Native Land

A solo exhibition by Thai artist Apichatpong Weerasethakul

‘Native Land’

『Phantoms of Nabua』2009 ©Apichatpong Weerasethakul courtesy of SCAI THE BATHHOUSE

Memories can’t be seen with the eye, but they can be reflected in images. I’m not talking about spirit photography. I’m talking about the Thai independent film director and artist Apichatpong Weerasethakul.

Although his films aren’t aimed for general release at cinemas, Apichatpong’s work is highly acclaimed on the international scene, and he has been awarded a myriad of prizes at film festivals including Cannes. For some years he has also been exhibited at galleries around the world, which has offered another conduit through which to bring his work into the public eye.

The short film ‘Emerald,’ shown at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Tokyo’s 2007 exhibition ‘Space for your Future,’ portrayed an infinite number of feathers floating around an empty bedroom. Another work of his, ‘My Mother’s Garden’, used the motifs of precious jewels and flowers to reveal a series of sensuous images when it was screened at the BankART Studio NYK as part of the 2009 Cream International Festival for Arts and Media, Yokohama.

His latest solo exhibition is showing at Nezu’s ‘SCAI the Bathhouse.’

The exhibit is divided into two main areas, the first being a collection of works that form a part of his recent ‘Primitive’ project. The pieces are set against the background of Nabua, a town which casts a tragic shadow over the history of Thailand. The exhibition is centred on the video ‘Phantoms of Nabua’ which uses the inhabitants of the village for its cast, and includes four exhibits of books and photographs. All of them feature contrasts: blazing flames and artificial lights, flesh-and-blood figures and silhouettes outlined in the darkness. The images evoke memories and legend, those elements that form a bridge between nature and civilization and the body and the soul. And this is merely one part of ‘Primitive.’ We can only hope that the entire project will be exhibited one day in Japan.

The second part of the exhibit is the short film ‘Vampire’, which was commissioned by Louis Vuitton and was first shown as part of an exhibition last year at the Hiroshima City Museum of Contemporary Art. It’s a documentary-style work which follows a film crew moving through the jungle at night to capture an image of the elusive ‘ghost bird’ Nok Phii, a bird which is believed to feed on the blood of other animals. With little to no dialogue and half of the screen constantly covered in darkness, the audience’s senses of sight and sound become incredibly sensitive to the limited information that is on offer. The eardrum strains to pick up the rustle of the trees, and blood-like red jumps vividly out of the darkness. The sight of a fire being lit, or a light shining through the darkness, provides the only sense of ease to be felt by the audience throughout the work. Here again contrasting images are used – humans and nature, light and dark – and what ties them together is Nok Phii. The actual existence of the bird isn’t questioned. Perhaps it’s just a legend. However, the reality of it bringing together disparate elements is perhaps the message Apichatpong wants to convey.

Apichatpong’s world isn’t limited to these pieces, but this exhibition does allow a

good appreciation of what he expresses in his work: light and memory. Though the combination of these two elements can only be experienced in part with the eye, it is definitely worth experiencing these images to allow you to feel a true sense of their significance.

Apichatpong Weerasethakul ‘Native Land’
Location: SCAI the Bathhouse (Full details & map)
Date: Until Sat Apr 17
Open: 12noon-7pm, closed Sun, Mon and nat. holidays

By Kotaro Okazawa
Translated by Virginia Okno
Please note: All information is correct at the time of writing but is subject to change without notice.


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