Surasi Kusolwong possesses the unique ability to ignite an audience’s attention and engage their participation in his makeshift market installations. Toying with notions of cultural and economic values and the interplay between people, art, and consumer products, the artist blurs boundaries between public and private spaces—transforming the intimate exchange between visitor and artwork into an exploration of the post-modern economy.Using the concept of art as commodity, Kusolwong highlights the relationship between people, art and consumerism. Stressing cultural exchange instead of money, the artist intends for his market environments to be a place of social interaction. Kusolwong’s concept of the street market is ironically juxtaposed with the notion of the art market, shifting the level of domestic objects to a museum or gallery commodity.
For his ArtPace project, entitled Minimal Factory ($1 Market)/Red Bull Party (with D.J.), the artist recreates a typical Thai street market in his upstairs gallery space. The room is dimly lit and reminiscent of a factory-like atmosphere. In addition to Thai consumer packaging labels, the walls are adorned with four inkjet prints presented in the style of a window display. Thai music plays from a stereo and on the opening night the artist animates and encourages spectators with a megaphone. Merchandise is arranged atop cardboard piano boxes covered with velvet, reminiscent of Donald Judd’s box-like sculptures. For $1 each, Kusolwong sells Thai-manufactured objects related to art, history, popular culture, the state of Texas, and trinkets personal to the artist.
Part performance and part installation, Kusolwong’s art is truly interactive. His keen aesthetic for the arrangement of the objects and the display structure further plays with the idea of art as commodity as well as emotional and aesthetic gratification. The artist often finds amusement in observing Western shoppers/audiences appease their desire for the exotic by quickly buying inexpensive imported items that tend to clash with their designer-label lifestyles, taking the gallery-goer from spectator to spectacle. The intense fervor for collecting and accumulating desirable objects produces a chaotic, frenzied scene among the shoppers that lasts until everything is sold. After the merchandise is dispersed, a calm minimalist aesthetic remains in the almost empty gallery space.
In one corner of the gallery space, Kusolwong has created a bar-style setting, serving Red Bull, an energy drink produced in Thailand and popular in Asia and Europe. While the market frenzy continues, a bartender mixes Red Bull with an alcoholic beverage of choice and serves drinks to patrons. The Red Bull cans and other beverages are housed in wall-mounted Donald Judd-style shelving. The Red Bull bar takes the artist’s notion of the market environment to another level, highlighting the mixing and interaction that commonly occurs among people of various cultures and backgrounds in markets, bars, parties and factories. Adjacent to the Red Bull bar is a lounge with stools from Thailand and a bed inspired by Judd sculptures to encourage people to mingle and relax beside the market chaos.