4.12. 2021 –13.2. 2022

Korakrit Arunanondchai

In his solo exhibition Songs for dying / Songs for living, Korakrit Arunanondchai uses large scale video installations to transform the Kunstverein in Hamburg into an atmospheric site for narrating history that focuses on the historical writing, globalization and information networks. The artist's work deals with personal experiences and investigates their socio-historical conditions, often finding inspiration in the cultural contexts of his home country of Thailand as well as sites marked by post-colonial trauma.

Dividing the gallery into different settings are two video works, which are in dialogue and lend the exhibition its title, Songs for dying and Songs for living (both 2021). With its bunched up, blue curtain and shimmering, bluish daylight, the atmosphere of the installation Songs for living recalls the depths of the ocean. In contrast, diagonally across from it, mother earth covers the gallery's floor and the darkness of black walls surrounds the video installation Songs for dying.


Three songs structure Songs for dying into three acts focusing on the process of dying, which does not appear as final, but as a possibility for the creation of new forms of existence. Arunanondchai is convinced that consciousness lives on after death in ghosts that communicate through spiritual mediums. In Songs for dying, ghosts speak through a shaman who is carrying the shell of a sea turtle to the ocean – the place where its life began. The animal is one of the story's main characters: a fragile and dying turtle, acting as a symbol for the artist's dead grandfather, but also refering to the sea turtle that is honored in mythology as a divinity and is most at home on the South Korea's Jeju Island. In this way, the video references the 1948 Jeju Massacre, during whichh 30,000 civilians died resisting right-wing paramilitary organizations, the occupation of Jeju Island by the U.S. military and the ongoing division of Korea. As a result of a state-ordered ban on speaking of the event, grievance rituals commemorating the victims take place on Jeju, in which shamans embody the spirits of the victims in a spiritual and ritualistic experience meant as a form of healing and to process collective, cultural memory. Arunanondchai connects this historical event with the current socio-political situation in Thailand, which is marked by pro-democratic protests against the military and monarchy. Here, the protestors react to the government restrictions with codes from pop culture and the internet, such as the series The Hunger Games, as well as with Thailand's spiritual traditions in order to show their demands. Arunanondchai compares how the demonstrators address the King of Thailand through a kind of spiritual medium. The Monarchy of Thailand characterizes enormous wealth and a power that is immune to every kind of law and protects the king from criticism. Songs for dying ends with an announcement of life after death – a cosmos that serves as a (living) space for different forms of being.

Artist Talk Koraktirk Arunanondchai

ARTIST TALK: Alex Gvojic & Bettina Steinbrügge

In contrast, Songs for living was created in collaboration with the artist Alex Gvojic and opens a world after death in which spirits find themselves back in bodies. This metamorphosis is accompanied by pulsating guitar and drum instrumentals whose rhythm increases over the course of the video. Aside from the background music, the audience also hears a God-like narrator, the musician Zsela. The text is oriented around Simon Weil's philosophical work "Gravity and Grace," which studies a physics of being and a metaphysics of physics, and Édouard Glissant's essays dealing with colonialism in "Soleil de la consience" ("Sun of Consciousness"). Repeated shots of the ocean portray it as a separate cosmic reality and as a womb out of which ghosts come to life. New York City is another setting that has sprung back to life after months of lockdown. The artist perceives its atmosphere as a reordering of the familiar. In this way, Songs for living deals with transformations leading to new forms of life. It is here that beginnings and endings merge together.

In Songs for dying / Songs for living, Arunanondchai takes a more explicit look at existential experiences than he has in previous works. His stories interweave layers of time, spaces, animate beings, and the supernatural with the everyday so that they appear inseparable. When he deals with the loss of his own grandfather, notions arise concerning the cosmological creation of the world and the cycles of life and death, growth and decay. Arunanondchai compares his practice of historical writing with the ability to generate new realities.

The exhibition is curated by Bettina Steinbrügge. It is a collaboration with the Migros Museum für Gegenwaratskunst in Zurich.

Accompanying the exhibition is the most comprehensive work on Korakrit Arunanondchai to date, published collectively on the occasion of three solo shows in the Migros Museum für Gegenwartskunst, the Kunstverein in Hamburg and the Museu de Art Contemporânea de Serralves in Porto.


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