I certainly don’t pretend to be a visual artist, nor an expert on artistic interpretation. But I do feel lucky to even have been in the position to compare The White Temple, Wat Rong Khun, with Black House, Baan Dam. There’s an obvious contrast between the modern, stunningly whitewashed architecture, out in the open for all to view, and the dark, eerie wooden structures nestled precociously at the edge of a small Thai village. The divergence even exists from a geographical standpoint, Black House being located in the opposite direction from Chiang Rai than the White Temple. Finding the random back alley that would take us there, right off of a multi-lane highway, was an adventure, one which Teresa really came through when it came to trying to communicate with locals who could help direct us. After missing the turn back and forth a couple of times, we finally found our way to another site that left us in awe.
The structure loomed over us as we approached, an intense, indescribable presence that consumed the atmosphere. The site easily provoked my rampant imagination, but in actuality, I didn’t know what to expect as my eyes darted about. It isn’t just this one building, either. There are several more, some with little in the way of outer walls, all boasting a variety of fascinating collections. Collections of python skins, shark jaws, and other preserved anatomy placed in a range of unconventional positions.
It was certainly a different feel than Wat Rong Khun; not just the architecture, but the ambiance. With far fewer tourists, there exists a calm quiet that’s more serene than it is unsettling. There’s a musty oldness to the buildings’ interiors that put me in a nostalgic mood, like I was experiencing a lasting memory of what once lived, now just remains. The underlying theme may seem chilling, but I see it as a confrontation, or willingness to accept, the fate of all living things. The display is bold, unrelenting, but not off-putting in the least. I don’t know if the artist, Thawan Duchanee, intended it this way, I can only speak for the energy I got from wandering the grounds and examining the display. Nevertheless, the work he’s done is evidently brilliant, undoubtedly thought-provoking. Having struggled with more than one instance of death in my young life, it’s been an ongoing philosophical focal point, a conversation that sometimes quiets but never ceases. Between extreme pillars are a spectrum of thought and belief on the topic. Visiting Baan Dam, Black House, has given me an additional perspective to consider.