Never Proper Anyway (Messy Sky, Bangkok, 2011)

Screening at Cloud, 2014. All images courtesy of Messy Sky and Cloud, unless stated otherwise.

A Conversation with Chitti Kasemkitvatana, Pratchaya Phinthong,
and Mary Pansanga on 
Messy Sky
(Bangkok, 2011)

Within a few months after launching as an open-form and self-published magazine in 2011, Messy Sky evolved and mutated into many forms including Messy Shop, Messy Project Space, and Space ½ at their location along Tanao Road in Bangkok. In 2014, Messy Sky moved to Maitri Chit in Chinatown and it was here that Messy-related projects like Window Project and Cloud took root before seemingly dissipating altogether around 2016. In this conversation, we discuss with Messy Sky founders Chitti Kasemkitvatana and Pratchaya Phinthong and Cloud founder Mary Pansanga why and how such an amorphous project was developed, the circumstances surrounding its numerous shifts, and the importance of community.

Mary Pansanga viewing "Operation U.F.O.: The exhibition of Julius Koller’s oeuvre" at Messy Project Space, 2013. Photo by Tanatchai Bandasak.

Messy Sky Magazine no00 on display at Messy Shop, 2012.


Chitti Kasemkitvatana (CK): I started to work with collectives and alternative spaces around the '90s. I worked with friends at About Studio / About Café in Bangkok from around 1997 to 2000 as a curator and artist and, when I started working with Klaomard Yipintsoi, the director of About Studio / About Café, what interested me was that there were few spaces for artists to work and to exhibit. [1] At the time, if you wanted to exhibit, forget about the National Gallery and all those institutions. After coming back from art school in Melbourne, Australia, when I wanted to do a show, I had to go everywhere to find a space and there were not many of them. So, when Yipintsoi asked if I would like to join the team, I said yes because I thought it was important for the artist community to do this kind of thing. But, at the beginning, I didn't want to be a curator, I just wanted to be kind of an organizer.

And then in 2001, Rirkrit [Tiravanija] proposed that we do a magazine called VER Magazine. Its format was like a magazine with audio: the printed editions were just images and everything else would be in a CD, and every issue would have two CDs. Later on, it shifted to Gallery VER.

Merv Espina (ME): You were not in the art scene for seven or eight years. Is that right?

CK: Yeah. From 2003 to 2010, I was a monk in the forest monastery in Chiang Mai. I quit the artworld to do that. 

Dominic Zinampan (DZ): How did you meet? Were you involved in other initiatives before Messy Sky?

CK: I came back in February or March of 2010. Tho [PP] and I had known each other since the '90s so after I left the monkhood, we reconnected.

Pratchaya Phinthong [PP]: Chitti and I would often meet at Chatuchak Market along with other friends like Thakol Khaosa-ad. At that time, it was for Joe [CK] to gradually adapt from the woods to the city. 

We tried to think about a format of open dialogue and building something along this idea, something that could change all the time and reach the public in a manner that wasn’t one-way. We asked ourselves what we could contribute and how to involve other fields.

CK: It started with our weekly meetings at a café or bar at Chatuchak Market. We would meet up with friends to talk and exchange, to know what each of us were doing because I think that is very important. At some point, we thought that we could extend this kind of dialogue into another format to involve more people. We thought about publications and its function. We hadn’t concluded anything so we were just open to possibilities.

"JK Ping Pong Club" opening tournament for "Operation U.F.O." at Messy Project Space, 18 January 2013.

Gridthiya Gaweewong and Tanatchai Bandasak during the opening for "Circuit," an intervention and installation by Tanatchai Bandasak at Messy Shop, 11 August 2012.

Chitti Kasemkitvatana peeling paint off of a wall in preparation for Messy Shop's opening, 2012.


CK: Then, we got invited by friends in Paris, Yoann Gourmel and Élodie Royer, who curated an exhibition [“The Feeling of Things” (2011)] at Le Plateau. They asked us what we were doing and what we could contribute to their four-part exhibition series. We thought that, “Okay, we have been talking about this idea for a long time” and so we started to formalize it in terms of the form and concept to realize it for this exhibition.

