled onto the gallery floor.With the barest of means, Untitled (rice) thus evokes the complex political and economic processes affecting the lives of millions of people in contemporary Thailand.