Fotograf Magazine

Korakrit Arunanondchai

Ghosts, Myths and Metaphors in the Age of Digital Technology

Over the years, the Thai visual artist Korakrit Arunanondchai has developed epic filmographic traveling through past and future realities, using storytelling in all its possible occurrences, as a means to explore our living continuum. He mixes various narratives – found footage, spectacular performance, documentation about his own family – to form an exhilarating dance through time and space. In this organically interconnected magma of images, which forms a Baroque and technoïde ballet, he engages a myriad of subjects such as loss and life cycles, technology and animism, accumulation of data and the fragility of memory. In his world, death and birth are only moments of transition, when a story, a memory, a spirit, or a living body become something else, transforming into another form.

“Will you find beauty in this sea of data?” Arunanondchai asks, in one of his videos. This question embodies the core of the artist’s considerations about the interconnection between our expanding technological world and our desire for beauty. In other words, it points out our contradictory desire for rationality as well as progress and our spiritual soul. The work of Arunanondchai appears like a resolution of this binary statement, bringing together a sea of data with animistic rituals rooted in ancestral memories and myths. In doing so, he creates a reality that never ends or begins, which is a palimpsest of an infinity of stories and possible futures, in an attempt to reflect our confusing present time.

In a cinematographic fictional self-portrait that takes the form of a growing cycle of films, which he debuted in 2013 and is now on its fifth iteration, Arunanondchai questions his own artistic life, records his grandparents entering dementia and slowly embracing their death, and reflects upon the social reality of Thailand and the phenomenon of globalization. As a recurrent character, he has created an alter ego, a metaphor of himself and an embodiment of what an artist could be. This character is the “denim painter”, a mixture between a contemporary Thai Jackson Pollock, a rap singer and a performance artist. This metaphorical figure – played by himself – allows him to question his own path, bringing his relatives into his stories, mixing intimacy and role-playing.

The denim painter is engaged in an epistolary exchange with the spirit Chantri, voiced in French by Arunanondchai’s own mother. Chantri is the other main character of the films, who remains almost invisible. He is like the inner voice of the artist, as well as his mirror, his spiritual soul. In Painting with History in a Room Filled with People with Funny Names 3 (2015), Chantri takes the form of a drone, filming – thus observing, recording, testifying– and bringing the story to life. 

Chantri is a ubiquitous and omniscient presence which is reminiscent of spiritual creatures from Hindu and Buddhist mythology. The identity of Chantri remains fluid and its form evolves and expands with each video in the series. In the film With History in a Room Filled with People with Funny Names 4 (2017), the narrator asks Chantri to reincarnate his grandmother who is losing her memory, permitting the artist-narrator to communicate with her. In doing so, Chantri, the technological tool, is becoming in turn an empathetic interpreter of forgotten memories, a intermediator between oblivion and the living, a tool for communication in-between the future and the past, technique and spirituality. What happens to memories when they are sloughed off into machines? Chantri, the animistic recording machine, is probably the poetic answer to that question.

In the latest episode of the filmic cycle, a dark tropical forest is illuminated by laser beams of green light, while white painted performers seem to observe a glittering figure performing a spectacular shamanic dance. Overwhelming as always, fueled by beats of hypnotic music, this cine-essay calls on another important topic for Arunanondchai: ghosts. These are the ghosts of his grandparents, lost souls from the forest or forgotten histories, the ghosts are multiple here. In most Occidental counties, death is feared as an ultimate end. As a counterpart, the work of Arunanondchai reveals the possibility of reincarnation of the human soul into different forms, creating with his video-installation a cinematic space of speculation. Ghosts are part of this hypothesis of transcendence; they are proposing a space for superstition and different beliefs. Being an embodiment of Arunanondchai’s metaphysics or cosmology, they can surely help us“ experience the vertigo of the world” reflected in his films. 

Séverine Fromaigeat


KORAKRIT ARUNANONDCHAI lives and works between New York City and Bangkok and works in film, photography, sculpture, installation and performance. He earned his BFA from the Rhode Island School of Design in 2009 and his MFA from Columbia University in 2012. Arunanondchai began filming at a young age, creating an archive of footage that he revisits for each new work. He started a video cycle in 2013 where a fictional Thai painter engages in a dialogue with a spirit, commenting and reflecting on our globalized world in a philosophical and spiritual manner. 

SÉVERINE FROMAIGEAT creates exhibitions, publications and other discursive formats in the field of contemporary art. She is currently curator at Museum Tinguely, where she has organized major exhibitions including 60 Years of Performance Art (2017), Too Early to Panic (2018), Cyprien Gaillard. Roots Canal (2019) or Taro Izumi. Ex (2020). With a background in philosophy and art history, she previously worked for the Museum of Contemporary Art Geneva and was a curator for a private contemporary art collection. She also co-founded the art space Zabriskie Point in Geneva.

#38 death, when you think about it


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