Studio space, gallery, art academy, café, bar and events venue, Emma Rosenberg discovers that V64 is more than an art collective that likes to party. Photos by Nick McGrath.
The warehouse is empty on a Sunday afternoon. Beer bottles flank the wall of the main building, which is painted with a mural of a blue-haired, snout-nosed creature, its mouth agape as if still thirsty. Two young girls canter up and down the ramp leading to the information desk, and an unclaimed baby shoe stands upright on the lawn. Of the some 45 artists who occupy more than 30 studios, a few laze in the courtyard, drinking yet more beer.
“We’re all a little tired from last night’s party” Linjie Zhou, the sales and marketing director explains, a smile behind her Yoko Ono hair. Originally from China and a violinist in a local orchestra, Zhou was drawn to V64 because of its warm community and round-table style of management.
In a country where funding contemporary art is a low priority, V64 fills a niche most were not even aware was missing – serving as the grout between religious art conservation and more synthetic commercial endeavours. Modelled after M50, a textile factory turned artist district in Shanghai, which in turn drew inspiration from 798 Art Zone in Beijing, what sets V64 apart is its self-sufficiency. It has no connection with the government and does not benefit from the largesse of a big-name sponsor. The initial artists, many of whom met selling art at Chatuchak Market, pooled together their resources, built the studio-spaces by hand, and planted every tree in the garden.
“The decision was made easily, but it was made very quickly,” over loud music and stub-filled ashtrays, says Attasit Pokpong, who had wanted to join a co-operative of artists since he was in college – a concept then unheard of in Thailand. Roused by his friends, he decided to start one himself. “I was the first one to have the idea, and I felt pressured.”
Pokpong’s business experience of working at a framing store was enough for the others to elect him as one of three managing directors. An artist himself, he also fills the role of accountant, landlord, bartender, and even wet nurse to the eager and petulant egos of artists. On his list of management grievances – second only to money – are the artists themselves. “You have to accommodate them, as each has their own style,” he says. “But at the same time, it’s exciting.”
The art at V64 varies in direction but the similarities are more obvious than the differences. A quick walk through the studios, and you’ll notice a pattern – acrylic portraits of female faces. These paintings are glorified illustrations rather than fine art. Some artists brave beyond the puckered lips of pretty women. Boonchai Wedmakawand paints like a modern day Paul Gauguin and Sinit Saejia’s mixed-media sculptures depict adult nightmares caught inside a child’s world – toy soldiers load cannons in a military warehouse, a young girl uses a tank as a chair.
What is most interesting is how the artists choose to occupy their studio space, which doubles as a gallery, and in a few cases, their family home. One artist built a couch out of vintage suitcases and put down a shag rug, as if ready for guests. In another studio, open paint cans and nappies share floor space – a statement on the process of creation, or a haphazard cleaning job?
The goal of V64 is to be a working studio space for artists, and not just an empty gallery.
“Some people just put up their art and leave,” says Cecê Nobre, who lives and works in his studio. “They’re trying to get rid of them.” He has just moved into a studio with an outdoor deck for spray painting.
“It’s necessary I have this space,” he explains with the absolute certainty of a young artist, “or else I would die.”
A penchant for histrionics tends to be part of the discourse at V64. A phalanx of artists, misunderstood by the world, living solely to create – with frequent breaks to party.
V64 knows it is an unfinished canvas.
“We are fighting a lot of problems,” says Kitti Narod, who shares a studio space with his boyfriend. “We don’t know how to learn the business. People say ‘I give up’, ‘I don’t want to know anything anymore’.”
But despite these setbacks, the artists have faith in V64, both as an artistic haven to support their craft, and an opportunity to learn from each other. Narod recently came back from Singapore, where his art was featured in an international exhibition. “For the artists here, it’s very hard to sell art because we’re no-name,” he says. “We’re grouping together so we can show our artwork outside.” V64 provides much needed publicity for artists and strives to promote art itself.
“We want the public to think about us and have a better attitude towards art,” says Porntip Rojanapenkul who sculpts sand dunes and horses out of bronze. Part of this awareness process has been the creation of the V64 Academy, which offers courses taught by the resident artists, as well as free monthly classes for aspiring young artists in the area. This is now V64’s main form of revenue. The subject of the last class was a pizza – a lesson in drawing circles, colouring in pepperoni, and resisting temptation as the students could only eat the pizza once the class was over.
“They’re my inspiration too,” Kitti Narod says, holding up a crude drawing of an egg-shaped pizza.
V64 Art Studio, 143/19 Changwattana Soi1 Yak 6 (Vibhavadi 64 Rd.), Bhangkhen Laksi, Bangkok 10210, Tel: 02 973 2681, firstname.lastname@example.org, www.v64artstudio.com.