Apichatpong Weerasethakul, Blow Up, 2009, C-print, 57 3/4 x 87 3/8".

Apichatpong Weerasethakul, Blow Up, 2009, C-print, 57 3/4 x 87 3/8".

Apichatpong Weerasethakul

Anthony Reynolds Gallery

Apichatpong Weerasethakul, Blow Up, 2009, C-print, 57 3/4 x 87 3/8".

Thai artist Apichatpong Weerasethakul hasn’t let success go to his head. Despite winning the Palme d’Or at Cannes in 2010 for his feature film Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives, he remains committed to making prints and short video pieces and showing them in relatively small-scale gallery installations. His recent show “Double Visions” included his latest video, Dilbar (made in collaboration with his boyfriend, artist Chai Siri, aka Teem, for the 2013 Sharjah Biennial), and contextualized it in unexpected ways with two earlier video installations and two large photographic images. The ensemble was as challenging and allusive as anything Apichatpong has ever done, half-domestic, half-formalist, all sexy.

Dilbar had a darkened, all-white room to itself, and needed it. Rear-projected onto a special glass screen, which registers images as sharply as a conventional screen but also lets light through to play on the walls, floor, and viewers, it’s ostensibly a portrait of the eponymous young man, a Bangladeshi “guest worker” in the UAE. But for much of the ten-minute running time, he appears only as a spectral walking figure superimposed over shots of townscapes, landscapes, and other workers. Halfway through there are shots of a white-painted room not unlike the one in which the piece was shown; it even has a picture window that looks like a screen. Most of the images suggest a concise anatomy of what makes the UAE tick: new buildings, debris from demolitions, satellite dishes, dormitory shacks, down-market shops. The piece ends with shots of two streets with lines of immigrant men (presumably waiting for jobs), jump-cut to the rhythmic sound of a rather primitive hand-operated water pump seen earlier.

On the stairs to the upper floor hung an image like some of those seen in Apichatpong’s 2011 show at Dublin’s Irish Musuem of Modern Art, “For Tomorrow for Tonight”: a twilight shot of fetish actor Sakda Kaewbuadee wearing a T-shirt woven with colored fairy lights—a figure inspired by one of Ray Bradbury’s characters, Mr. Electrico. In the upper room were the other two video pieces: Windows,1999, in which light from reflected windows turns into a pulse of literally dazzling abstract distortions; and, shown on three floor-level monitors, Teem, 2007, which consists of mobile-phone shots of Apichatpong’s boyfriend waking on three successive mornings. In one of them, echoing Warhol’s 1963 Blow Job, Teem’s face suggests that he’s enjoying some offscreen sexual stimulation. Mediating between the formalism of Windows and the intimacy of Teem is a large wall-mounted still of a photographer straddling a half-naked boy on the ground, apparently shot during the making of Apichatpong’s installation Primitive in 2009 and featuring two young men from the Thai village of Nabua. He calls this image Blow Up, 2009 (it echoes a composition in Antonioni’s Blow-Up from 1966), but it’s as much a celebration of crypto-gay horseplay as a cinephile reference.

None of the older pieces is as complicated or “worked” as Dilbar, but they do resonate together in ways that are characteristic of the artist. The spill-through of light in Dilbar meshes with the play of light through a bedroom window in Windows, just as the repetitions in Dilbar match the sense of domestic routines in Teem. The oddly paired strategies and themes, from the use of different kinds and sources of light to the sensual, homespun erotics, refer back to the dualities in Apichatpong’s features Tropical Malady (2002) and Syndromes and a Century (2006), suggesting alternative ways of seeing and alternative frames of reference. Apichatpong himself emerges as a creditable surrealist flaneur, wandering like the spectral Dilbar through a jungle of memories, impressions, routines, and pop-culture fantasies. The artist explicitly defines his films and installations as an escape from the reality of Thailand’s ongoing political chaos and violence; he presents himself as an outsider, paralleling Dilbar in the UAE, finding respite in dreams.

Tony Rayns