The name of the magazine came from the wood — rok-fah — that we used to make the binder. “Rok” means like everything is stacked and messy while “fah” means “sky,” so together it’s like a tree going straight to the sky with its branches going everywhere. We were wondering how we could translate that and so we kept it really simple: “Messy Sky.”

PP: I think it also came to our minds that, usually, a magazine would be printed in one place, but we wanted to decentralize that and try to make printing the whole thing elsewhere possible. The only specification is that the issues’ 50 pages must be printed on 80-gsm A4 paper which is standard. If you have that, you can print the issue and it would fit the binders we were sending.

ME: Just to clarify, it was the two of you and Thakol working on the first few issues. Is that right?

CK: Yes, Thakol helped in terms of giving ideas and building things.

Mary Pansanga (MP): He would later make all the furniture. He was also the one who designed the Window Project.

PP: Thakol’s practice is quite complex. He makes furniture and he is also a painter.

CK: He studies traditional Thai and Japanese methods in woodworking and he would often say something like he sees a parallel between painting and woodworking. We worked with him and he is really precise in terms of production. With the wooden binders, he made them specifically for 50 pages of 80-gsm A4 paper. If you put 90-gsm, it will get stuck. That is really a Thakol kind of thing; he’s very precise. The paper is kind of a reproduction of our content — something really loose and organic — whereas Thakol’s binder is really precise and rigid. Those two came together and that was a main idea for Messy Sky.

ME: That's very poetic.

CK: It's poetic but, at the same time, we were concerned about the economic side. 

PP: Basically, we wanted to highlight that you didn't need to print at all. It's a PDF so you can read it online. If you like it, you can buy the [wooden binder] to help us, but you can also find other wood.

Audience members posing during the opening reception for Kornkrit Jianpinidnan's show "deep yellow, magenta, violet, ultramarine... almost blue" at Messy Project Space, 22 September 2012.

"Dig" by Nontawat Numbenchapol at Messy Project Space, 2012.


ME: How did it evolve? Since you mentioned economics and how your thinking was influenced by the limitations of your resources, how did you start thinking about opening Messy Project Space or Messy Shop?

CK: That was Tho's idea. When we started doing this project, I thought we were not going to do a proper space and we were not going to do something mobile. But then Tho got this space in Tanao Road — which was Gallery VER’s former space — that he turned into his studio at first. 

PP: Yeah. VER had moved out from the riverside space to 194 Tanao road where Messy Shop would later open. The place was actually rented under my name so when VER suddenly left, the space went back to me. 

During the production for the pilot issue, there was a big flood in Thailand. The flood in my house was around 120 centimeters high so my wife and I had to flee. We moved all of our T-shirt printing [equipment] — which was only one machine but a big one — to that space. We worked on the ground floor and slept on the second floor. After the flood was gone, we moved the machine back so it became an empty space.

At first, we didn’t want to have a space as we didn’t want to show anybody, but I decided to make the space available for the community. We only had a table, some documents, and books and people could come and have coffee. We put some stuff on the wall but we didn’t sell anything in the beginning.

CK: We just wanted to have a place where we could work together, talk, share, and invite more people to join us. Even with Messy Sky Magazine and its format, everything was shared; it was distributed on the internet and it featured not just our work as we always work with other people like Yoann and Élodie, whom we worked with for all four issues, all of which were launched at Le Plateau in Paris. The idea was all about exchange, conversations, and being mobile.

When Tho said he would like to open a shop, we talked about it and we kind of translated the idea behind Messy Sky to Messy Shop. We thought that, “Okay, if we're going to sell some things, that means we will have some earnings and we can do other things.” That was the basic idea: we just wanted to survive and do what we like. 

PP: We asked Thakol and a number of friends if we could print their works on T-shirts and sell them, and then they could get a share from the sale. But it didn't go so well.

CK: Financially.

