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MEXICO CITY — For the first time in Latin America, New York-based Thai artist Korakrit Arunanondchai’s immersive video work and sculptures are on view, and in a uniquely intimate setting. Dear Chantri, the you of the future may collect the us in the present maybe decide to call it a history put it in a room filled with people and give them all funny names, at Lodos Gallery, is a hybrid ecosystem of fashion, technology, and religion, both a love letter to and a criticism of Bangkok, the West, and a culture of spectacle which contradicts and trips over itself at every turn.
Unlike the chaotic and expansive original show at the Palais de Tokyo, the works at Lodos occupy a space no bigger than a Brooklyn bedroom. The centerpiece is an enormous, 80-inch, high-definition screen. A looping 25-minute video work, titled “Painting with History in a Room Filled with People with Funny Names 3,” immerses the viewer in a post-internet artificial intelligence narrative, where a drone becomes the main character and the artist the antagonist. Within the monitor, a romance between human and machine is acted out, as both play the roll of shaman and lead the way down a path that bridges two worlds.
Treading the line between loosely edited YouTube and music video aesthetics, the video is a collage of found video and original footage. While the work was one small part of the sprawling Paris exhibition, at Lodos, it is the focal point. The screen is overwhelmingly large in the small gallery and the production is cinema quality, with bass-thumping sound by Harry Bornstein and Physical Therapy to boot. The space set-up is nurturing, calm, and even meditative, with yellow fluorescent light and the artist’s signature denim pillow thrones completing an environment close to alternative reality.
The video takes the form of a letter from the artist to himself, or from a machine to all of us. “I am a machine boosting energy into the universe and you are the spirit in the wind around me,” says one of several narrators, speaking in three languages — English, French, and Thai. With confusing references careening from Manchester United to the Garuda and Nāga, the artist creates his own spectacle, while alluding to our adulation for spectacle in sports, pop, politics, and war. Arunanondchai suggests we’re creating a new religion based on digital memory and experience — a religion based on the datafication of everything, leading to new value structures, digital mysteries, and digital gods. The video also suggests that our indulgence in spectacle can be spiritual. Religion and spectacle offer an escape, an alternative reality just beyond the screen.
There is some obscure reference to the history of painting in the video, but the role of the analog is nostalgic at best. Multiple scenes show the artist covered in paint, reenacting the performance of Duangjai Jansaunoi, a Thai woman who sparked a national existential crisis when she painted with her breasts on live television. The controversial act caused the Buddhist country to turn inward for a moment of introspection and reflection about societal norms and the nature of art in the 21st century. As Arunanondchai’s work alludes to, there’s an inverted social reality in Thailand, where, on the one hand, the majority of the population practices Buddhism and, on the other, a rampant sex and drug industry runs wild. In Thailand, civilians also fall pray to a heavy-handed or less-than-tolerant military government. In a Baudrillardian sense, the proliferation of documented dissident acts, like that of the nude body painter, is creating a new religious and spiritual language.
Arunanondchai’s experience as a bicultural artist trying to bridge two peoples is key to his work. This tension is tied up with feelings of displacement caused by the online/offline dichotomy of our lives — another extension of our desire to escape our analog reality. How is our sense of self informed or deformed by the web of information that connects us? If the World Wide Web is our collective conscious or subconscious, then what does it reveal about what we praise? What’s revealed is a human primitiveness, despite our supposed sophistication. Our emotions are ruled by herd mentality, while we worship the carefully curated spectacles that surround us.
Korakrit Arunanondchai: Dear Chantri, the you of the future may collect the us in the present maybe decide to call it a history put it in a room filled with people and give them all funny names continues at Lodos Gallery (06470 de, García Icazbalceta 30, Mexico City) through April 6.