Thailand’s Got Talent
For this past Art Basel Miami Beach, Bangkok-born visual artist/rapper Korakrit Arunanondchai invited everyone to a party scheduled to take place 3 years from now with a performance at the MoMa PS1’s annual beach party. The denim-loving 27-year old who made expressionist painting fun again premieres the last part of his video trilogy “Painting with history in a room filled with men with funny names 2” and answers a few questions about his practice below.
JU: Tell me about your premiering piece “Painting with history in a room filled with men with funny names 2”.
KA: I have been working on a video trilogy for the past two and a half years and “Painting with history in a room filled with men with funny names 2” is the last installment in the series. The piece we did in Miami is sort of a recap of all the important moments from the past videos and also a trailer for the future video after the one I’m currently working on. “Painting with history in a room filled with men with funny names 2” started this summer as a road trip movie in which my twin and I explored the landscape of tourist attractions in Thailand together. Right now the project has grown much bigger in scope and includes a rap act called “Bangkok Boys”, a series of body paintings in collaboration with my twin, a few different trailer pieces, and possibly some pieces of clothing as well.
JU: How was it performing the piece and creating a liminal/performative space at an art industry party in Miami?
KA: It was super intense in Miami, I loved it. Intense but chill at the same. I put together the piece specially for the MoMA PS 1 Miami party; the whole narrative part to the video was about me planning another party at the beach 3 years from now and imagining the similarities and differences between the two parties. I like performing outside, next to the water, especially because many of the key moments in this video trilogy involve relationships with bodies of water around the world. I don’t always love performing in a party setting, but I do like the idea that now I am touring or promoting a video that is going to come out, and that each performance is just a teaser. So in a way, the party was always the perfect place to launch this project into the world. I think that’s what a ton of parties down in Miami Basel are about anyways.
JU: What’s the significance of denim to you?
KA: I like the idea of using a common fabric that is seen everywhere and that is easily accessible to everyone. There’s also something beautiful and metaphorical about the relationship between denim and history, and movements of culture around the world. I also try to relate paintings to bodies because I think it is a romantic idea, and right now I am exploring a lot of romantic ideas about being a painter. There’s also a uniformity about denim, and coming from a different part of the world, it’s good to see familiar things: a really abstract and loose sense of belonging to some global community. Also, taste is important here, not a very sophisticated taste but one that is pretty democratic to everyone.
JU: With this piece, you allude to Thai popular television and simultaneously position yourself in the history of (predominantly white, straight) expressionist painting. Is painting political to you?
KA: Painting is political to me as far as subject position goes. I am definitely more interested in the author as the painter and how he functions as a signifier in society. I think part of the work of being an artist is being a public entity.
JU: How did your collaboration start with performance artist Boychild? How does she fit into the piece?
KA: My friend Bradford Kessler curated a performance almost a year ago and we happened to be performing at the same time in different corners of the room. The vibe was really right so we decided to work together. After “Painting with history in a room filled with men with funny names 2” I am going to start working on a feature film which is loosely inspired by a lecture given by a Thai monk about the life after death of Steve Jobs in heaven and the stories of his past lives. Boychild is going to be one of the main characters in the movie, and so for now, the performances we have been doing together are like the prologues to the film. I think it is important to work with friends and have reflections of real-life relationships implicated in the work, and so I think that is the main reason why we work together.
JU: Your pieces (and “Painting with history…” specifically) are raw and performative, but your videos are highly edited and stand as pieces on their own. How is viral broadcasting important to your practice?
KA: For each body of work I do, there are different forms of the same idea, i.e., an installation version, a performance version, an exhibition version and a viral, internet version. Of course all these forms are not equal and you just have to try to do the best in that specific context. “Painting with history in a room filled with men with funny names 2” will have a final performative version to premiere in the MoMA PS1 VW Dome sometime in April and a full installation version in Carlos/Ishikawa Gallery in London next September, and the full video version will be online some time after that. I think it is very important for most of my work to be viral and accessible online, especially because a lot of my audiences are also in different countries. It’s kind of what is great about video, and why I do it is the fact that it can be so viral, or at least just there for you when you feel like watching it, I think.
JU: One of your previous pieces, “2556” begins with shots of nature and a monologue where you state that “the artist lives his life with appreciation for the mysterious and fantastical qualities of the universe.” What are these qualities to you? Where do you search for them?
KA: The text in the beginning of the video “2556” (the second installment of the trilogy), actually comes from “the definition of the Artist” by Silpha Bhirasi, an Italian sculptor who is considered to be the father of Modern Art in Thailand. I actually found this text on a Facebook post of a prominent Thai art curator, with her comment about the text being anachronistic and how outdated this definition is. At that time I was in a residency in Skowhegan, Maine. Completely submerged in an idealistic natural landscape, I thought it would be interesting to try to live this idea of the romantic artist who inhabits a place between culture and nature, and in the whole process of doing that, record all the anxiety, doubt and sometimes beauty of that process. I didn’t grow up interacting with much nature in Bangkok — I swam in a swimming pool as an athlete up until the age of 15 or 16, and that was about as close as it got to any kind of natural feelings. So for me right now, getting to travel around America and experience a lot of nature really feels like a luxury. I really am a tourist.