PP: But a lot of people came and the shop would be quite crowded once in a while. It was a tight, little space but it was very casual. I actually met a lot of younger artists there. 

CK: And also, because we are artists who like to work with concepts, we worked with the shop as though it was itself an art material. We treated it the same way we would work with our projects; we applied our artistic practices to the interior of the shop. Many people who came to the space found how we approached the place very interesting. 

Since we were traveling a lot, we started to bring back things from overseas like small editions, prints, and magazines. We wanted to share what we found. Our friends from overseas soon learned about the shop and they started sending us books, prints, photos, etc. 

I think people started to come to Messy Shop because they knew we had a lot of interesting things to offer — not just objects, but the way we work and how we exchange. People came and shared and it became a meeting place. It was successful in that we somehow expanded the discussion in terms of form.

PP: We also had a number of solo shows featuring young artists like Art [Tanatchai Bandasak] and Ble [Nontawat Numbenchapol]. They’re now making really strong work. I remember that this became a place where everybody would just come and hang out, and go drinking and karaoke after.

CK: Also, the reason why we started having exhibitions was because people kept asking, "Can we have a show here?" We thought that if they wanted to do something, they had to do it at the shop — they would have to interpret the shop and integrate their works in it. Eventually, we started calling the shop “Messy Project Space.” Then we started doing exhibitions in between the floors, in the storage where the ceiling was really low, and we called that “Space ½.” I think Art was the first to do a show there.

The reason we didn’t want to make a proper space was because we’ve never been proper anyway. So, if you want to have a show, you can just do it anywhere. We had many interesting exhibitions there like Nontawat [Numbenchapol] and how he played with the space with the way he positioned his projector. The last show we had there was Julius Köller. [2]

Maitri Chit space, 2015.

"project advice no01" discussion with Richard MacDonald and May Adadol Ingawanij at Cloud, 25 April 2015.


CK: We had the Tanao Road space for a little over a year before we moved to Maitri Chit in Chinatown. We were asked if we would like to use the space, so we discussed it and we decided to use it as a window display; people could look from outside and they wouldn’t have to go in. That was the main idea behind Window Project. Later on, we proposed to Mary if she would like to use the space so she started the Cloud project. 

That’s how all the projects are connected. Looking back, it wasn’t really progressing in that we had to go from here to there rather, we worked with what we had around and we shared it. In a way, everything’s still Messy Sky.

PP: When the first space closed because we ran out of money, we didn’t find the new place. We didn’t ask for it. When we got the offer, we still talked about it. We actually didn’t want it as we were scared of having a space.

CK: We were also working on our own projects so we were traveling a lot at the time.

PP: Yeah, but we still decided to use the space because it was free. That district is lively at night so we would just put everything up and people walking by would see through the window. We did that for about a year but we eventually turned over the space to Mary.

MP: Because Chitti got a residency in Berlin.

CK: I went to Berlin for one year and then we had a live edition of Messy Sky in Berlin, during the Berlin Art Book Fair at Café Moskau. But the first live edition of Messy Sky was at the Scala Theatre in Bangkok. The idea was to have that kind of performative aspect because we were already working through the internet and, normally, we would store the file somewhere where others could download it. For the live edition, we invited participants to send words directly to the printer at the location and it would be immediately printed out. It was like a waterfall.

PP: They fell in front of the entrance to the screening hall so they just got dirty. Mary also curated a show there.

CK: She curated a show in a room next to the screening hall and it was parallel to the Messy Sky’s Live at the Scala edition. We did things like that; we would just bring more and more. For me, it's all about sharing. It's not just me working and curating a space but the space is shared, we share ideas, and we try to know what's going on in the world.

ME: How and when did Mary get involved in Messy?

CK: During Messy Shop, Mary came back from England.

MP: I went to study in the UK in 2009. Before that, I was given an opportunity by P’jeab [Gridthiya Gaweewong] to start my first project in the art scene with David Teh for the 5th Bangkok Experimental Film Festival (BEFF) in 2008 which we launched at Gallery VER. I knew P’Tho and other artists through David. I only worked for like a year and a half before going to the UK and then I came back around late 2011 or 2012.

