As part of the Exhibition Histories series published by Afterall, this book presents a critical examination of the landmark alternative public art and culture festival Chiang Mai Social Installation (1992–98). Initiated by artists, the projects or works in this series of festivals were mostly performance-based, site-specific and attuned to the socio-political contexts of its time. The term ‘social installation’ not only provides a framework for understanding the diverse artistic articulations of political dissent in the 1990s in Chiang Mai, it also offers an expanded notion of art and its publics. It is timely to revisit such experimental festivals in order to reflect on the ways in which the ecologies of art may exist outside the ambit of the market and consumer culture.
Self-organizing platforms like CMSI (Chiang Mai Social Installation) may not laid explicit claim to premodern or pre-national models; and perhaps their initiators did not ultimately escape the professional and discursive orbit of the nation. But they did manage to communicate local experience to a much larger world, finding palpable sympathies and even solidarities, artist to artist, outside the order of national representation. They were thus able to articulate and renew a fundamental promise of contemporary art, even if they could not fulfill it- that despite the unkept promises of the modern, art might still be a vehicle of progressive social and aesthetic transformation.