The Friday Arts Diary

Our cultural picks for the week ahead.

Art

A Bigger Splash: Painting After Performance, Tate Modern, 14 Nov 2012 – 1 April 2013

Tate Modern’s major winter show has finally opened, and it embraces the "blockbuster exhibition" philosophy to the letter – famous names, iconic art works, and a whole-hearted welcome for the fact that nudity is never gratuitous in art.

A Bigger Splash is a survey of the relationship between performance and painting from 1950 onwards. It’s centred on the era-defining drip paintings of Jackson Pollock (laid out on the ground as they were when he painted them), and the 60 years or so of artists responding to his principle that painting is physical. As you’d expect, icons abound – Hockney’s sun-drenched swimming pools hang next to Yves Klein’s famous experiment of what happens when you use a naked woman as a paintbrush. There are so many defining names of 20th-century art that the show has the aura of a quick rush through Modern Art History; Yayoi Kusama, Bruce Nauman, the Vienna Actionists. This is art at its most visceral, pig guts, mass nudity and the occasional orgy are all included in the ticket price.

Theatre

Constellations, Duke of York Theatre, until 5 Jan 2013

Melding quantum multi-universe theory with beekeeping may not be the most obvious preamble for theatre, but critics were universally delighted with Constellations when it debuted earlier this year. That critical consensus lead to Constellations being one of the biggest success in the Royal Court's history, and now its back for a second run. Written by the award-winning playwright Nick Payne and now directed by Michael Longhurst, Constellations is a romantic drama with a difference. Shunning the convention that play narrative lines must unfold along the temporal limits of the time and space – Constellations exists in a parallel world where every possible situation unfolds simultaneously on stage. The action unfolds in not one universe, but several, as we see a couple meet, greet and a relationship grow in a plot which twists in and out of every chance not taken.

Music

Nouvelle Vaguem, Hammersmith Apollo, 16 November

Since their formation in 2004, Nouvelle Vague have repeatedly demonstrated that no one carries off effortless insouciance quite like Parisians. The French foursome are returning to London for another tour, and demonstrating, once again, their mastery of the cover version. Their synth and dubstep overhauling of classic Eighties pop may sound like a recipe for over-ironic disaster, but this band have repeatedly shown that style and soul are an inherent part of their repertoire. Head over to west London tonight, for versions of "Blue Monday", "Love will Tear us Apart" and "Dancing with Myself", as well as new covers and a changing line-up of singers.

Dance

Wayne Mcgregor Random Dance, Barbican Curve Gallery, 18 November

The Barbican has enjoyed tremendous success recently for bringing Londoners more of what they just cant get enough of – rain.  Just in case you're not feeling damp enough outside, you can head on indoor to this multi-sensory installation by Random International currently at the Curve Gallery, where motion sensors and digital technology bring rainclouds to you.

From this Sunday, the Rain Room, will play host to a cross-disciplinary collaboration with Wayne McGregor, who is choreographing an extensive and original new work which sees dancers performing experimental pieces as they dodge in and out of the indoor downpour. With an original score by Max Richter, this promises to be a truly unique melding of contemporary art and dance. Admission is free, but get there as early as possible to beat the queue.

Film

Jewish Film Festival, various locations, until 18 November

The final week of the nationwide festival, which, for the first time hosts screenings in London, Glasgow, Leeds, Liverpool and Manchester.

This is a unique chance to see a broad range of international cinema, much of which it is difficult to get access to within the UK otherwise. Five UK premières are on over the weekend alone, and other highlights include the closing night gala of the French-Israeli-Canadian A Bottle in the Gaza Sea. Panel discussions will follow screenings of Joel Fendelman’s David, and the award-winning God’s Neighbour.

David Hockney, A Bigger Splash (1967), part of the A Bigger Splash: Painting after Performance exhibition, now on at the Tate Modern. Photo: David Hockney / Tate Modern
Photo: Prime Images
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The Sad Part Was: this story collection puts the real Bangkok on display

Thai author Prabda Yoon descends into the voices and minds of a small cast of characters.

In Bangkok’s budding literary scene, Prabda Yoon sits at the centre. Born in 1973, he’s the scion of a well-known family (his father Suthichai Sae-Yoon is the co-founder of the Nation newspaper) and is known in Thailand as not only an enfant terrible of letters but as an illustrator, screen-writer and director (his first film, Motel Mist, was shown at European festivals in 2016).