I had a chance to work with Chitti for his exhibition “Temporary Storage #01” (2012) at the Bangkok Art and Culture Centre (BACC). He was a curator for that show and he was looking for an assistant. I really wanted to work with him so I approached him.

ME: What was the transition to Cloud like? Was Tho and Joe actively involved in Cloud?

MP: I don't remember exactly but I think that was around 2014. It was a very important time for me because I never imagined that I would run a space, but they were generous enough to give me the chance so I took that opportunity. I had never run a space before so I didn’t know how to do it; I just adopted their idea of running things organically.

After the first few months, P’Joe left for Berlin but we still kept in touch online. He would often check up on what was going on. P’Tho was flying everywhere so he would come and go all the time, but he would still contribute as much as he could every time he was there. So, I still had support from this group.

I didn’t have a proper plan, but then I started including things that I was more interested in showing like programs related to moving images. I also started to do some exhibitions and workshops. At that time, I started meeting a lot of younger artists from different universities because I was also a guest lecturer then. So, whenever I had an event, I would invite them. 

It was more of an organic approach in that, for example, if I had friends who knew someone coming from abroad, since normally we would all just hang out, I started asking, “Would you be interested in giving a talk or doing some small session?” It was a chance for people, especially students, to get to know them. 

DZ: Since you no longer had Messy Shop then, how did you sustain Window Project and Cloud?

PP: We didn’t have costs to pay so we just played with this structure.

MP: Not having to pay rent helped me a lot. Running projects would still use a bit of money but it depends per show. P’Tho contributed in the beginning and he bought a projector because I was doing quite a lot of screenings while some friends lent us speakers. There were also electricity and water bills and production costs. Some artists would also help with the installation fees. Everyone was helping each other and it was very much like I was running this space with generous people who cared for each other.

Some exhibitions got support from the Japan Foundation. I would also collaborate with other organizations so I would get support from time to time. It really depends on the project. 

PP: Mary's more organized than us and she knows how to find the support so we kind of learned from her as well.

ME: How did you get the space?

CK: It was from Nopadon Kaosam-ang, co-owner of About Café. He was lending this building as storage and then, one day, he was thinking of stopping the lease so he asked if anyone wanted to do anything there. I asked Mary and everybody, “Would you like to do anything? Someone offered me space for free.” I didn’t want it but I hadn’t told the person that.

DZ: For how long did you have the space?

MP: Two years? A year and a half? The owner asked me to return the space because he wanted to do something there.

PP: Do you think you had it long enough?

MP: It was a good amount of time. Had I gone longer than that, I would have ran out of money. I still consider it an ongoing project because maybe it could change and transform into something else. That's why I chose the name Cloud, so that I can think of it as a project rather than a space. I think Art helped me with the name. The initial idea was to find a word to describe something flexible, that can shift and change, because I didn’t know how long I could use the space and how I was going to run it and so Art came up with “cloud.” I also like the idea that clouds can gather and dissolve, they can form and give you rain; sometimes it gives you a bad time but it can also give you a nice time. It kind of relates to Messy Sky quite nicely. Hopefully, in the future, I might bring Cloud back up again but I don't know in which form.

"Ghost Track" exhibition by Thakol Khaosa-ad at Cloud, August 2015.

Opening of "the air of familiarity" exhibition at Cloud, 6 February 2015.


ME: What are your thoughts about the ending?

PP: I didn't feel it end so...

MP: It's a break.

PP: It's not at the point of ending. It's like as long as we keep doing something, then it’s still alive. It’s just like a chapter rather than the whole story. We’re just finding a way to put it into a new shape that corresponds to our very complicated situation right now. Everyone is facing it but, as artists, this is also a critical moment to think about how we could still contribute something during this hard time and what could be its shape or format.

