Bangkok

Apichatpong Weerasethakul, A Minor History (detail), 2021, still from the three-channel video component (color, sound, 17 minutes 11 seconds) of a mixed-media installation additionally comprising sound, lightbulb, and ink-jet wall print.

Apichatpong Weerasethakul, A Minor History (detail), 2021, still from the three-channel video component (color, sound, 17 minutes 11 seconds) of a mixed-media installation additionally comprising sound, lightbulb, and ink-jet wall print.

Apichatpong Weerasethakul

Apichatpong Weerasethakul had a busy year in 2021, from the long-awaited release of Memoria, the director’s first feature film shot outside Thailand, to his receipt of the Jury Prize at the Cannes Film Festival in the summer. In many ways, his exhibition “A Minor History” represents a homecoming, gathering many of the ideas he has been engaged with in the past year and offering a keen analysis of the current political situation in Thailand. Curated by Manuporn Luengaram, the show touches on the artist and filmmaker’s long-standing themes of dreaming, memory, and obscured histories, recontextualizing motifs from earlier works with newer material.

The first portion of this two-part show took the form of a single installation of photography, video, and a found theatrical backdrop dispersed across the two rooms of the 100 Tonson Foundation. In it, the Mekong River appears as both a glimmering apparition and a site of tragedy. The photographs in the first room show scenes of the river and of an abandoned single-screen cinema theater in Khon Kaen, the artist’s hometown in the northeast of Thailand. This is the setting for the stories that unfold in the videos.

The setup of the three-channel video installation, with its horizontal and vertical floating screens, refers to both the cinema, with its transporting darkness, and the mor lam prayer festival. Light, sound, and color seem to bombard you from all sides at once. A painted backdrop of an empty throne room, of the sort traditionally used in mor lam performances and familiar from previous pieces by Apichatpong (such as his commission for the 2018 Gwangju Biennale), intensifies these resonances. The image of the royal court devoid of human figures underscores the show’s engagement with the question of power: where it lies and how it relates to social hierarchies.

The videos weave together a series of syncopated narratives: On the tall vertical screen, images of moonlight glistening on the surface of a river, a figure in shadow, an unattended microphone, and a giant rotating mechanical bird made of LED lights from a mor lam festival scroll by one after another. On the floating horizontal screens, two equally dreamlike scenes follow each other in succession. In the first, from a story by Isaan writer Mek Krung Fah, we overhear a conversation between an unseen couple on a date, ap-parently somewhere along the Mekong, juxtaposed with images from the abandoned cinema theater mentioned earlier. A Mr. Surachai recalls to a Ms. Ratree how they found a dying naga (a mythological creature, half human, half snake) at a bend in the river, its stomach containing the undigested body parts of a corpse filled with cement. This tale evokes the discovery in early 2019 of the bodies of activists Chatcharn Buppawan and Kraidej Luelert, which were found stuffed with concrete, and the as yet unsolved disappearance of dissident in exile Wanchalearm Satsaksit in summer of the same year. A loud bang, sounding like something between a gunshot and a body hitting the floor, punctuates the piece at irregular intervals. As the melodrama draws to a close, the screen turns black and we see words racing across both floating screens at once, seeming to collide in the space between them. The text talks about a hot night in which someone lies dreaming about a boxing match; the boxer’s opponent abandons the rules and begins to hit him over the head with a rock, again and again. Screaming, the dreamer realizes that each blow would deplete his memories, then wakes up next to his father, who sleeps with his back turned away. This oneiric parable addresses questions of inheritance and the refusal to inherit, intergenerational tension and the constant struggle to protect the capacity to imagine a different political reality.