Fireworks (Archives)

By Apichatpong Weerasethakul
Single-Channel Video Installation
HD Digital, Colour, Aspect Ratio: 16:9, Dolby 5.1, 6:40 minutes (loop), 2014

Produced by
Kurimanzutto, Mexico City


Cast: Jenjira Pongpas, Banlop Lomnoi
Camera: Apichatpong Weerasethakul
Project Manager: Nontawat Numbenchapol
Sound Supervisor and Mixer: Akritchalerm Kalayanamitr
Foley and Sound FX: Chalermrat Kaweewattana
Sound Mixing Studio: Butterfly Studio
Fireworks FX: Eyedropper Fill
Editor: Apichatpong Weerasethakul
Accounting: Parichart Pu-aree


First installed at Kurimanzutto Gallery, Mexico City, 17 May 2014
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In Apichatpong’s cinema and visual art, memory often runs along with other ephemeral elements such as light and phantoms. His works also suggests the malleable nature of history and storytelling. In the recent years Apichatpong has created shifted narratives around his region, fusing his memories and others’. His new ongoing project, Fireworks, continues the practice while also explores Thailand’s political remnants through the use of pyrotechnics.































The pieces featured at Kurimanzutto is the first in the series. A video, Fireworks (Archives), functions as a hallucinatory memory machine. It catalogs the animal sculptures at a temple in a northeast where Apichatpong grew up. To him, the region’s arid land and political force from Bangkok drove people to dream beyond the everyday’s reality. The oppression had led to several revolts in the region, and the temple’s wayward statues are one such revolt. Here Apichatpong’s regular actors blend in with the illuminated beasts at night. Together they commemorate the land’s destruction and liberation.
















Some years ago I went to Isan, Thailand’s Northeast, and spent time in the area along the Mekong River. I had no reason for going other than to look at the place where we grew up. During the few months that I was traveling there I found out things that I had never known before, things that are not in official accounts of the region, but that everyone in Isan remembered back in my parents’ day.


The area went through some turbulent times between 1950 and 1970 when communism, spreading from China and Vietnam, crossed the Mekong from Laos. I was working together with a group of teenage guys in an Isan village on an effort called Primitive Project. At the same time I was trying to look at something that had always interested me - light.


I talked with an old woman in the village who told me about green lights that used to be seen at night. They were flares sent up by soldiers to help them spot “communist farmers” who hid in the forest. For her, no matter how beautiful and unusual they were, they were lights of fear. They inspired resistance in her and her friends, and she spoke proudly of the night when the villagers shot down a helicopter and took pieces of the engine to sell by the kilo.


One evening I saw a group of boys burning off a dried rice field to clear space to plant a new crop. The flames blazed up more and more brilliantly as the sky grew darker. It was destruction necessary for something new to be born. Fire, both man-made and natural, was something that I tried to “see”, to understand visually. Like the light that movies are made of, it is intangible. Learning about and appreciating fire had a link with my understanding of home.


















FIREWORKS (ARCHIVES)


There is a small province called Nong Khai in the Isan region of Thailand on the bank of the Mekong River. I travel there often because it is the home of an older actress of mine, and we have made many films together there. Besides the Mekong, there is another place that I like to visit in Nong Khai, a temple called Sala Kaew Kuu. It was built in 1978 through the initiative of one man.


The founder was an outcast who escaped to Laos and came back to build the temple, establishing himself as a guru. Judging from photographic records, I am quite certain was gay. In a way, he perceived and used religion as a way to redemption. Homosexuality and poverty were perceived as negative traits, like being born in the Northeast. Interestingly, the region has the highest concentration of revered monks in the country. It may be that the dry, hard-to-cultivate land drives people to dream, to try to connect with something beyond everyday life.


Historically, people were also driven by political force from Bangkok that had colonised the region to achieve unification (Thaification), and resulted in ethnic cleansing. There were several revolts. The founder of this temple was accused of being a communist and was jailed for a while. Some of his sculptures were destroyed because the army suspected him of hiding weapons inside them.


For me, the temple echoes the history of Isan itself. It is a manifestation of revolt. The fact that it was not recognised or supported by the state reflects the man’s independence. He was free to commission unconventional sculptures. Free, but at the same time forced to struggle, and to dream.


































Similar to the video, the positive and negative spaces are explored in the two photographs, Primates’ Memories and Mr. Electrico (For Ray Bradbury). The flashes of light were frozen and digitally painted, creating fictional topographies. The manipulation is inspired by the recent MIT molecular research in which light and colour are used to artificially activate a memory. Primates’ Memories echoes the current colour-coded conflict in Thailand’s streets where violence and revelry coexist. Mr. Electrico (For Ray Bradbury) is drawn from Apichatpong’s favourite writer’s memory. In 1932, a young Ray Bradbury met with a circus performer Mr. Electrico who could endure fifty thousand volts of electricity. The man claimed that Ray was a reincarnation of his friend who died in his arms fourteen years earlier. “Live Forever,” the man whispered to Ray and forever became the author’s driving force.





Another photograph, The Vapor of Melancholy depicts Apichatpong’s partner in bed. He’s caught releasing a smoke and is surrounded by exploding fireworks. A universe-like phenomena engulfs his body, concealing a mundane activity. This intimate portrait manifests a marriage of intoxication and dream.