MP: For me, I think it’s more like a relationship that I have with P’Tho, P’Joe, and other people. So, talking about the project ending is like saying my relationship with them has ended which it has not. I still hang out and do other projects with them. As P’Tho mentioned, it’s more like it just ended physically, in that kind of form, but it could still continue in another form. The spirit continues. For me, it will never end.

CK: Once in a while, we would have ideas and we would talk about Messy Sky but it hasn't been realized yet.

PP: We're still kind of scared of having a space. 

CK: I read David say somewhere that artist-run spaces are supposed to die. But for me, it’s not that we wanted to die — we just had reasons to stop in one form. For myself at the moment, I think it’s very important to investigate, look back, and find a new way to work because I realized that, in the last few years, working in contemporary art is kind of unrealistic. I don’t have money but when I want to do an exhibition, I want to do a lot of things. The production costs and everything is too high. If people stopped supporting us financially, we couldn’t do much. So now, I’m just thinking about how to do something without all that, something similar to what Messy Sky was doing or what I was doing in the ‘90s. I realized that maybe I just got lost in this system where you have this kind of goal that you have to reach like, “This is contemporary art, this material, this working method,” but it’s all so costly that living becomes impossible

I was discussing this with younger artists last week and a few of them felt and thought the same. These material and technical standards are just so far away, so we were thinking of finding different ways to work, survive, and live happily. It’s so difficult now — socially, culturally, and economically — in Thailand. We have to adjust to the new normal which is not just the disease but the system. So, for me, there is no real end; it’s just a break. We have to keep going for another method.

Sau Bin Yap (SBY): If I may offer this analogy, I think it’s interesting that, when talking about shifting forms from Messy Sky to Window to Cloud, there’s a sort of feeling that the whole thing is actually like a body of water molecules. You don't stop but you keep on changing form from fluid to solid to different types of shapes and forms depending on the situation. As water, you both embrace and push things around, draw people in and create relationships.

I'm interested in thinking about this intergenerational relationship that spread from the '90s until now — as you pointed out, the generation of About Café, Project 304, and then to Messy and how it is now passing the idea or spirit to Mary and Sangnual Lap or Tokyo Hot for example. Is there evidence that the idea of doing artist-run spaces or things like that is actually spreading even more widely than you guys noticed? These kinds of ideas that we spread to a lot of people, especially younger artists, that we don’t realize actually takes shape and form in them say, ten years down the road? I was just wondering what the scenario is like particularly in Bangkok or Thailand, if you compare the ‘90s to now; is it up and down? Or do you think it spreads in a different way?

PP: I don't know. For me, right after graduating, I briefly worked with VER so I got to meet Rirkrit and Chitti. Later on, we tried to make a space and then we met Mary’s generation and the one after like the founders of Sangnual Lap or Tokyo Hot.

Maybe sitting silently, listening to [Chitti] and Rirkrit talk about some crazy stuff, many of us just learned things like, “Oh, okay, you can make this kind of magazine that people — including us — don't understand.” Everything was loose and it gave you a chance to put the pages together. This was the idea: the platform. If you think that something is there, you can find something for yourself, and then continue. 

We didn’t know where we were going or what we wanted to achieve. Until now, we just respond to the reality of the chapter we are in and try to engage other people. That was probably our goal.

CK: I believe that our space was a platform for discussion or exchange. It has been like that since the ‘90s. We shared our assets: the space, the opportunities, etc. We were trying to create a stronger network and community for artists because, in Thailand, there is no sustainable support for younger artists. It’s really hard for artists who want to have freedom in terms of work and approach, so when we started doing something like that, a lot came. I think it is important for people from different generations to come, talk, and check up on each other. It was all just about chatting, creating, and sharing; we shared ideas and everyone shared it with others. I think that moves everything forward; it is not just because of us, but because of the participants, our friends, and everyone who came and joined us. 

When I was working with About Café, I never realized the kind of impact it would have on the art scene. Around ten years after About Café, we asked people to write letters and Orawan Arunrak said that although I didn’t ask her, she wanted to write me a letter. I learned from that letter that when she was very young, she would walk past About Café every day because she lived nearby and she would see that there was something happening inside. She was not really part of the audience but was almost part of it. Nonetheless, that and a lot of the things that we did had an impact on her.

