Korakrit Arunanondchai is a multi-media artist from Thailand who now lives and works in New York. As I am writing these words, Korakrit is filming a video for his show opening July 18th at The Mistake Room in Los Angeles, which will then turn into a part of a bigger project that he will be throwing himself into in the coming months.
Korakrit’s work investigates the structures of one’s existence, what is it like to be a human and more specifically, an artist and the spleen and pleasures that come with the job. Parallel to the experience of life, one piece keeps evolving into the next, a realistic rendering of memories and relationships, specifically familial relationships.
Korakrit contemplates the contemplative, whether in a performance or video, his subjects are looking: there is the ocean or screens playing a previous video piece. Older works enter new works, and older characters are connected to the newer ones. Like in Balzac’s realist work, everything is interrelated, and keep on evolving as new novels are written. Korakrit’s viewer is also his subject and he/she participates actively in the experience of the work itself.
I believe that Korakrit’s work is meant to be consumed as an experience and not as an object. The word gesamtkunstwerk is often used by Korakrit and others to describe his work for a reason; upon consumption, the viewer fully enters the world of the artist, visually as well as audibly. The work lies in the energy created by the variety of building blocks; together, they create a whole. The layer of a video will be used in another video, in a performance—such as the one he did in February at PS1 in New York—and, as you will read in the interview below, perhaps in a feature film. I sat down with Korakrit before he flew off to Los Angeles, and let the conversation flow naturally.
In Los Angeles, you’ll be working on a high production video for your show at The Mistake Room. For your video work, you have people make original music and actors playing themselves. How did this collaborative system come together and how do you see it developing?
I’ve always wanted to be able to work with people. When I was growing up, team sports were very important to me. But more importantly, this desire to work with people has to do with my upbringing. Since I was young I enjoyed interacting with living things. I lived alone with my grandparents for a few years as a young child, and I remember being at the beach with them, and the beach was always empty. I felt like this isolation was a byproduct of my grandparents’ old age, being retired. As a young person, I wanted to be around many people.
I want to be around many people when I’m old.
Me too. As a child I always wanted energy and I always wanted people around me and I always wanted action. Since kindergarten I was always really interested in interacting with people and playing games with others. It sucks that a lot of children’s interactions have to do with competing. Like playing a card games against each other or something. I hate how there are winners and losers. I always wanted to be a part of a school play, but I went to a school where school plays didn’t exist. I just really like the idea of people coming together to do something awesome and build up energy. I experienced that for the first time when I joined a band in high school.
But aren’t there also hierarchies within bands? I assume everyone finds their own place depending on their personality.
I think in a band the person who wants to work the most ends up working the most, and other people who care less, end up caring less. That’s similar to making art with people. When I started art school I was always with a group of people. The students from my printmaking major at RISD and I would always sit together and play an exquisite corpse. I’ve always valued a fun creative process, I like sharing a studio—I rarely work in isolation.
But when you work with other people, how much freedom do they have? Do you trust that the decisions they make will be right for the project? Or do you just select the people you work with carefully and let the project develop as the collaboration takes place?
It depends on what we’re doing. So far, most of the projects that I’ve done, especially since 2011, have involved me being the ring-leader because they’ve been about my relationship to my family in Thailand. In a way, it’s inherent to the project content that I somehow am the director even if it’s a collaboration.
I like how your family holds such an important place in your work. How are you—by talking about something so specific, such as your own family dynamic—able to address issues that your viewer can relate to?
Every person has been surrounded by various relationships. I believe that there are certain vehicles such as music, noises, and certain ways of editing that transfer these emotions. In one of my videos, there is a part when I’m watching another video with my grandparents. Looking at a screen with family members is quite universal.
When you collect footage, do you already have a clear vision of what you are trying to accomplish?
No. For instance, in this trilogy project I’m working on, when I amass footage I am painting different parts with a rough and abstract idea of what the whole will be, you know? And then I have all these parts, and those aren’t completely considered, and then when I edit, and I bring them together like words in a story and think about the audience I’m addressing to create my narrative.
Let’s talk about the video that you’re going to be filming in LA in July. Boychild, who you’ve collaborated with in previous videos and performances, is going to be dressed as you and playing you in the film. Why?
At this point I use my physical appearance as a medium, so yes, Boychild will be wearing a blonde wig and wearing denim, like me, but Boychild isn’t fully “me” in this video. Boychild is just going to embody that specific aspect of me.
