One of the most exciting art projects of the year is Chang Chui: Thailand Tomorrow, a new creative space taking up an 11-rai plot of land in Thonburi district that’s set to open in late May. It’s the brainchild of Somchai Songwattana, 57, CEO and art director of Flynow, one of Thailand’s pioneering fashion brands. Here, he opens up about the passion behind this ambitious project.
What triggered Chang Chui?
I bought this land a long time ago and used to dream of building the Flynow offices here surrounded by trees. I thought it would be so cool to have 300-400 people all working together in something like a forest. But then I realized you can make a good office anywhere. This plot is so large I thought, why not do something better? If I sold it to be turned into a condo or a mall, it would just end up being another mound of concrete. I’m 57, and I’ve worked in the fashion industry for more than 30 years, so I realize how important creativity is. I have many friends who are willing to work with the young generation who don’t have the money or the space to showcase their works, so I decided to create a space for them. When I started construction last year, the land was covered in huge piles of junk that had built up over the years. It took 2,000 rounds of dump trucks to clear.
So, what is it going to be?
It will be full of everything that comes to mind when you think creativity: a theater, art space, fashion shops, a co-creative space, restaurants and a vegtable garden. What’s more, there will be chefs offering talks and workshops, while the theater, run by the Documentary Club, will also hold talks after screenings. There will be a restaurant inside an old plane, a Lockheed TriStar, which will decorated with some artefacts and antiques I have collected over 30 years. The key is to bring different generations of creative people together to turn their ideas into reality. With every step, you will encounter an explosion of ideas here. The exchange of knowledge between generations is such a beautiful force.
Why did you choose the name Chang Chui [“sloppy artisan”]?
I believe nothing is useless. I love old things. I’ve brought tons of old wood, windows and galvanized iron and designed it all in a way that brings this crap back to life. I chose the name Chang Chui to make the point that creativity can be imperfect. We need to accept that Thais aren’t perfectionists like, say, the Japanese and we probably never will be. By the same token, the Japanese will never be like us. Thais love freedom and to go with the flow, which is such a big part of our charm. Just look at pad Thai—it might be a mix of everything, but it was actually born from the fact that we needed to be economical. It’s part of the reason why our street food is some of the best in the world.
You say you’re in love with old things. Why do you think Bangkok is so hung up on getting rid of old communities and street food stalls?
I don’t want to criticize anyone, but I would say that those craving development also need to understand the value of preservation. To think outside the box, you first need to know what the box is, or what your roots are. Ignoring your roots is just sad, really sad.
Chang Chui, 460/8 Sirinthorn Rd., 081-817-2888. www.changchuibangkok.com