Some people said that what we have done before at About Café in terms of the energy goes beyond the group of founders. For Messy Sky, I think even though we no longer work on our project, there are now others which are similar. Then again, it has been less than ten years so I can’t say much about its effect in a larger context, but from what I have heard from the younger generation, I realized that it had quite an effect.

PP: I think for Messy Sky, it’s less about the effect than the impact: it's short but impactful. If you were there, you felt it and you were a part of it. It’s just like going to a cool concert; it happens once and then it's gone.


[1] Chitti later brought up that Project 304 was started by Gridthiya Gaweewong and a few others around the same time so About Studio / About Café wasn't the only space then. He also recalled that, “The key focus of About Studio / About Café was to provide support, especially financial, for art production. We encouraged artists, designers, architects, performance artists, DJs, writers, and filmmakers to join conversations at our space.”

[2] “Operation UFO: The Exhibition of Julius Köller's Oeuvre” from 18 January to 28 February 2013.

The online interview took place on 2 October 2020. This interview was edited for length and clarity.


Chitti Kasemkitvatana is an artist and an independent curator who lives in Bangkok. His works explore the expansive concept of art as social practice, a sphere of enabling, a domain of encounter, a network, and free space. Artistic, curatorial and publishing work all have an equal footing within these parameters; the boundaries between spheres are fluid. Through his involvement with independent projects such as About Studio / About Café as a curator, VER Magazine as co-editor along with Rirkrit Tiravanija, and Messy Sky as co-founder and co-editor, he has made significant contributions to the Thai art community. A recipient of a DAAD residency in Berlin in 2014, he has recently been included in group exhibitions at Centre Pompidou, Paris; FUTURA Centre for Contemporary Art, Prague; and Silpakorn University, Bangkok.

Pratchaya Phinthong lives and works in Bangkok. His works often arise from the confrontation between different social, economic, or geographical systems and are the result of a dialogue, bringing all their poetic forces from an almost invisible artistic gesture. His recent solo exhibitions include “Pratchaya Phinthong” at gb agency, Paris; “Sleeping Sickness” at Centre d’Art Contemporain, Rennes (both 2012); “Give More Than You Take” at GAMeC (Galeria d’Arte Moderna e Contemporanea), Bergamo (2011) and CAC Brétigny (2010). His recent group exhibitions include “Materials, Money and Crisis” at MUMOK, Vienna; “I Know You” at the Irish Museum of Modern Art, Dublin (both 2013); dOCUMENTA (13), Kassel; “The Ungovernables” at New Museum Triennial, New York; “Modern Monsters / Death and Life of Fiction” at Taipei Biennial (all 2012); “Until it Makes Sense” at Kadist Art Foundation, Paris; and “How to Work (More for) Less” at Kunsthalle Basel (both 2011).

Mary Pansanga is an independent curator working across cinema and contemporary art contexts, institutions, and spaces. Her interests lie in exploring different forms of experimental moving images. She has put together screenings, exhibitions and other related projects, at art spaces and film festivals. Her projects include “Extracting the Unrecognized” (2013) as part of Messy Project Space, "Live at the Scala" micro festival, In Transit (2013) at the Art Center, Chulalongkorn University, the 5th and the 6th editions of the Bangkok Experimental Film Festival, “Misfits: Pages from a Loose Leaf Modernity,” HKW Berlin (2017), and “In Situ from Outside: Reconfiguring the Past in between the Present,” National Museum, Bangkok (2019). She is a founder of Cloud, a platform for education and open-ended dialogue in Bangkok.


Right People, Wrong Timing (RPWT) is a series of texts on defunct or inactive independent Asian arts initiatives that had crossed paths or ran parallel to Papaya’s own 20-year history. With new posts every Friday from August to December 2020, RPWT is kindly supported through a local grant by the Japan Foundation Manila.