Project name: Re Tu De - An exhibition on Thai desserts and transition of old town communities
Funder/Sponsor: ASA CAN - the Association of Siamese Architects, Community Act Network
Project type: Exhibition; Knowledge Management; Community Building
Openspace has had a long-standing partnership with the Wat Care Nang Lerng community in the old town of Bangkok since 2011. Wat Care Nang Lerng sits on contested land, since the residents are renting and competition for land makes their presence there increasingly tenuous.
Our latest joint project was funded by ASA CAN, the Association of Siamese Architects, Community Act Network, which funded several communities under the theme “Co-creative community development”.
The history of Thai desserts
The project in Nang Lerng involves two Thai desserts – Re Rai and Kao Tu – which are still popular among older people in the community and which are still taught by old teachers who have been making them for decades. E-Lerng, Nang Lerng’s artist group, wanted to depict how these desserts have evolved as the community has developed: food relates to the way people live, and in this case how their lives have changed. While the project does not touch on housing, housing is underpinned by these changes.
Re Tu De
The event was named by mixing the names of the two desserts – Re Rai and Kao Tu – and adding De, from the English “day”.
The project had three elements:
An exhibition depicting the desserts that people eat in juxtaposition with the old buildings which are slowly being transformed. The exhibition subtly compared changes in habits and food and changes in architecture. The exhibition took place in a disused old clinic that has been abandoned for over 10 years, a transitional space.
A talk on the transformation of Nang Lerng and the old town of Bangkok. E-Lerng invited one person from Community Tourism Department of the BMA, and one person who grew up in the community and has now branched out into business, owning the popular Seven Spoons and Mad Moa restaurants, and the owner of the old cinema – a local heritage site. They each shared their views on how the community is transitioning to its future from their perspective: that of an outsider, and insider working with outsiders, and an insider, respectively.
Two Thai dessert cooking classes – one for each dessert. The classes were publicised on Facebook and attracted an audience that was not necessarily familiar with the community.
Re Tu De exhibition
The exhibition took place on three floors:
One the first floor, an introduction to of the project and the exhibition. We projected pictures of the process of making Re Rai and Kao Tu on the wall, under the kitchen hood which was used to make fried banana, when the building was rented to be a fried banana shop years after the clinic closed.
On the second floor, we exhibited the tools used to make the two desserts, including pots and pans, moulds, and a mix of tools from the past and the present as some of the older tools no longer exist.
On the third floor, there was a section on stories of the desserts: on their history and how they were related to Thai communities, as well as stories of different dessert shops in Nang Lerng and neighbouring area. At the centre of this section, we assembled a small art piece of the two desserts being ordained like monks, in a ceremony that is traditionally used for preservation.
There was also a large map on one of the walls, where the audience was invited to map out the Thai desserts shops they knew in the old town of Bangkok, or other areas to help document the places we could still learn from. At the end of the exhibitions, there were about 30 new dessert shops on the map – a lot more than we had hoped for.
The exhibition was open from 5pm to 8pm, so after dark, and audience members were given torches to navigate the building. This resulted in a “dark” exhibition, that pushed the audience to stay quiet, focused and carefully search for the stories or exhibitions elements that are hard to find and are almost “rare”, just like these Thai desserts, old communities across Bangkok and their architecture.