Bangkok raised video artist Korakrit Arunanondchai’s piece 2012-2555 provides a colorful look of life, death and memory with a combination video and sculptural experience. The installation includes a setup painted to evoke a cathedral, painted with white walls and golden archways ad accompanied by false flowers and reflective, disco-like surfaces surrounding a life sized mannequin draped in a colorful cloth, as if dead. All of it is framed with bright pink and blue neon lights.
The video portion is 20 minutes long with two different videos being shown on separate screens. It is composed mostly of clips that are almost more evocative of moving pictures than videos as they feature nearly still shots or ones framing one continuous action. The shots include depictions of nature (rain, plants, animals, the sea, etc.), shots of people (including close ups of faces, hands, and movement of bodies), as well as many scenes showing the characters watching a screen, typically what is being shown on the opposite screen in the installation. The last four minutes however are more cinematic with one character walking from one screen to another to carry a “dead” man into the ocean after covering him with the same cloth over the mannequin. The video is accompanied by both silence, the pure sounds of what is happening in the video, and rather upbeat, fast tempo, electronic music.
There is a great deal of content in the artwork with much happening at once. Indeed, the piece was designed to be overwhelming. At the same time though it is welcoming, made of many colors, interesting images, and relaxing sounds. The fact that this a work largely about death, with Arunanondchai explaining it is a replica of a traditional Thai funeral, is interesting because it evokes the opposite feeling death usually does. Where it is usually dark, saddening, and a looming threat, here it is framed as light, calming, and freeing. It seems to take a similar approach to old age as even though the elderly couple is shown as needing walkers and wheelchairs and having deeply wrinkled complexions, they are happy: enjoying life, creating a garden, and listening to music. It displays life as a cycle of death and renewal that is not at all grim or threatening. Experts at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) observed:
“The work explores the cyclical nature of life and memory. For Arunanondchai, the work also evokes the death of his current practice and a transformation into a new one.” MoMA PS1. (2014). Korakrit Arunanondchai.
On the topic of memory, as it is described as also being emblematic of, this work also functions as the artist looking back onto his past achievements from 2008-2011. On the subject of years, the piece was called 2012-2555 because it was produced in 2012, represented as 2555 on the Buddhist calendar. He says it also has to do with the year 2012 being prophesized as the end of the world. In his words:
“At the end of 2011, there was a flood in Thailand and that was what this project was about too…sort of a real version of what the end of the world would look like, the spiraling down of natural disasters, and not a single point of destruction.” Arunanondchai, Korakrit. (2013). AisaArt Archive in America: A Presentation by Korakrit Arunanondchai.
The characters watching the events of the other screen on another could also be a direct visual representation of reflection on the past while the world changes around them.
Culturally, there are a great deal of Thai themes and images from the Thai funeral characters, and locations. But life, death, memory, and renewal are themes that have always transcended culture and religion. Of course everyone has their own feeling toward each of these. To a western audience, this kind of imagery paired with death can be quite comforting and uplifting. In America, most fear death and see it as an ultimate end. Even those who believe in an afterlife still view death as an end to something, even if existence stretches on. But in Thailand the national religion is Buddhism, a religion with an emphasis on reincarnation. And no matter what the viewer may believe religiously or philosophically, anyone can take in the idea that just because something seems to have ended, the cycle of life continues and it is not something to fear.
This work is very similar to one of his others, titled Double Channel. He describes it as a “deconstruction” of 2012-2555 and follows the same two screen format. It is not as quiet and uses quite a bit of dialogue but otherwise feels like it could be a continuation of the initial work. The main difference comes with how they were exhibited. In Double Channel, the work is shown alongside a live reenactment of the prerecorded scenes unlike 2012-2555’s still background.
We can see similarities in the video work A World of Appearances by video artist Bill Viola as it too uses two images though they are placed in such a way they create a floor and wall corner. He utilized figures as well though in a more abstract sense. He used them as ideas rather than characters and they evoke life through motion rather than through characterization. He also utilizes Buddhist themes and ideas and, particularly the image of meditative water to evoke the ideas of life, death, and the cycle of restoration. Both use this imagery for what meditative water was supposed to be: calming and reflective. Both invite the viewer to think about themselves and their own spirit while they watch the characters on screen perform a theatrical display of life.
Thumbnail image courtesy of MoMA