As a prelude to the symposium The Geopolitical and the Biophysical: a structured conversation on Art and Southeast Asia in context, Part II, this selection of films of Apichatpong Weerasethakul, attempts to set up a “conversation” between two artist-filmmakers, Apichatpong and Charles Lim Yi Yong. Both have explored ideas of the “entropic” in the Southeast Asian context. Lim’s film, all the lines flow out (2011) is showing at The Single Screen as part of the SEA STATE exhibition. Dr David Teh’s research on the region’s visual cultures puts special emphasis on the moving image and other non-traditional media.
This programme will be held over two evenings.
Wednesday, 1 June 2016, 7.30 – 10.00pm
Cemetery of Splendour (2015) | 122 mins
The plot revolves around a spreading epidemic of sleeping sickness where spirits appear to the stricken and hallucination becomes indistinguishable from reality. The epidemic is used as a metaphor for personal and Thai societal issues.
Soldiers with a mysterious sleeping sickness are transferred to a temporary clinic in a former school. The memory-filled space becomes a revelatory world for a housewife and volunteer Jenjira, as she watches over Itt, a handsome soldier with no family visitors. Jen befriends young medium Keng who uses her psychic powers to help loved ones communicate with the comatose men. Doctors explore ways, including coloured light therapy, to ease the mens’ troubled dreams. Jen discovers Itt’s cryptic notebook of strange writings and blueprint sketches. There may be a connection between the soldiers’ enigmatic syndrome and the mythic ancient site that lies beneath the clinic. Magic, healing, romance and dreams are all part of Jen’s tender path to a deeper awareness of herself and the world around her.
Friday, 3 June 2016, 7.30 – 10.00pm
Tropical Malady (2004) | 118 mins
Keng is a soldier assigned to a post in a small city in rural Thailand. The troops’ main duties, it seems, is to investigate the mysterious slaying of cattle at local farms. While in the field one day, Keng meets Tong. Both of them share a connection and embark on a romance, taking trips in the countryside.
One night, the country boy wanders off into the dark. The film’s narrative abruptly shifts to a different story, about a soldier sent alone into the woods to find a lost villager. In the woods, the soldier encounters the spirit of a tiger shaman, who taunts and bedevils the soldier, causing him to run through the woods and become lost and isolated himself.
Apichatpong Weerasethakul (Thailand) is an artist and filmmaker. Recognised as one of the most original voices in contemporary cinema, his feature films, short films and installations have won him widespread international recognition and numerous awards, including the Cannes Palme d’Or in 2010 with Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives; the Cannes Competition Jury Prize in 2004 with Tropical Malady; and the Cannes Un Certain Regard Award in 2002 with Blissfully Yours. His latest feature Cemetery of Splendour was released to critical acclaim at the 68th Cannes Film Festival in 2015. Apichatpong began making films and video shorts in 1994 and completed his first feature, Mysterious Object at Noon in 2000. He has also mounted exhibitions and installations in many countries since 1998. Lyrical and often mysterious, his film works are non-linear, dealing with memory in subtle ways, invoking personal politics and social issues. Working independently of the Thai commercial film industry, Apichatpong devotes himself to promoting experimental and independent filmmaking through his company Kick the Machine Films, founded in 1999, which also produces all his films. Major installations have been presented at dOCUMENTA(13) (2012) and in solo exhibitions in Oslo, London, Mexico City, Kyoto, and New York.
Dr David Teh (Australia/Singapore) is Assistant Professor, Department of English Language and Literature at National University of Singapore. He is also a writer, curator, art advisor, and researcher specialising in SoutheastAsian contemporary art. Before moving to Singapore, he worked as an independent curator and critic in Bangkok (2005-2009), and has since realised projects in Germany, Malaysia, Indonesia, and Singapore. His writings have appeared in Third Text, Afterall, LEAP Magazine, Art Asia Pacific, artforum.com and The Bangkok Post. His new book on Thai contemporary art will be published in 2017 by MIT Press.
Image credits: Apichatpong Weerasethakul, Cemetery of Splendour (2015), film still. Photograph by Chai Siris. Courtesy of Kick the Machine Films.