A Journey To The “Periphery of the Night” With Apitchatpong Weerasethakul

Apitchatpong Weearsethakul, Video Diaries, 2001–2020, 11 projectors. Installation view in “Apichatpong Weerasethakul: Periphery of the Night” at Fabra i Coats: Centre d’Art Contemporani, Barcelona, 19 February – 22 May 2022. © Kick The Machine. Photo by Eva Carasol. Image courtesy of the artist and Fabra i Coats: Centre d’Art Contemporani.
Apitchatpong Weearsethakul, Haiku, 2009, single-channel video, colour, stereo sound, 2min. Installation view in “Apichatpong Weerasethakul: Periphery of the Night” at Fabra i Coats: Centre d’Art Contemporani, Barcelona, 19 February – 22 May 2022. © Kick The Machine. Photo by Eva Carasol. Image courtesy of the artist and Fabra i Coats: Centre d’Art Contemporani.
Apitchatpong Weearsethakul, Sadka (Rousseau), 2012, HD video, colour, Dolby SRD, 5min 30sec. Installation view in “Apichatpong Weerasethakul: Periphery of the Night” at Fabra i Coats: Centre d’Art Contemporani, Barcelona, 19 February – 22 May 2022. © Kick The Machine. Photo by Eva Carasol. Image courtesy of the artist and Fabra i Coats: Centre d’Art Contemporani.
Apitchatpong Weearsethakul, Ashes, 2012, digital HD video, colour, stereo sound, 20min 18sec. Installation view in “Apichatpong Weerasethakul: Periphery of the Night” at Fabra i Coats: Centre d’Art Contemporani, Barcelona, 19 February – 22 May 2022. © Kick The Machine. Photo by Eva Carasol. Image courtesy of the artist and Fabra i Coats: Centre d’Art Contemporani.
Apitchatpong Weearsethakul, Blue, 2018, HD video, colour, Dolby 5.1, 12min 16sec. Installation view in “Apichatpong Weerasethakul: Periphery of the Night” at Fabra i Coats: Centre d’Art Contemporani, Barcelona, 19 February – 22 May 2022. © Kick The Machine. Photo by Eva Carasol. Image courtesy of the artist and Fabra i Coats: Centre d’Art Contemporani.
Apitchatpong Weearsethakul, Fireworks (Archives), 2014, single-channel video, glass projection with holo film, colour, Dolby 5.1, 6min 40sec. Installation view in “Apichatpong Weerasethakul: Periphery of the Night” at Fabra i Coats: Centre d’Art Contemporani, Barcelona, 19 February – 22 May 2022. © Kick The Machine. Photo by Eva Carasol. Image courtesy of the artist and Fabra i Coats: Centre d’Art Contemporani.
Apitchatpong Weearsethakul, Video Diaries, 2001–2020, 11 projectors. Installation view in “Apichatpong Weerasethakul: Periphery of the Night” at Fabra i Coats: Centre d’Art Contemporani, Barcelona, 19 February – 22 May 2022. © Kick The Machine. Photo by Eva Carasol. Image courtesy of the artist and Fabra i Coats: Centre d’Art Contemporani.
Apitchatpong Weearsethakul, One Water, 2013, single-channel video, SD digital, colour, silent, 1min 11sec. Installation view in “Apichatpong Weerasethakul: Periphery of the Night” at Fabra i Coats: Centre d’Art Contemporani, Barcelona, 19 February – 22 May 2022. © Kick The Machine. Photo by Eva Carasol. Image courtesy of the artist and Fabra i Coats: Centre d’Art Contemporani.
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CoBo Social Design and Architecture

Apitchatpong Weerasethakul’s latest exhibition at Fabra i Coats: Centre d’Art Contemporani in Barcelona is a journey to “the periphery of the night”, a liminal space between wakeful existence and silent sleep, between night and day, life and death, which ultimately captures the dimension that the artist’s work inhabits—a world where the supernatural and the human encounter each other, seamlessly coexisting and intertwining in his filmic poetry.

Text: C. A. Xuân Mai Ardia
Images: Courtesy of the artist and Fabra i Coats: Centre d’Art Contemporani

 

At the periphery of the night, the soul is simultaneously awake and asleep, the body alive and dead, and night and day, light and dark meet and merge, in a constant dance of twilight, where ghosts and other invisible, supernatural entities coexist with the human world. Apitchatpong Weerasethakul’s filmic realms inhabit this liminal space, where these dualities and their boundaries blur, coalesce and intertwine. His cinema of metamorphosis, spirituality and history is not one of narration, but rather an “environmental” one, in which the story is made of glimpses—fragments of memories, dreams, songs and tales. The images engage with their surroundings, within the films and beyond the screen, creating an immersive experience, akin to a state of sleep or trance. Light and dark, enveloping soundscapes and riveting imagescapes create a dreamlike journey, suspended between two worlds.

