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New Museum Presents First New York Solo Exhibition by Thai Artist Apichatpong Weerasethakul
Primitive, 2009. 2-channel synchronized video, color, sound, with English subtitles, 29:35 min. Courtesy the artist and Illuminations Films.
NEW YORK, NY.- “Apichatpong Weerasethakul: Primitive” is the first New York exhibition devoted to the work of internationally acclaimed Thai artist and filmmaker Apichatpong Weerasethakul (b. 1970, Bangkok). Primitive—which is had its American debut at the New Museum—is his most ambitious project to date: a new multi-platform work consisting of an installation of seven videos and related works. The exhibition is on view from May 19 through July 3, 2011.

Weerasethakul’s films and videos are often set in the lush forests and quiet villages of the rural Isaan region of northeast Thailand, where the artist spent his childhood. 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. Characters shift identities and species fluidly and often reappear in subsequent films. Eschewing Western cinematic references, Weerasethakul’s filmic language draws upon a range of local influences, from Thai folklore to television soap operas and movies. His most recent film Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall Past Lives won the prestigious Palme d’or Prize at the 2010 Cannes Film Festival.

Weerasethakul’s Tropical Malady won a jury prize at Cannes in 2004; two years earlier, his Blissfully Yours won the top prize in the Un Certain Regard program at the Festival. In 2008, he received the Fine Prize from the 55th Carnegie International, US; and in 2010 he was one of four finalists for the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum’s Hugo Boss Award.

The Primitive project was first conceived by Weerasethakul during his research for Uncle Boonmee, the Palme d’Or-winning feature that tells the story of a dying man in a rural Thai village, being cared for by apparitions of his wife and son while he envisions his past lives. The seven interrelated videos at the core of Primitive focus upon the rural 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 in surrounding forests, leaving the village inhabited primarily by women and children. In Weerasethakul’s new work, parallels are drawn 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 and stand-ins for 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 future. The centerpiece of Weerasethakul’s installation is a two-channel video that depicts the teenagers appropriating the spaceship as a hangout for drinking, sleeping, and socializing. Other intersecting videos map and illuminate the architecture and landscape of Nabua and capture these young men in moments of creativity, play, and remembrance. The latent history of violence and 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.

Apichatpong Weerasethakul was born in 1970 in Bangkok. Initially trained as an architect, he went on to study filmmaking at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. He has produced six feature length films to date, including Mysterious Object at Noon (2000), Blissfully Yours (2002), Tropical Malady (2004), and Syndromes and a Century (2006). In addition to his feature-length films, Weerasethakul has created a number of videos and installations for museums including Haunted Houses for the 2001 Istanbul Biennial, and Primitive, which was exhibited at the Haus der Kunst, Munich and the Foundation for Art and Creative Technology (FACT), Liverpool in 2009. In 2008, he received the Fine Prize from the 55th Carnegie International, US; and in 2010 he was one of four finalists for the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum’s Hugo Boss Award.



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