Thursday, April 18, 2013

"The Bangkok Night" - Chris Coles Talk at Bangkok Fiction Night of Noir Event April 17, 2013 Bangkok


"Ratchada Poseidon" - Chris Coles
Much of the Noir fiction written about the Bangkok Night is set in and around what is often referred to as the Bangkok Night.

But what actually is the Bangkok Night?

The answer usually depends on who you ask.

There's the so-called real or objective version which turns out to be so subjective, it's difficult to find two people who agree on what it is.

Then there's the mythic version which doesn't really describe an objective reality but is more an entertaining yet hazy cloud of accumulated lore from magazine and newspaper articles, tv reports, sensational and otherwise, pop music songs like One Night in Bangkok, stories told by friends and acquaintances, various newspaper reports or blog posts.

For instance, the Trink Column which used to be featured weekly in the Bangkok Post, the Stickman Weekly website, or the Bangkok Eyes blog which presents a detailed, well-organized chronological history of the Bangkok Night.

"Soi Cowboy" - Chris Coles
The mythic version's usually a little out-of-date as the actual Bangkok Night is always in a constant state of change in terms of venues, demographics, geography, fashions, fads and people and as a result, our accumulated perception always lags.

Other versions of the Bangkok Night are presented in the novels of various writers like Christopher G. Moore, John Burdett, Stephen Leather, Jake Needham, Dean Barrett, Tim Hallinan, James Newman, Tom Vater.

"Portrait of Bangkok Noir author Stephan Leather" - Chris Coles
Or in Nick Nostitz' Bangkok's Twilight Zone, a brutal yet brilliant book of photos and commentary set in the Patpong District of the 1990's.

Or Cleo Odzier's autobiographical Patpong Sisters.

There are also versions contained in films like the original very gritty Bangkok Dangerous and even in the completely dumb and often unintentionally absurd Hangover II or in the recent, very evocative and powerful short film True Skin, of Bangkok-in-the-brutal-future, directed by Stephan Zlotescu, a young visual effects guy from LA.

Further versions of the Bangkok Night are in various music videos that play on Thai tv, especially the Isan music videos which often feature storylines of young Isan males and females migrating to Bangkok from the rural countryside to work in various nightlife venues.

"Bangkok Boys Town" - Chris Coles
And then there's the version of the Bangkok Night as contained in my paintings which is the version I'm going to focus on tonight.

To me, the Bangkok Night is a vast, dark, edgy and noir universe.  It has a powerful density and velocity, a kind of Dark Energy.  It's full of nihilistic motifs and themes, populated by many different kinds of people frm all over Asia and all over the world who, in the universe of the Bangkok Night, are often revealed in ways they might not have intended or wanted to be revealed.  In ways that might contradict the version of themselves that they project or present in their ordinary or so-called normal lives.

Their daytime lives when they're suited up for work, constrained and subdued in all sorts of ways that are necessary for them to survive, replicate and succeed in terms of careers, families, financial security, etc.

Like the Paris Night circa 1900 painted by the Fauvists or the Berlin Night early 1900's painted by the Expressionists, the Bangkok Night is a world without daylight or sunshine.   It's all about darkness, glowing neon and various man-made and multi-colored lighting: florescent, blinking, reflected and otherwise.

"Obsession Bar Neon" - Chris Coles
There are multiple and constantly overlapping music tracks and sound effects.

All different kinds of women and men, and ladyboys, dressed up and costumed for the night, not for the day.  Thousands of them, tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands, millions.

Of every size and shape, beautiful, not beautiful, young, not-so-young.

From everywhere in Thailand, Asia and the world: Isan, Thai, Khmer, Chinese Burmese, Russian, Indian, Japanese, Korean, Arab, Iranian, German, French, Italian, Turks, English, Scottish, Scandinavian, American Australian, African.  One night I even met a guy from Turkmenistan.

"Guy from Turkmenistan in Bangkok Night" - Chris Coles
In my view, as I mentioned already, two key elements in the Bangkok Night are density and velocity.  Without density and velocity, kind of like one of those gigantic Black Holes in Deep Space, the Bangkok Night would lose much of its power, its brightness, its almost irresistible attraction, its ability to draw in millions of people.

Another key element in the Bangkok Night are the extreme situations, often very personal, dramatic and acted out in strange ways in full public view, many of which I use as raw material for my paintings in which I try to convey not only the illusion of excitement and desire, but also the poignancy, the ugliness, the momentary glimpses of wonder and beauty, and the enormous loss of human potentials, damaged lives and tragedy.

"Ratchada Fishbowl" - Chris Coles
The Bangkok Night is full of ambiguities, nothing is ever quite clear. It's complex, multi-layered.  Sometimes, it has an ironic overlay, sometimes a touch of noir humor lurking somewhere underneath.

In my paintings, the men, women, ladyboys and even the soi dogs are portrayed at their best, in-between and worst, usually caught up in a Darwinist dog-eat-dog setting.  Desiring.  Being desired.  Wanting. Being wanted.

"Bangkok Ladyboy Nana Plaza" - Chris Coles
Compulsively, sometimes mindlessly, devouring or being devoured, consuming or being consumed, etc.

It's a world where only the strongest and luckiest manage to avoid being sucked in the vortex and to survive completely intact.

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