First presented at Institut d’Art Contemporain Villeurbanne/Rhône-Alpes, France, the Thai artist and filmmaker’s latest exhibition at Fabra i Coats: Centre d’Art Contemporani titled “Periphery of the Night” features 25 works displayed over 1200-square-metre across three floors, its dark rooms creating mesmerising environments. A great spread of his oeuvre reveals his engagement with his birthplace, Isan in northeast Thailand, as well as his native country’s history and politics, themes the artist passionately yet subtly explores throughout his work. From the literal jungles of Thailand, and more recently South America, to the metaphorical, cinematic wilds of his non-narrative films, Weerasethakul brings us towards the most profound depths of the collective conscious.

 

Apitchatpong Weearsethakul, Haiku, 2009, single-channel video, colour, stereo sound, 2min. Installation view in “Apichatpong Weerasethakul: Periphery of the Night” at Fabra i Coats: Centre d’Art Contemporani, Barcelona, 19 February – 22 May 2022. © Kick The Machine. Photo by Eva Carasol. Image courtesy of the artist and Fabra i Coats: Centre d’Art Contemporani.
Apitchatpong Weearsethakul, Sadka (Rousseau), 2012, HD video, colour, Dolby SRD, 5min 30sec. Installation view in “Apichatpong Weerasethakul: Periphery of the Night” at Fabra i Coats: Centre d’Art Contemporani, Barcelona, 19 February – 22 May 2022. © Kick The Machine. Photo by Eva Carasol. Image courtesy of the artist and Fabra i Coats: Centre d’Art Contemporani.

 

Upon entering the exhibition, three projections come into our field of vision, with The Palace (2017) on each side wall, its stray dogs captured in the streets of Taipei lit up by an incandescent red hue. The artist relates dogs to spirits, and here he presents them as the space’s ghostly guards. Opposite the entrance is the first work in this show from the Primitive Project (2009), a series of seven videos filmed in the village of Nabua, near the Mekong River in northern Thailand, at the border with Laos, where the artist conducted field research for his award-winning film Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives (2010). As Nabua became a Thai army base for driving out Communism, its villagers sought refuge in the surrounding forests, disappearing into the wild to flee the violence and control of the 1960s and 1980s campaigns. Part of this series, Haiku (2009) is a two-minute video tinted with the history and political climate of Thailand, with the primary tone being red—the colour prohibited in the country for its political associations.

 

Apitchatpong Weearsethakul, Ashes, 2012, digital HD video, colour, stereo sound, 20min 18sec. Installation view in “Apichatpong Weerasethakul: Periphery of the Night” at Fabra i Coats: Centre d’Art Contemporani, Barcelona, 19 February – 22 May 2022. © Kick The Machine. Photo by Eva Carasol. Image courtesy of the artist and Fabra i Coats: Centre d’Art Contemporani.

 

The filmmaker engages with Thai socio-political reality again in Sakda (Rousseau) (2012), in which the protagonist, actor Sakda Kaewbuadee, one of Weerasethakul’s longtime collaborators, engages in a monologue as the reincarnation of Jean-Jacques Rousseau, author of The Social Contract. Connecting different eras, the video reflects on the longevity of the philosopher’s thought, and the relationship between his texts and contemporary Thai society. On the other side of the wall, Ashes (2012) instead brings together an “assemblage” of disparate images, mostly shot on a LomoKino analogue camera, which records up to only three to five frames per second at full capacity. The resulting disconnected scenes—a man walking a dog, activists in protest, a meal with friends, among others—create an illusory impression of different realities that belie the artist’s real commentary on Thailand’s present. The soundtrack combines echoes of nature, footsteps, and fragments of conversations, with the intermittent sound of the camera’s crank.

 

Apitchatpong Weearsethakul, Blue, 2018, HD video, colour, Dolby 5.1, 12min 16sec. Installation view in “Apichatpong Weerasethakul: Periphery of the Night” at Fabra i Coats: Centre d’Art Contemporani, Barcelona, 19 February – 22 May 2022. © Kick The Machine. Photo by Eva Carasol. Image courtesy of the artist and Fabra i Coats: Centre d’Art Contemporani.

 

On the first floor, projected one after the other on loop, are two different nocturnal landscapes that both play with the image of fire, a destructive yet transformative force, an expression, like many other symbolisms in his work, of the artist’s animist beliefs—that places, beings, objects all have an inner life. Phantoms of Nabua (2009), also from the Primitive Project, begins with a dark night in a countryside setting, visible in greenish flashes when lightnings repeatedly strike the ground, giving the landscape an eerie atmosphere. A camera pan reveals the scene to be a cinemascape projected onto a cloth screen installed in a field, where a group of youngsters fires up a ball to play. The sound of the lightning gives way to the whistle of the burning fire through the air and the voices of the boys. Leaving sparks and trails of fire, the ball ends up on the screen and burns it. The ghostly references materialise in the lightning and the fire, as memories of the tragic events suffered by the people of Nabua.

