Interview: Apichatpong Weerasethakul on Sharjah Biennial 11 Film Program
March 13, 2012
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Apichatpong Weerasethakul is an artist and filmmaker. His films and artworks, set in his native Thailand, often adopt a non-linear structure and dreamlike quality. With a strong sense of dislocation, his works deal with memory, subtly addressing personal politics and social issues. Working independently of the Thai commercial film industry, he is active in promoting experimental and independent filmmaking through his company Kick the Machine. His films have received numerous awards, including two prizes from the Cannes Film Festival. His feature Syndromes and a Century (2006) was the first Thai film to be selected for competition at the Venice Film Festival. Alongside his other feature, Tropical Malady, Syndromes and a Century often ranks as one of the best films of the last decade. In 2010, he was awarded the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival for Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives and was nominated for one of the art world’s most prestigious awards, the Hugo Boss Award. In 2013, he curates the film program for Sharjah Biennial 11, one of the most significant events on the Middle Eastern cultural calendar. Here, Apichatpong discusses his unique approach to curating the Biennial’s film program. 

Omar Kholeif: The theme of the Sharjah Biennial this year is anchored by ideas of Islamic architecture and the courtyard. How have you used this context to develop your film program for Sharjah Biennial 11? Have you created a sub-theme? How are you working with the overarching curatorial concept?

Apichatpong Weerasethakul: I would like to introduce a courtyard cinema in Sharjah where you can look, be looked at, and sleep. It’s a place in between private and public, like a courtyard in your home. Invited friends – all of whom have been encouraged to pick the works that have haunted them – put the program together. I am interested in the moment when we let our minds be possessed. Ghosts exist in every culture to possess individuals and allow us to be rebellious. Let us welcome more ghosts in Sharjah. Naturally, I [as is evidenced in my filmmaking] am also drawn into the concept of sleeping. It is a private moment when we let go, when we are open to all influences, when we have no fear.

OK: Can you tell us a little bit about the kind of works that you are planning to screen? What will the context be? Do you plan on using any of the Sharjah Art Foundation’s new venues?

AW: I am curious to see what kind of works have haunted these friends of mine. They are Steve Anker (Artist, Filmmaker, Teacher), Tilda Swinton (Actress), Mehelli Modi (Director, Second Run DVD), Alcino Leite Neto (Editor), Khavn De La Cruz (Poet), Jean-Pierre Rehm (Film Theorist), and Ali Jaafar (Programmer/Executive). And I selected the work for one program as well. There are so many beautiful works that deal with memories, dreams, ghosts (literally), political violence, [the language of] cinema (another kind of ghost), and temporal issues related to time. We are projecting the films onto one of the walls of the new museum. I also invited an architect friend Ole Scheeren to design the viewing platform. He came up with this ghostly imprint of the area’s topography. You see we have a great party of ideas.

OK: How did Yuko Hasegawa, the Biennial curator, go about inviting you to take part in the Biennial in 2013, and what attracted you to the collaboration? Was there a particular element or ambition about Yuko’s approach that you felt was unique?

AW: We knew each other for quite a long time, since the year 2000. She invited me to the Istanbul Biennial in 2001 and afterwards to Japan several times. She is always consistent and precise in what she prefers, which I think is amazing because art seems to change trends quickly. She’s attracted to something very primitive and futuristic at the same time. When I explained [my obsession] with ghosts and light and [its relationship] to sound and water, she immediately got it.

OK: I think lots of people will be excited to see you working in a curatorial context. How does this complement your work as a filmmaker or your work in installation? Does this form part of a similar research process or trajectory, or is it something completely different and unique for you?

AW: This work really expands my idea of cinema. It is a universe in which each film is a musical note – each note joins to create a unique piece of a grand composition. The venue is also very important – that’s why I chose to project these films outdoors, for the viewers to feel the air, the wind, and the passing airplane above. It’s like an installation in a way.

OK: What is your relationship with the Middle East? Is it a region you have visited, been involved with, or researched? What are your perceptions or indeed your relationship with it now that you have worked on this project?

AW: Since the beginning, Yuko really insisted that I visit Sharjah. When I did, she took me to walk in the desert in the early morning. It was my first experience in this kind of landscape – the never-ending sea of sand that shifts colors as the sun rises. That was a place where nothingness meets the abundance. It pushes you to learn more about the place. There are still things that I cannot make sense about Islamic beliefs. And there are things of wonder that I am very inspired. For example, I am interested in the influx of foreign workers in the region. I will be making a video with material I have collected.

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Still from Cao Guimaraes, Soul of the Bone (A Alma do Osso), 2004. Courtesy of the artist.
Still from Poklong Anading, Phantom Limb, 2012. Copyright Poklong Anading, courtesy of Galerie Zimmermann Kratochwill, Graz, Austria.
Maureen Selwood, As You Desire Me, 2012, installation. Courtesy of the artist.
Still from Janie Geiser, The Fourth Watch, 2000. Courtesy of the artist.
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