Jane DeBevoise (JD): Hello, my name is Jane DeBevoise and I am chair of Asia Art Archive. Tonight, we are delighted to have Korakrit Arunanondchai here to talk about his work. But first the house rules. For those of you who haven’t attended one of these events, our speakers are asked to present their projects for 20 minutes, followed by a 20 minute Q and A, and then more discussion downstairs. So now my colleague Xiaofei Mo will introduce Korakrit.
Xiaofei Mo (XM): Thank you Jane. I first came across Korakrit’s work on the Internet. I was so impressed that I emailed Jane immediately to say that I thought that we should arrange a talk. Born in Bangkok, Thailand, Korakrit earned his BFA from the Rhode Island School of Design in 2009 and his MFA from Columbia University in 2012. Since 2011 he has been working on a trilogy project, which comprises videos, denim paintings, installations, performances, re-performances, and a lot of collaborations. We are thrilled to have Korakrit here tonight to discuss his practice. Without further ado, over to you, Krit…
Korakrit Arunanondchai (KA): Thank you Xiaofei. I have been working since 2011 on a video trilogy project. It started when I went to Columbia to study with Rikrit Taravinijia who I had interned for. We had a pretty interesting studio visit at the end of my first year, when he said, ‘you should try and be a Thai artist’ [laughter]. Saying this, he was thinking about the context of where I am from and the politics there and how it would be if I went back one day and showed my work there. So I went back to Thailand in the summer of 2011 and was the annoying guy with the camera who shot a lot of stuff. There I did a number of projects. For example, when I was in middle school I went to this all-boys Christian school where I got beat up by this teacher. So I did a project where I went back and interviewed him about manhood. I have just been recording everything in that manner ever since — the documentation of my life juxtaposed with art interventions and performances and popular culture.
This is an installation from my thesis project at Columbia. It is called 2012-2555 and it’s the first in the trilogy. It is a half-replica of a standard Thai funeral, [and explores] the binary of 2012 being the end of the world and 2555 being the year 2012 on the Buddhist calendar.
It was also a really big collaboration with my ex-girlfriend, and my family in Thailand, specifically my grandfather and my grandmother. At the end of 2011, there was a flood in Thailand and that was what this project was about too…sort of a real version of what the end of the world would look like, the spiraling down of natural disasters, and not a single point of destruction…
The second video is called 2556. In short, I graduated and went to this residency called Skowhegan which had the ultimate American, in-the-woods, summer camp feel, but it was also a really ideal place to go make art. It was very romantic, set in nature, swimming in this lake every day. There were also amazing artists around and you were there not just to be yourself but also to collaborate with other artists. So I collaborated with a bunch of people at the summer camp, I mean at the residency [laughter]. This is a document of my time at the residency. The first one is a funeral. The second one is sort of like purgatory.
The second installation is a more deconstructed version of the first work [I showed], in that the performances in the video are re-performed in this space in synch with the video. A recording of this [reperformed performance] is playing in the space on the floor, so you can sit in this elaborated theater space and watch a video while watching a surveillance video. What you see is basically the actions in the video brought out into the space you are in. Does that make sense?
In Skowhegan, I set up the life I am in and the life I would be having in Thailand as two poles, and I make that the context of the work — the in-between space. I needed my connection to Thailand while I was at this camp, so I was going online a lot and going on the Facebook page of this one Thai curator and going through all the things that she posted. [At this time] I came across a TV show called Thailand’s Got Talent and there was this one girl who did body paintings and got in really big trouble. [As it turned out] she was a sex worker who got paid $300 to do the performance. People got mad at her, but it started a cool discussion among the public about ‘what is art?’, ‘what is art now?’, ‘what is contemporary high art?’, ‘what is our relationship to foreign art?’. I thought it was an interesting moment. There is also this guy, a serious Buddhist who is also the richest artist, most monetarily successful artist in Thailand. He is also the most public artist in Thailand, and extremely animated. So basically [during this time] a lot of things started coming together, and in the end it lead me to the conclusion that I should make the body painting…
Here I am singing this Thai song. If I did this performance for the TV show, I would probably not get past the selection committee. This song is by a famous old singer, who sings to his wife that she gets more and more beautiful every day, every year. I have a way of painting paintings. This romantic attitude seems like the right attitude to make paintings… [laughter].