Also, a night portrait, Blue (2018) opens with the image of a woman in bed, wrapped in a blue blanket, in the grip of insomnia, trying to fall asleep. A set background of a colourful landscape unrolls to reveal another underneath, illuminated by artificial neon light. The camera pans between scenes, while the woman and the background both suddenly start to catch on fire. The camera moves again, revealing the fire burning in front of a reflective surface, its image superimposed onto that of the woman and the landscapes.

 

Apitchatpong Weearsethakul, Fireworks (Archives), 2014, single-channel video, glass projection with holo film, colour, Dolby 5.1, 6min 40sec. Installation view in “Apichatpong Weerasethakul: Periphery of the Night” at Fabra i Coats: Centre d’Art Contemporani, Barcelona, 19 February – 22 May 2022. © Kick The Machine. Photo by Eva Carasol. Image courtesy of the artist and Fabra i Coats: Centre d’Art Contemporani.

 

The next room features two projections on glass with holo film projected onto the ground, allowing for a completely immersive experience. In Fiction (2018), someone’s hand writes intently on a diary page, as insects flutter around in the night. The man in the video, trying to write down his dream from the previous night, is trapped in a vicious cycle—struggling to make sense of his dream, and searching for the awareness of having dreamt at all.

Fireworks (Archives) (2014) explores a key location in Weerasethakul’s feature film Cemetery of Slendour (2015), the Sala Keoku Sculpture Park, inhabited by divine animals created by spiritual leader Bunleua Sulilat (1932–1996). The firework’s intermittent flashes light up the sculptures and the two characters wandering in the dark. The eccentric creations—with interspersed images of rebels from Isan prosecuted and assassinated between the late 1940s and the 1960s—reflect the exploration of themes of resistance and revolution inspired by the region and its historical oppression from the central government.

 

Apitchatpong Weearsethakul, Video Diaries, 2001–2020, 11 projectors. Installation view in “Apichatpong Weerasethakul: Periphery of the Night” at Fabra i Coats: Centre d’Art Contemporani, Barcelona, 19 February – 22 May 2022. © Kick The Machine. Photo by Eva Carasol. Image courtesy of the artist and Fabra i Coats: Centre d’Art Contemporani.
Apitchatpong Weearsethakul, One Water, 2013, single-channel video, SD digital, colour, silent, 1min 11sec. Installation view in “Apichatpong Weerasethakul: Periphery of the Night” at Fabra i Coats: Centre d’Art Contemporani, Barcelona, 19 February – 22 May 2022. © Kick The Machine. Photo by Eva Carasol. Image courtesy of the artist and Fabra i Coats: Centre d’Art Contemporani.

 

The exhibition concludes on the third floor with a number of works that capture a more private sphere of the artist’s oeuvre, through more intimate portrayals of his personal relationships. While the three simultaneous projections of Teem (2007) show the filmmaker’s close friend Teem sleeping, filmed using a mobile phone over a period of three days, eleven of his Video Diaries (2001–2020) represent the artist’s daily journal. These silent video fragments of personal memories and life shots are often a source of inspiration for his films. Among them is Home (2018), a portrait of Weerasethakul’s house in Chiang Mai during monsoon season, as well as Father (2001), in which the artist’s mother and sister-in-law administer dialysis to his father, who suffered from kidney failure in 2003. This memory was recreated in the artist’s feature film about Uncle Boonmee, who suffered the same illness.

In another video diary, One Water (2013), he records his friend, British actress Tilda Swinton, recalling her dreams in front of the camera. Swinton plays the lead role in Memoria (2021), Weerasethakul’s most recent feature film. The actress also appears in one of the two adjacent videos of the same length, projected in the last room of the exhibition. In Durmiente (2021), Swinton is sleeping in a bedroom, as the day passes and shadows grow longer. The silent video is shown beside async–first light (2017), a collaboration with Japanese composer Ryuichi Sakamoto, combining tracks from his album async, and featuring English musician David Sylvian reciting “Dreams”, a poem by Arseny Tarkovsky. The double projection belongs to Weerasethakul’s series Memoria Project, in which he develops his interest in memory and light, in an attempt to create connections between cinema, light and dreams. The concept of sleep also becomes one of Weerasethakul’s most recent “obsessions”, with the sleeping person a recurring figure in his work.

It is indeed the simultaneous presence of different states of consciousness—wakefulness and sleep, and the transitions in between—that accompanies us throughout “The Periphery of the Night”, where the evocative powers of light and dark transport the mind to an oneiric dimension, one that with its fleeting escapist connotations is most welcome in these uncertain, troubled times.

 

 

Apitchatpong Weerasethakul: Periphery of the Night
19 February – 22 May 2022
Fabra i Coats: Centre d’Art Contemporani, Barcelona

 

 

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