Take a peek inside Maison Close, the art spot becoming known as Bangkok’s bondage gallery

Photos: Laurel Tuohy/Coconuts (left and center), Maison Close BKK/FB (right)

When you walk into art gallery Maison Close, you don’t know where to look first. Should you check out the dusty softcore girly mags, Japanese schoolgirl videos playing on two small TVs, or the photos of people tied in intricate knots that were obviously shot in the bar.

Photo: Laurel Tuohy/Coconuts
Photo: Laurel Tuohy/Coconuts

As you look more closely at statues in congress or the pagan diagrams on the walls, you wonder if you shouldn’t be averting your eyes altogether. The effect is dizzying and the feeling doesn’t abate once you start talking to owner Stephen Bessac about his place, its habitués, and their niche interests. But everywhere you look, there is something to see.

Photo: Laurel Tuohy/Coconuts
Photo: Laurel Tuohy/Coconuts

Welcome to Maison Close, the gallery cum meetup spot where the city’s shibari bondage aficionados, art lovers, noise music fans, and tattoo connoisseurs meet up to get to know each other, far from the barely-concealed boners and wide-eyed gawking on offer at the city’s two more touristy bondage bars.

Photo: Laurel Tuohy/Coconuts
Photo: Laurel Tuohy/Coconuts

Though Maison, and the tattoo studio above by the same name, is open daily and people can come in to grab a drink and peruse the current show alongside Bessac’s collection of curios, it operates as more of a gallery and event spot than a watering hole. “I think it’s important to have something to drink when you’re looking around, but the bar isn’t the main thing. Bangkok is already full of bars.”

Photo: Laurel Tuohy/Coconuts
Stephen Bessac. Photo: Laurel Tuohy/Coconuts

About the unusual items tucked into every corner, the Parisian Bessac said,“I’m a collector.” He is, of everything from the macabre, to the kitchy, to the kinky. His interests run to old Thailand, bondage, magic, and sex. In much of his collection, the interests intersect, like the pulpy old crime magazines that depict girls, by turn, dolled up or tied up.

Photo: Laurel Tuohy/Coconuts
Photo: Laurel Tuohy/Coconuts

“I don’t like the word edgy, but it’s something different, that might shock people a little.”

Instead of becoming a neighborhood bar, his place is beginning to act more as a center for edgy art and a meeting place for the fledgling young bondage community, thanks to a handful of packed events and Bessac’s own personal interests.

Though he demurs when directly asked if the bar has a bondage theme or reputation, he instead says that the idea evolved naturally because the group needed a place to gather, after being turned away from other venues who didn’t want to be associated in even light bondage play like shibari, an artistic form of Japanese rope bondage.

Photo: Laurel Tuohy/Coconuts
Photo: Laurel Tuohy/Coconuts

The young, hip Thais that flock to his events don’t feel comfortable in the city’s bondage clubs with their high entry fees and a la carte torture menus that invite guests to a consumer transaction rather than a human experience.

Bessac explained the gulf between those places and an actual community. “The difference is that people that are into bondage want to meet other people that are into the same thing. They don’t want to pay someone for whom it’s a job. Most of the people working in those places are not into bondage. They learn it, and I’m sure a few of them enjoy it, but for most of them, they are just getting paid, which isn’t interesting. In the fetish scene, people want to meet someone interesting, maybe tie someone up, maybe find someone to tie them up, and it will be just two passionate people — not a paying exchange.”

Photo: Laurel Tuohy/Coconuts
Photo: Laurel Tuohy/Coconuts

He’s also careful to avoid the term BDSM in his discussion of Maison, since he stresses that it’s an art gallery and the exhibitions they’ve shown on the topic and events they’ve held are soft core in nature.

Regarding the theme, he directed attention toward the name instead, an old-fashioned French term for a brothel. When coming up with a concept, he noted loving the feeling that still exists in parts of old town, where Maison is located, “you know like opium dens and brothels. So opening in this area, I wanted to have some fun with it.”

Photo: Laurel Tuohy/Coconuts
Photo: Laurel Tuohy/Coconuts

And he has. With its red lanterns outside and lurid red fluorescent lights inside, out-there decor, and eye peeking through a keyhole logo, it’s meant to arouse the mind if not the body, depending on personal preferences.

But he also noted that “it’s just a bit of fun, playing with a theme as much as directly having one.”

Photo: Laurel Tuohy/Coconuts
Photo: Laurel Tuohy/Coconuts

When he opened the doors nearly a year ago, he thought he might run the place as a bar with a regular crowd, but over time, he’s started to think the booze makes the art less important, drawing conversation from what’s on the walls.

The gallery has shown some edgy work over the last year, but much of it is far from the bondage themes that the place seems to have become known for. They’ve shown war photography and calligraphy but it’s the erotic shows, like Pokchat Worasub’s This is Not Cute, in May, and the shibari photography show, Rope Seduction, by Thanit Kg, that just came off the walls last week, that seem to have become their hallmark.

Photo: Maison Close BKK/FB (right)
Photo: Maison Close BKK/FB

Their next opening on Friday features Montreal artist and musician Death Orgone (aka Frederick Maheux) and his show Flesh Intolerance, which is on brand for Maison as far as being highly edgy, but takes the sexuality aspect to a new level. He told Coconuts about his collage works, much of the materials for which were sourced from old medical books.

“Flesh Intolerance is inspired by notions of transhumanism and accelerationism where the human flesh, our natural physical envelope, is a curse rather than something to cherish, an obstacle that needs to be destroyed so we can achieve a faster evolutionary process. Flesh Intolerance is a visual meditation illustrating what this process could involve.”

Photo: Death Orgone
Photo: Death Orgone

Speaking on sex and death, he noted the connection between the two: “A huge part of [the equation] that’s often left aside is the fact that sexuality always carries the risk of reproduction and diseases (beside certain BDSM practices). But this aspect has an erotic and lethal charge that I always end up integrating into my work.”

For those interested in seeing shibari, Maison Close will host an event on Halloween.

 

FIND IT:

Flesh Intolerance Opening Party
Maison Close
397 Charoenkrung Soi 45
Friday, 6pm-12am (gallery is open daily 3pm-midnight)
BTS Saphan Taksin

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