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In preparation for the arrival of Junichiro Koizumi, George Bush, Vladamir Putin and 18 other world leaders for the Oct. 20-21 Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in Bangkok, Thai authorities have swooped down on the city. They have rounded up and shipped out hundreds of Cambodian beggars, thousands of stray dogs and tens of thousands of homeless people. The red lights of the Pat Pong and Soi Cowboy districts have been dimmed, and, if you believe some of the talk, brown patches in the parks alongside official motorcade routes have been painted green to look like grass.

Old Krung Thep has changed much over the last 10 years or so. Expressways and an elevated public transit system now whisk people around the city; air-conditioned Starbucks are filled with foreign tourists and affluent locals; and, somewhat ironically, people buy packaged cup noodles in 7-Elevens at several times the price the street stall women outside charge for much better nosh. This is the Bangkok that authorities want the APEC delegates to see.

Thai artist Manit Sriwanichpoom, 42, is not impressed with what he terms a “concept of consumerism, which has been accepted simply and without consideration by Thai society.”

“I feel,” says Sriwanichpoom, “that this system has enslaved us without our realization.” When the Thai currency, the baht, collapsed in 1997, Sriwanichpoom gave his feelings the form of Pink Man.

“The idea of Pink Man came to me when I went out shopping at the newest mall in town,” explains Sriwanichpoom, who is now showing with Chinese artist Weng Fen at Bangkok’s Tang Gallery. “This mall is very big, like a factory, bright with thousands of fluorescent lamps, all kinds of goods kept on shelves orderly. A lot of buyers were tirelessly enjoying filling their trolleys with goods, getting into long queues to pay, like going to an amusement park. To what extent has consumerism brainwashed us, that life values are measured by materials that one possesses? Pink Man is my upset and alienated feeling toward the concept of consumerism.”

“Pink Man” is played by Sriwanichpoom’s friend, the actor Sompong Thawee. Dressed in a pink suit, the Pink Man is forever pushing his pink shopping cart, a forlorn expression etched on his wide, worn face. He is photographed in fields, in Thai and European shopping streets and, most recently, beside the canals of Venice.

In all, Sriwanichpoom has produced seven “Pink Man” series since 1997. Showing at the Tang are 11 medium to large (40 × 60 cm; 70 × 88 cm) C-type editioned color photographs. These are funny and striking images: The tacky pink suit wrapping up Pink Man is a clever caricature standing at the nexus of conspicuous consumption and vulgarity.

Also appearing at the Tang Gallery is Chinese artist Weng Fen, also 42 and also using photography to address the issues surrounding globalization in his home country. Weng has 11 photographs at the Tang, selections from his 2001 series “Sitting on the Wall” and his 2003 series “Bird’s Eye View.”

With the 2008 Olympic games set for Beijing, China, too, is interested in sprucing up its international image. At present, this is most vividly evidenced in a construction boom that has seen skyscrapers shoot up in many previously undeveloped Chinese cities.

Weng’s large photographs portray schoolgirls as a generation caught between what was and what will be in the new China. He photographs these girls either sitting on a wall at the perimeter of one of the rapidly growing cities in Southern China, or standing on a rooftop within the city, peering out at the dense urban sprawl, wondering, one imagines, where they will fit into it all.

Weng’s work resonates with ominous tones of isolation and uncertainty. The schoolgirls appear in the foreground and are as such the first natural point of focus for the viewer, yet they are dwarfed by the cities, and hence the future, which lies before them.

Weng also has a seven-minute video here, filmed in Haikou City on Hainan Island. With the sound of a cruel wind blowing, a long-haired young girl in jeans and a white shirt jumps and clutches at a tall brick wall, trying to get a hold, trying to pull herself up and over, all in vain. Very effective.

Opened two years ago and renovated just before this show, the 315-sq.-meter Tang Gallery is one of the biggest contemporary art spaces in Bangkok. With its few support pillars, high ceilings and professional lighting system, Tang is a world-class space which, like other contemporary art spaces in the city (About Art, Gallery 100, Tadu, and Siam Space), manages to survive with support from both expat clientele and an emerging group of young Thai collectors.

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