This is the show I did in Brussels at The CLEARING Gallery. These are the body paintings.
There is another project called Painting with history in a room filled with men with funny names. The paintings are bleached denim, set on fire. And then the photo of the fire is printed in life-size and put behind the hole so it is a pun on painting with history. This is a trailer. I work a lot with trailers.
That is the first exhibition of the series. This is the second one. It is called Muen Kuey, the name of the song that I sing when I do the body paintings. These paintings are an installation. Each of these paintings has a DVD with ‘extra footage’ of me making the painting, ‘primary materials.’
It is kind of like treating this whole project as a movie. When you buy the painting, you get 100 copies of the DVD that belongs to each painting. The whole idea is basically that the painting comes with this video object. The writing on the back is the press release that contains the discourse framing the painting. It is shown with the video right here.
Now I want to show you my new project. I am working on a third video and I am combining it with the series so it is also 2,557. It is called Painting with history in a room filled with men with funny names 2. I just had a show in Kansas City and this is the video from that show. I’ll show you the installation photos later, but it functions as a big promotional – the paintings and the mannequins, and there are all these hash tag functions. It’s this one big promotional organism for a movie that doesn’t exist yet.
This is a collaborative video between me and my twin brother. I have a twin in Thailand and he doesn’t look like me at all. You might not know [that he is my twin] from the video but basically the third video is a documentary of me and my twin this summer in Thailand, going on a road trip together to the temple that was built by the famous artist who appeared in my other video. He built a really special temple. We went there and this is the documentation.
JD: Thank you very much Krit. We have a little time for questions…
Christopher Ho (CH): I have so many questions…
KA: Chris was an undergrad teacher of mine and we go way back…
CH: In the best way… The work to me is awkward and funny and biographical and possibly incredibly complex. Krit, in terms of how you started with returning to your identity as a Thai artist, how much of the humor in this – the putting yourself in awkward moments so that people can laugh – how much of that is a calculated – and I mean this in the best way – how much of that is an artistic strategy? How much are you banking on the viewer excusing you because you are alien to that viewer or foreign?
KA: It is pretty calculated. I basically just have a plan of a thing I want to do and right now, it is like I am setting it up…I think people are interested in my work because it boosts up this almost fantastical, exotic artist and that is the function of the video. The last video you saw is just trying to simplify tourism in Thailand. I haven’t really found why I am important to America in another way, as just a young artist living in New York. But in Thailand, I found a greater urgency. People are more conservative there. I don’t know what I am supposed to do here, but in Thailand, the videos are working up to a moment when I present certain things that may be potent there but here would just be received as normal. Does that make sense?
For example, this last project is me doing a show with my twin. This is going to be in a show in London in the spring. It is going to be me trying to combine the body painting from the sex worker in the same space as the Buddhist painting… Having enough video justifies both and makes this connection, and this summer justifies my relevance to Thai culture to the West. Thailand is a big tourist country and Bangkok is the most visited city. I just thought if you come to Thailand, in the same day you might go to the red light district and to a temple. It is like the fabric of tourist Thailand. In a way I am trying to work on that as an artist.
Audience member: I have two questions. One of them is a comment about the exotic vacation. It seems to me that there are very theatrical aspects of your video installations, especially in your graduation work. [It seems that] you are sort of bringing into a quasi-institutional space what could be seen as an aspect of Brooklyn-underground-drug culture. Not to place you in a box, but it seems that there is some kind of inflection point between a sort of exoticized Thai culture and the one that you are now living in in Brooklyn. In the neon paint and in the very mirrored surfaces of Thai temples, there is a vibrancy to the visual landscape that sort of corresponds.
KA: I feel like your relationship to the work is the Brooklyn warehouse party, but the thing I just showed you, that looks to you like the Brooklyn warehouse party, actually exists in like four different places as a different thing. I used to make these crazy neon installations in Providence and have bands play in them. And that thing moved to Brooklyn and became some other thing. Then I started going outside Bangkok and the funerals all look like that. They may be coming from the same ‘starting place’ in culture. All the crazy light, neon stuff [in the footage] exists in different places in different contexts. For me, it is sort of the same thing as using fire. There is some kind of common [denominator]. It can be personal or it can be located in a shared history or memory. Does that answer your question?
