“Apichatpong Weerasethakul: Primitive” is the first New York exhibition devoted to the work of the internationally acclaimed Thai artist and filmmaker Apichatpong Weerasethakul.
“Apichatpong Weerasethakul: Primitive,” 2011. Exhibition view: New Museum. Photo: Benoit Pailley
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Primitive (2009)—which is having its American debut at the New Museum—is his most ambitious project to date: a multi-platform work consisting of an installation of eight videos, which is expanded here with an additional short film. Weerasethakul’s works are often set in the lush forests and quiet villages of the rural Isaan region of Thailand. His films use inventive narrative structures to explore intersections between man and nature, rural and urban life, and personal and political memory. Surreal imagery and a sensuous, languid pace give his work a dreamlike quality. Eschewing Western cinematic references, Weerasethakul’s filmic language draws upon a range of local influences, from Thai folklore to television soap operas.
The Primitive project was first conceived by Weerasethakul during the research for his most recent feature film, the award-winning Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall Past Lives (2010). Primitive focuses on the farming village of Nabua and the political and social history of its inhabitants. Nabua was the site of clashes between the Thai military and communist-sympathizing farmers during the 1960s and ’70s. Brutal repression by the military forced many of the local male farmers into hiding, leaving the village inhabited primarily by women and children. Weerasethakul draws parallels between this social dislocation and an ancient local legend about a widow ghost who abducts any man with the temerity to enter her empire.
Primitive melds documentary and fiction as it follows the activities of a group of male teenagers, descendants of the lost generation of Nabua’s men. The loose narrative of this work centers upon the building of a spaceship that can link the villagers to the past and the future. The intersecting videos map and illuminate the architecture and landscape of Nabua and capture the men in moments of creativity, play, and remembrance. The latent history of political strife that haunts Primitive reverberates strongly with recent tensions between the Thai military and the working class of Bangkok, many of whom hail from such rural communities as Nabua. Weerasethakul has described the videos in this installation as “impressions of light and memory.” Rather than a political history of Nabua, Primitive is meant to be experienced as a dream of “reincarnation and transformation.”
“Apichatpong Weerasethakul: Primitive” is curated by Massimiliano Gioni, Associate Director and Director of Exhibitions, with Gary Carrion-Murayari, Kraus Family Curator. Special thanks to Eungie Joo, Keith Haring Director and Curator of Education and Public Programs, for initiating this project.