Chiang Mai

The Land Foundation

Finding Tao at a living art project

Cliché as it may sound, it all started on a rainy November morning in Berlin. I met April at a café for breakfast to discuss further stories for Sibylle.Life. We spoke of our plans for the New Year, and I mentioned that I would spend a few weeks in northern Thailand. For many years, I have been fascinated with the philosophy of Taoism, and Thailand is abundant with philosophers and teachers.

It was a moment of synchronicity when April told me about a place she had been writing about: “Something that was not an art project, per se” and happened to be located in the Chiang Mai area—only an hour from the little village where I often stay. She handed me its booklet, which had beautiful jungle green letters that spelled out, Do We Dream Under The Same Sky?

I had to go.

Weeks later and following a significant change in setting—including temperature, outfit, and mood—I found myself with my friend, Charlotte, in a car driving through the middle of nowhere, Thailand. This terrain is frequently referred to by tourists as “same-same but different,” as it all seems the same at first glance. There are rice fields, banana trees, the foothills of the Himalayan Mountains, more rice fields, more banana trees—you get the picture.

The Land is so remote that we had to be accompanied by a guide to find it. One of its caretakers, Mr. Dong, found us en route and led the way on his sporty motorbike.

Entering The Land, at first we weren’t really impressed. As I said earlier: same-same but different. But our initial image of the place would soon acquire increasing complexity. Coincidentally, the only other guests there were from Hamburg. Two artists and a philosopher all from my hometown? Now, it was getting a bit strange.

What they were doing seemed even stranger. There was one gentleman sitting in a dingy in one of the small ponds; he delicately moved among the lily pads, scooping out leaves with a butterfly net. Some young women were doing the same from the shore. Overhead, a large tree was replacing the leaves as quickly as the guests could collect them. I had one thought: “This is as dull as can be.”

But speaking with the net-wielding gentleman—philosopher, Harald Lemke, who often writes about the relationships between food, culture, and society—turned out to be a truly Taoist experience. Harald explained that it was the task itself that mattered. That in this moment, scooping leaves was the most important thing. He performed the task simply for the task’s sake.

I had found true Tao in the most unlikely place … or was it?

Harold and his friends were there upon invitation from Rirkrit Tiravanija, who co-initiated The Land in 1998 with fellow artist, Kamin Lertchaiprasert. Harold encouraged us to take a tour of the premises with Mr. Dong. Though we started out with little expectation, we would soon be amazed.

As Charlotte and I explored The Land, we encountered a myriad of odd-looking buildings, many elevated on stilts. We wondered aloud about their purpose and origin, and Mr. Dong eagerly explained each structure’s intended use. We discovered that most of them, though free of modern amenities such as electricity or plumbing, were intended as dwellings and were built by various artists from around the world. We learned that The Land was intended as a place for social engagement, cultural and artistic activities and exchange, and natural farming. The veils were beginning to lift.

In a nutshell, the idea of The Land is to provide a self-sustaining environment where all may come and create, or simply be. The Land invites the neighboring as well as the global community to interact with each other.

With a new perspective, renewed spirits, and a feeling of connection with these creators, we continued our tour. We saw the “Battery House” (2003), a collaborative project between French architect, Francois Roche, and artist, Philippe Parreno. The long, undulating structure has served as a general meeting place, hosting various communal activities including cooking lessons (a favorite creation was fish sauce ice cream).

Rising above a rice paddy like a spaceship is the eight-pointed “Jürgenson/KREV Star House” (2004-5) by Swedish sound artist, Carl Michael von Hausswolff.

More recently, Norwegian artist and fashion writer, Hilde Marstrander, constructed “Disc Land” (2015), a dome-shaped igloo-like shelter tiled with over a thousand CDs (to scare off birds), most of which had been donated by Warner Music.

We also discovered that the cozy “(Two of us) Pavilion” (2015) by Italian artist, Daniele Geminiani, is actually a distillery for rice whiskey produced from rice grown on the premises, and created in collaboration with two men from different ethnic communities in northern Thailand.

These pieces were in the care of their creator, and each creator had chosen to leave it as-is, to be altered by nature.

On our way out, Charlotte spotted a group of puppies and Mr. Dong told her a short story that reflected a much larger picture. Some neighbors, who had been invited to fish in one of the ponds, decided to sneak in at night and steal even more fish. In an archaic mode of thinking, Mr. Dong employed two dogs to guard the pond. The dogs, however, channeling the spirit of The Land and its philosophy, were very accepting and didn’t bark at anyone, and instead loved one another dearly. So much, in fact, that now The Land hosts a family of seven dogs.

By the end of our tour, my mind was filled with the many versions of reality that The Land so freely invites people to explore, create, and cultivate. I saw how my perception of rules and working together were mine and mine alone, while simultaneously my thoughts and actions made a difference to others. What Utopia means to others is real; what it means to me is just as solid. The question is: “Do We Dream Under The Same Sky?”

The Land Foundation
48 Moo 1, T.Banmae
Chiang Mai 50120


Photos by Sibylle and courtesy The Land.