That sounds exciting. You are going to get to look at that aspect of yourself from an outside perspective, as you’re turning yourself into a controlled character that you get to direct.
So exciting! Especially because this is the first time I will officially be directing a video. So far I’ve always been in front of the camera in my work, not shooting it.
Many artists use themselves as subjects at first because their own body is what they have easy access to, would you say that’s also true in your case?
Yeah, especially because most of my videos up to this point have been pretty low budget and DIY. When you’re the subject of your own work you can kind of imagine what you want out of a scene or a piece and then perform it So there’s a certain kind of one-to-one in the video where I have a rough idea of what I’m doing even before the video is shot, you know? I think this method I’ve been using is more immediate and requires less planning, which is perfect for road movies and things on the go.
After this LA video will you go back to being in your own videos?
This video I am doing in LA will be filmed as a commercial, to eventually be a part of the feature length piece I want to direct. So far, not being in it myself is my first logical step. I will be in the narrative and not be an important character physically, but I will still be present somehow because all my works are a continuation of the previous ones.
This video is made in the same universe as the previous ones and the future ones. This future feature will mostly be fiction, but I have been building up and making relationships with it through the semi-documentary project trilogy that I’m currently working on and showing. I think it makes sense, for the character I have been playing to connect these two projects.
I remember after you finished your show at PS1 you said that was the last three years of your life, and now you can move on to something different. Do you still feel that way?
It’s actually not so black and white. The main difference is that my work is turning away from being autobiographical, I am no longer the center of the universe I create. The feature film I am going to make will be largely fictional and maybe even take place in the past. Whereas this current project that I am and have been working on—the video trilogy—is about being an artist, trying to process what’s happening internally and externally. Whereas, the next one isn’t about the artist, it’s more about certain parts and facts of life that I have learned.
So you are moving towards a less literal approach, more metaphorical?
Yeah, this video is a metaphor, but also what I’m experiencing. Now that I am almost done with the more autobiographical trilogy I can understand its core significance: an artist trying to create out of things he’s experienced in the past three year in a semi-narrative form.
So then the future film that you’re starting to work on this summer with the commercial vignette, will be you moving from your own subjective world into this outside world, even though obviously there are going to be traces of you in it?
Yeah but I think the subjectivity will be unavoidable because I am creating it.
Okay, I’m going to change the subject a little bit. When I see your work, I can’t help but see something generational; the denim, the fire, reminds me of this youthful desire to mess up the world, something revolutionary and violent, like the anti-Vietnam war movement. But on the other hand, it is visually very pleasing: the Thai and Buddhist iconography, the colorful plastic flowers. But there is something really international about this language of young people and how we all gravitate toward loud noises and saturated colors.
I believe our generation is attracted to intensity, to loud noise. But intensity can also be the most quiet thing; a slow movement can be intense. I don’t know if this desire for intensity is an attribute of our generation or just an age thing. Maybe every single human being who’s lived has experienced an intense time. I think my mom had a very intense time when she lived in Vietnam during the war and France during the student revolution in 1968. I don’t think our generation is necessarily attracted to intensity, I just think intensity is inherent to living.
When I first went to your show at PS1, I wanted to walk in because of the loud catchy music playing in front of the video, the intensity attracted me, maybe because I’m 25 and I like dancing and going out.
I didn’t think my work had so many generational qualities about it, but I think I understand why younger people would be attracted to it through its formal qualities, like the loud rap music. And in the end, that might repel certain older people who don’t like that kind of sound. But I try and make work that most people, not just my generation, can appreciate. This is how I think of it: if I’m at a dinner party and I sit next to an older person, there’s a way in which I’m telling her a story, and I want her to listen to me regardless of if she can relate to the story or not. I think in the PS1 show in particular, I was really thinking about the Sunday families and the high school students that would go. I want to extend my audience as much as possible, maybe, as large as my friends’ moms and dads, and maybe like my friends’ younger sisters and brothers, and maybe my friends’ babies would like a bleached denim pillow, you know?
Can you tell me about some recent art you have been thinking about and really like?
I think about Pierre Huyghe all the time, he’s my favorite artist. I just saw a show he did at a place called The Artist Institute here in New York. It’s a project funded by Hunter. It’s more of a show about him actually. I’ve been thinking about it a lot. He turned the exhibition space into an eco system.
That’s so cool! Does he influence your work?
You know when I was talking about intensity, I like how he creates unique experiences. I am really inspired by the Sydney Opera House piece he did called A Forest of Lines where he filled the whole Opera house with plants. Can’t really get more intense then that.