Audience member: I have a second question about your use of sound. In videos in general, there is something that registers as not quite typical but is shared across Thai artists and their video work, which is the capturing of sounds like cicadas and birdcalls, lush sounds that I would associate with tropical jungles. Then you also use a very urban or produced sound to signal the switching of scenes. Can you talk about your use of sound?
KA: I really like Apitchapong’s movies, and maybe deep down that is why I did what I did. Maybe it is sort of a director’s thing that no one cares about, but I used the same sound from the ocean and forest from the first video in every single video. It is a technical thing. I can’t record noise that well in my office in Chinatown. So what happens is these videos are done really fast – I literally record these nature sounds and they kind of block off the sounds of the street and the other dialogue. There are many reasons why I use nature sounds but there is also this nice idea where parts of works become other works. That ocean and that forest is really a special place to me.
Audience member: Can you talk about the trailers that you mentioned. Do you make the trailer and the installation at the same time? The trailer seems to exist as its own thing, right?
KA: Usually I do the trailer first. The last thing you just saw…that was just a trailer. I do the trailer first and then the trailer helps me figure out what the movie will be. In this one in particular, I am using the trailer, showing it in shows and performances and then I film these performances and the actual thing is not going to be like that. It is sort of like making a thing and not knowing how to finish it, so I made a trailer with all the information that I had, with the key dialogues and plot (minus the actual content) and then I put it out there and it gets to live and get feedback and then I go make my actual film. A lot of other trailers are sort of a set up for the show. I think you have a press release and you send the trailer out and that is what most people are going to see from the show, along with some photos. So I like the idea of letting the trailer actually conclude the show or for the first one, with the people smoking in the room, it was showing lots of Thai people, but when you go to the actual show, it showed lots of historical white male painters, so it was sort of setting up ideas so that when you go to the actual show, it is not a disappointment, but… a surprise. You think the movie is going to be a certain way and you go to the show and it is something else.
Audience member: Is the trailer actually officially released by the gallery?
KA: They do a press release and it is announced on Facebook. All my videos are online as well on my Vimeo account.
Audience member: I was just wondering how that trailer was embraced or not embraced or distributed …
KA: A press release will come out and it will have a screen shot of the trailer and you can click it and watch it on your iphone and it’s a minute long or whatever…
Audience member: You began by saying that you had a critique with Rikrit Taravanija in which you were told to ‘try and be a Thai artist,’ so I am just wondering if that’s what spurred all this. Does one’s artistry need to be… do you need to be a Thai artist or an Indian artist or a black artist? Does your talent have to have something that validates it?
KA: His comment was basically that before [then] I had been in America for five years, [attending] a very privileged American art school and I had never heard someone call me an ‘other’ until I went to Columbia, you know? [laughter] When I applied to [the program], I was like many of my peers in my generation who are making art relating to the virtual experience of Photoshop, Second Life, the Internet, relating to art and pop culture. That was the kind of work I was making, and I think Rikrit’s thinking was ‘you could do so much more if you actually went back and really looked around.’ Do you know what I mean? He wasn’t telling me to be a Thai artist. He was just telling me to go home and become a monk and look at things and get out of your New York room with your computer and your rap music [laughter]. It wasn’t about becoming an identity artist; it was just about taking more things into your studio to think about… It was the best advice ever.
JD: Well on that note, we are going to leave this room now…[laughter] and continue the conversation. Unfortunately, we are not having Thai food…had I known….
KA: Thank you very much. Just search for my name on Vimeo. All the videos are online and you can watch them and see what I mean…
All videos and images courtesy of the artist.
Transcribed by Daisley Kramer and edited by Jane DeBevoise.
Korakrit Arunanondchai (b. 1986, Bangkok) lives and works in New York and Bangkok. His first solo museum exhibition is currently on view at MoMA PS1 (March 9 – September 14, 2014). He has had several solo exhibitions at CLEARING gallery in New York and Brussels, and has been shown in group exhibitions including ‘High Desert Test Site,’ Joshua Tree (2013); ‘BYTS,’ Stedelijke Museum ‘s- Hertogenbosch (2013); ‘Memonikos,’ Jim Thompson House, Bangkok (2013); and ‘In Practice,’ Sculpture Center, New York (2013). He holds an MFA from Columbia University and a BFA from Rhode Island School of Design.