ANDREA LISSONI You’re currently back in Bangkok, your native city, working on a new video and performance triennial which you’ve initiated, and of which you will co-curate the first edition this fall, “Ghost:2561” (2561 being the Buddhist calendar year for 2018.) Can you tell me a little bit about it?
KORAKRIT ARUNANONDCHAI I started this project with my friend Op Sudasna, who runs a gallery called Bangkok CityCity. Ghost will exhibit work by eleven artists across six venues, four performances plus film screenings and a series of talks. The idea of taking the “ghost” as starting point came out of my own research as an artist, my own relationship towards spirituality and animism. It stemmed from growing up in a post-war Thailand where there’s a strong emphasis on Buddhist consciousness, perhaps in part as an anti-communist propaganda. Thailand was defining itself to the West as this sort of spirited land. So what I am trying to address with “Ghost” is this dichotomy of (Eastern) spirituality and (Western) technology.
I was trying to think of “ghosts” as a body of knowledge that is held together through collective subjectivities that passed through time—something very human that remains and can be used as a tool for storytelling. This loop happens between the construction of imagination and self-representation. I’m interested in these sort of in-between spaces. I’ve been traveling quite a bit in Northern Thailand, the Golden Triangle where Thailand, Burma and Laos meet—a gray area in the forest where national identity melts. It happened to also be the same area as the cave where the thirteen kids got stuck.
AL Speaking of ghosts and caves, I cannot avoid to think of Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives, the 2010 film by Apichatpong Weerasethakul, which ends with the protagonist’s last drips of life draining away in a cave. I’m curious about how you’re tracking back this field.
KA This story about the boys in the cave has so many intersecting layers and readings. The military has been in control in Thailand for four years, and they’ve been promising an election, which is supposed to happen next February. So when this incident with the kids happened, it also became a really great opportunity of rebranding—this sort of hero narrative. Then there’s the fact that half the team are stateless people, who had crossed from Burma and essentially have no nationality. Also, there is a conspiracy theory because people say there’s a lot of drug smuggling through the channels of the cave, which provides this other layer of complication. It’s like—some of what they’ve been telling us is probably true, a lot of it is probably not. But what’s interesting is just the fact that it’s such a gray area. Spirituality is in fact really gray and things twist and turn and become other things. It’s in a constant state of becoming.
AL You are not following the typical path that a filmmaker would—researching, scouting locations, visiting sites, observing, and then finally months after, sometimes years after, shooting. Do you have any idea on how, if at all, this story will become part of your new work?
KA I’m not sure yet. As you know in my practice, every work feeds off of the previous one. I have characters that I or other people play. There’s a combination of documentary-like footage and set-up performances or rituals staged for the camera.
My latest video, Painting with History in a Room Filled with People with Funny Names 4 (2017), is built around the idea of a breath that remains post- human consciousness. I started thinking how at this time in the Anthropocene, we have this limitation or sort of lack of imagination where we are really unable to empathize towards other natural beings or systems. The problem is you can never escape the human lens. For example, I was talking to this PhD student at Yale who specializes in soils. He told me about this study by a Canadian plant scientist, who realized that there is a chemical exchange happening, deep down at the level of the roots, between the trees on the entire surface of the Earth. If you zoom out and look at this pattern and anthropomorphize it, it’s essentially like a human brain, as if all the trees were communicating.