His reputation rests mainly on a collection of short stories published in 2000 entitled in Thai Kwam Na Ja Pen, roughly translated as Probability, and it is from this early collection that most of the stories now collected in The Sad Part Was are derived. Translated with cool elegance by Mui Poopoksakul, they are among the first modern Thai stories to be published in the UK.

As Poopoksakul points out in her afterword, she and Yoon are the products of similar backgrounds and epochs: upper-middle class children of Bangkok who came to consciousness in the late Eighties and Nineties. Often foreign-educated, fluent in English and conversant in global pop culture and media – Yoon did a stint at Parsons in New York after prep school at the Cambridge School of Weston – this new generation of Thai writers and artists were born into a society changing so fast that they had to virtually invent a new language to transcribe it.

In The Sad Part Was, the result is stories that one could glibly label as “post-modern” but which, in reality, perfectly match the qualities of the megacity where they are set. Bangkok is infamously mired in lurid contradiction, but it’s also a city of subtle and distorted moods that journalism and film have hitherto mostly failed to capture. The whimsical and playful surfaces of these stories have to be read against the high-octane anxieties and surreal dislocations of what was, until recently, one of the fastest-growing cities in the world.

Yoon uses the short form of the ten-page story to descend into the voices and minds of a small cast of characters: a schoolgirl and a beautiful female teacher who form a platonic lesbian infatuation while riding a daily bus in “Miss Space”; a couple making love during a thunderstorm whose activities are interrupted by the dismantling of two giant letters, which fall onto their roof in “Something in the Air”; a young man who meets a mysterious older man in Lumpini Park called Ei Ploang, who forces him to consider the intertwined nature of good and evil. In “Snow for Mother”, a mother waits for her little boy to grow up so that she can take him to Alaska to experience the real snow, which he never knew as a little boy in the tropics.

In “The Sharp Sleeper”, a man named Natee obsesses over losing his shirt buttons and is led into a strange reverie on the nature of dreams and the competing qualities of red and yellow pyjama shirts (Thailand’s political culture is riven by two parties popularly known as Red and Yellow Shirts). The commentary slips into effortless sarcasm:

Natee has proudly worn the red pyjama shirt several times since then, and his dream personality hasn’t altered at all. On the contrary, the shirt has encouraged him to become a man of conviction in his waking life. As to what those convictions were supposed to be, Natee wasn’t quite sure. But it was safe to say that a night shirt so principled wouldn’t drop a button so easily.

Since these stories were written, Bangkok’s political schizophrenia has lost its former air of apathy and innocence, but Yoon’s tone is quietly prescient about the eruption of violent irrationality a few years later. It’s a reminder how precious the subtlety of fiction is when set against the shrill certitudes of activism and reportage.

My favorite story here is “Something in the Air”. Its dialogues are written with hilariously archaic, bureaucratic formality, while delving into the disorientation of sexual and romantic hopes in the present century. After the couple’s love-making is interrupted, the young man suggests insolently to the woman that they resume in the open air, exposed to the furious elements. She agrees. They then notice that a dead body is lying on the roof nearby, crushed by the giant letters.

While waiting for the police to arrive, the woman sits quietly and describes her future, a happily married future in which her current lover will play no part whatsoever. He listens in melancholy astonishment until the couple are called to give their testimonies about the dead man. The officers then suspect that the couple themselves have done something scandalous – and so, stung by shame, the woman considers breaking off the relationship and setting in motion her own prophesy.

The Sad Part Was is unique in the contemporary literature of Bangkok – it doesn’t feature bar girls, white men, gangsters or scenes redolent of The Hangover Part II. Instead it reveals, sotto voce, the Thai voices that are swept up in their own city’s wild confusion and energy, and it does so obliquely, by a technique of partial revelation always susceptible to tenderness.

Lawrence Osborne is a British novelist living in Bangkok. His next book, “Beautiful Animals”, will be published by Hogarth in August

The Sad Part Was
Prabda Yoon
Tilted Axis Press, 192pp, £8.99

This article first appeared in the 20 July 2017 issue of the New Statesman, The new world disorder