The incredible canals (a late Bangkok post)

One of the strong images I keep of Bangkok is the black water of the canals. Seen from far, the water is so dark it looks heavy and almost perfectly mirrors the communities who live along the edges as if it was a solid surface and it’s actually a beautiful sight (from far). It is also reminding me of crude oil, and an installation of Richard Wilson at the Saatchi Gallery. The connection is probably just a visual one, but something unsettling about both.

From close the problem gets clear through the breath-taking odour; the pollution is obviously severe (at Saatchi you can actually go waist deep safely and unpolluted). We were told the BMA is planning to “flush” the canals by pushing water through and catching all the things that might be down there at sift-type gates that are to be installed. In Bang Kehn this is supposed to happen after the communities have all moved one step back onto land, but some have been part of Baan Mankong for 10 years before they were ready to build. Before, the pollution and proposed cleaning of the canals actually triggered the mobilisation of some communities and gave them negotiating power as the protectors and not the polluters of the canal; Bang Bua Canal community even financed the boat with which they showed us around by collecting the rubbish and selling the recyclable pieces. Pathways are now being built along the edges; they unite the communities spatially, make a firm edge for cleaning but also cause new evictions.

The canals are connecting Bangkok as a larger organism; only the city doesn’t seem to be able to act to save it.

(Image of Robert Wilson installation accessed on

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