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Friday, April 9, 2010

ART BRIEF

"Native Land"


By JON LOWTHER

Scai the Bathhouse
Closes April 17

News photo
"Phantoms of Nabua" (2009) © APICHATPONG WEERASETHAKUL, COURTESY OF SCAI THE BATHHOUSE

Through film, video and photography, Apichatpong Weerasethakul transcends the boundaries between artist and filmmaker. The receiver of numerous awards, including two prizes from the Cannes Film Festival as a feature film director, his work can be seen in art exhibitions and film festivals alike.

"Native Land," Weerasethakul's second solo exhibition at Scai the Bathhouse, in Tokyo's Taito-ku, similarly confounds viewer expectation with a cinema-screen video projection, a monitor work, photography and an artist's book. As the title of the exhibition suggests, this latest collection of works continues Weerasethakul's propensity to live and work in his native Thailand.

In 2008, he investigated the history and documented the landscape of Nabua, a small village in the north of Thailand. Unveiled was a tragic past of army occupation that had led to locals being physically abused, women raped and people even murdered in their homes. Weerasethakul's politically inspired response was the "Primitive" project, a series of works that focused on the teenage descendants of the tragedy while contemplating the forgotten memories and ideologies of Nabua.

"Phantoms of Nabua" (2009) is a film work taken from this project and is placed at the heart of the "Native Land" exhibition. Enshrouded in nightfall, lightning repeatedly strikes a small village, producing ghostly plumes of smoke. The dark silhouetted figures of an anti-social mob emerge as they proceed to play soccer with a raging ball of fire and wreak havoc on a burning landscape. Mysterious nocturnal events unfold in video work "Vampire" (2008), too, as the viewer follows a nighttime pursuit of a legendary bird that feeds on animal blood.

Viewed as an audiovisual diptych, these works seemingly contrive to portray fleeting moments of light within darkness that are loaded with the hidden memories, histories and legends of a given location.

In "Phantoms of Nabua," Weerasethakul states: "The film portrays a communication of lights, the lights that exude, on the one hand, the comfort of home and, on the other, of destruction."

One's own native land, it seems, can symbolize the fragility of life itself.

Scai the Bathhouse is open 12 p.m.-7 p.m., closed Sun., Mon.; free admission. For more information, visit www.scaithebathhouse.com

Other arts this week

By JAE LEE
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