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Art for the shopping minded

Excellent Java juice awaits at Drip Coffee Gallery cafe. Photo by The Nation

Publication Date : 20-02-2013

 

With four floors of funky shops |plus coffee and food corners, the Bangkok Art and Culture Centre is a great alternative to the mall

 

Opened in 2008 after more than decade of debate, the 11-storey art centre Bangkok Art and Culture Centre at the Pathumwan intersection has gradually succeeded in drawing more visitors though annual figures are still painfully short of those enjoyed by similar facilities in such cities as Singapore.

Part of the reason is that the average Thai considers art inaccessible and artists egocentric. That may well be true of a few of the exhibitions but it certainly doesn't hold water for the art centre's shopping area. Spread over the first to fourth floors, the zone is now fully populated with a bizarre mix of artsy shops that are relaxing, interesting and fun.

Visiting here is a unique experience and because most shops are run by artists, designers and independent enthusiasts, they offer a completely difference experience from the neighbouring malls.

Here, you can sip drip-brewed coffee and sample ice cream like a pork cutlet. You can browse a rare, limited edition book, create your own delightful silver jewellery and even cycle home on a city bike. Let's take a tour.

Turning the pages

Don't walk past the new gleaming bookstore Hardcover with the idea that reading is boring. Browse through the books - more than 1,000 titles are available - and you'll be hooked. Owner Shane Suvikapakornkul also runs Serindia Publishing and its offshoot Serindia Gallery, which specialise in the books and artworks of Central Asia. So it's no surprise that he can source a supply of books to satisfy attract both art and book lovers while staying afloat in the dying days of print.

The bookshelves are roughly arranged in categories, with the Otaku Encyclopedia supporting a tome on Islamic Art, which in turn props up Chinese Bonsai. At the entrance is a fine selection of vividly illustrated and graphic art books by UK publishers Nobrow.

"The illustration books by Nobrow are standouts and deserve to be the prints in their own right. The printing process is called spotcolour printing, whereby pure colours are combined in separation to create some of the most vibrant and lucid works. It makes the books visually distinctive," enthuses Shane.

The bookshop is home to XL-format tomes by leading publishers like Prestel and Taschen, including limited-edition titles such as "James Bond Archives" with an original film strip from a new print of Dr No to recount the 50-year history of 007, and "Her Majesty" relating Queen Elizabeth II's story through hundreds of stunning photographs in honour of the Queen's Diamond Jubilee.

The Seihando Collection corner is dedicated to a selection of rare and out-of-print scholarly works on Asian arts, including "Sir Aurel Stein" - a definitive biography of this Hungarian explorer known for his archaeological discovery of the Silk Road. A collection of exhibition catalogues of local artists from different galleries is also available.

Opposite Hardcover is Bookmoby run by Typhoon Publishing and the place to find limited prints of Thai and translated books. Talks by writers are also regularly held. Happening, a lifestyle magazine, also has a store that sells magazines, books and memorabilia in a collaborative project with musicians and artists. Expect to see one-of-a-kind tees, CDs from indie bands, hard-to-find albums, tote bags, notebooks and postcards with arty designs.

Pedalling green

With a showcase of brightly coloured bikes, the Pedal Lane - a pop up store on the first floor that's in operation through the end of March - will attract urban riders. Supreeya Pongkasem and Wachana Luewattananon, owners of Granny Bike near the Giant Swing, which has been fixing and making customised bikes for years, decided to test the waters by becoming the authorised dealer for three city bike brands: Public Bike from the US and Wren and Bobbin from the UK.

"These three brands are designed for urban riders as they focus on functionality and aesthetics," says Supreeya. "Each bike is lightweight but durable, making it perfect for a stable and smooth ride on roads. We offer the classic Diamond frame, though girls will probably prefer the Mixte or StepThru frames that are easier to mount in a skirt."

Helmets, woven baskets and bungee cords, saddles and brass bells are also on sale together with other accessories like plump leather grips and seat covers.

After riding on two wheels to reduce carbon emissions, another ideal store for anyone with tree-hugging leanings is Green Thai Product, an environmentally friendly product-design brand operated by Ruamkid 99. Pet food packaging and foil packets remain the brand's main materials though they also produce handbags from liquid detergent and fabric softening containers. A bracelet is also fashioned from recycled papers and inner tubes chucked aside by cyclists evolve into coin pockets.

Take a seat

The art centre doesn't forget its visitors with more mundane thirsts. Launched just a few months ago, Drip Coffee Gallery cafe has quickly become a popular hangout. Photographer Natthiti Ampriwan and his friends have grabbed the hearts of coffee connoisseurs with their drip brew, which ensures a smoother cup of java juice.

Chiang Mai artists collective Yonyang: Retracing Aesthetics and Friends has opened a funky bistro named Krua Khun Kan as part of the Hof Art Gallery. Known for his progressive art and performances, Yonyang's founder Silwat Ramyananda is also a talented Japanese chef and takes his food seriously.

Krua Khun Kan has a street-dining ambience, with wooden tables and chairs placed around a noodle vendor's tricycle stocked with sashimi. The menu offers mainly Japanese street food in generous portions at reasonable prices.

For desserts, there is nowhere better than Prima Chakrabandhu Na Ayudhya's IceDea. She offers unconventional and unique flavours that go beyond expectations. You can try her ice cream in the shape of beef steak or deep-fried pork cutlet as well as other 20 quirky flavours, including sponge cake-like Tokyo Banana, tequila sunrise or go wild with the coffee-flavoured ice cream with a cigarette aftertaste.

"Anything you can eat can be turned into an ice cream that mimics its flavour, scent, appearance, texture and colour," says Prima.

Getting crafty

Srisudha has been selling paint supplies to budding and established artists for years and has been at the art centre since it opened. Last year, the firm renamed its shop name Goon Studio, adopting owner Virakich Sudhasawin's nickname.

Here you'll find the artist-grade colours of German brand Schmincke, artist's brushes made by Isabey from France and Fredrix artist canvases from the US. Among Goon's loyal customers are artists Chakabhand Posayakrit and Phansakdi Chakkaphak. The studio also offers ink-jet printing on canvas, which produces reproductions also identical to the originals, holds an art course for kids every weekend plus a regular free workshop on painting and photography.

You don't need a background in silver smithing to make one-of-a-kind silver jewellery - and in a short time. Under the guidance of Shannta shop's jewellery designer, you will learn to mould the nano silver clay - it looks just like the plasticine used in school - from an easy flat pendant form into a ring.

"Silver clay is made of pure silver molecules mixed with water and non-toxic binders to form clay. It can be moulded by hand to form a desired shape then heated in a small kiln to remove the binder and fuse the metal powder into a solid form," says designer Pornpimon Piyakuldumrong. "The binders burn away when fired to leave 99.99 silver, which is almost pure silver. This innovation makes creating jewellery easy and fun for the beginner."

So while BACC has yet to become the cultural landmark of Bangkok for artistic expression and education, it is a great place to spend the day. Make the most of it.

The Bangkok Art and Culture Centre at the Pathumwan intersection is open Tuesday to Sunday from 10am to 9pm.

 

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