When listening to Korakrit ARUNANONDCHAI talk about his vision, it seems as if the universe is speaking through him. The stories he tells seek to express the inexpressible, imagine the unimaginable and understand that which might not even exist – all characterized by an astute perceptiveness to the natural, cultural and spiritual connections in the world around him.
In a conversation with THE SKATEROOM, Korakrit paints some of those stories and reveals the thought processes behind a few of his most innovative concepts. Read on to discover more about the thought-provoking artist and celebrate the launch of our limited collection in partnership with the Kukje Gallery and in support of the Sati Foundation.
How did your story begin?
I grew up in Bangkok, Thailand. Ever since I was in kindergarten, I was reading and drawing a lot of manga. Creating my versions of it gave me the urge to tell stories. In high school, I also got into playing music and that influenced my chosen path a lot. I went to college for printmaking and painting in America. Then, right after, I moved to New York and it’s been almost 15 years now.
You travel a lot. How much do the places you live in and visit impact your work?
I think from my years in college up until my early 30’s, the biggest cultural influence on my life has actually been contemporary art itself. It is its own complex cloud of ideas and proposals that touches upon many bodies of knowledge. When I was 17 years old, I went to visit my older brother in London and I saw the Weather Project by Olaffur Eliasson. That was probably the first piece of contemporary art that I’ve seen in my whole life, and the experience really left an impression on me.
I touched on the manga earlier to illustrate the thread of wanting to storytell and build worlds through figures and pictures. In being an artist, I found the space to bring these proposals into physical life, which really intrigued me. Printmaking for me circles around the idea of image production, reproduction and circulation, which also kind of helped me to think more about how to break the knowingness of a thing into different registers of experiences. The medium I keep coming back to is video. Video is similar to printmaking in a way where you do think of things in a more structural, layered kind of way. All these different ways of structuring thought and ideas in order to storytell, is probably something I’ve taken and learned from the many things that I’ve experienced throughout my life, since I was young until now.
In your storytelling you experiment a lot with form. In terms of substance however, are you more interested in conveying inner experiences or rather responding to the world around you?
I respond a lot to outside source. For me, nothing is generated on the inside. I think a lot about the metaphor of the ghost, the host and the act of possession. The interchangeability of what this ghost can be and what the act of possession is. Therefore, oftentimes, my practice becomes a host for ideas to possess and new relationships to form. These new relationships produce gaps, conflicts and corruption. I’m very interested in the idea of corruption through things touching one another.
Oftentimes, I will do historical research on things that already are a subjective interpretation by someone and try to take it as a fact to further worldbuild around it. Situations that have a lot of opacity already also allow you to fill it with a lot of your own imagination and speculation.
Was there a specific time when the ghost of an idea completely possessed you and wouldn’t let you go?
This feeling is very familiar because every single time that I embark on making a new work, there is this moment when it sort of leads you forward by itself. I never could truly express, even to my collaborators, what the project we’re working on is truly about. It can feel like a belief system in between formation, either dying or changing.
There is always a certain point in the project when I fully believe in the proposal that is created through the project. It does happen a lot. For example – I made a video a few years ago called With History In a Room Filled With People With Funny Names 4. The main aspect of the project was my grandmother going through dementia. I was witnessing her undo the relationships that she’s had to all these objects and people and reshuffling them. I really saw the state she was going through as a metaphor for the anthropocene and our relationships to nature. The project kinda became about me embodying the state she was going through and writing the video from that state of losing your mind. If I actually think about it, there’s so much imaginative gap there. So much of my own desires and fears fill in that space of making. And maybe that’s what I’m talking about when I’m trying to get really close to something that I can feel is far away or unimaginable. I think that’s part of what my art is about.
The act of burning features a lot in your work. What does it symbolize to you?
When I was younger, my interest in music and live music turned into this idea of performance, and the medium of performance, and thinking about the forces that bring people together – to mourn, to celebrate, to pray… A lot of my recent work has been focused on what’s currently happening politically in Thailand – what brings people to gather and protest? In a lot of these instances, I go back to human beings gathering around a fire wishing for safety, wishing for change through singing and dancing.
Fire is the real, the imagined, it encompasses light. People gather around it for safety and shelter, but also to connect themselves to a shared abstract thought. A space of gods and monsters but in the safety of the fire itself. I was always interested in the space of the ground – the end all be all, the physical body, the matter. And then the sky – the space for abstraction, where meaning might be created, where the immaterial dissipates. I think fire also connects us to that space. The perfect fire always points up, from the ground to the sky – a message to god or the higher power. It also burns, it transforms matter. I work with fire quite a bit – it’s perhaps something that I return to to convey different ideas. I like it both as a process but also as a subject matter.
As a contrast, do you have any relationship with water?
I want to say I paint with both. The human body is constituted of so much water and it affects a lot. How we move, our emotions and the way we behave as people, seems closer to the idea of liquid or water. Paint is also largely liquid. Usually, in many of my paintings, I start with this ground that is bleached denim. What that bleach denim is, is the leftover patterns made by the flow and contact to liquid itself. When the paintings are set on fire on the ground, the control of the fire happens through water. So fire and water are not separated for me in the process.
You mentioned being drawn to video a lot. What makes you gravitate towards it?
I’m really interested in time as a medium. I keep coming back to films, videos, performance and music because these are really mediums that can only be experienced with time, and the vessel that holds time is the human body itself. The relationship between time and how it transforms into memory is probably at the center of what I think about a lot. The experience and passing of it. How do individual memories constitute a collective memory? Video and film plays such a large part for me, because it’s an immaterial form that requires time. There is such a ritual in this idea of coming together in the cinema, or watching something together in a film installation.
Have you watched anything recently in a collective setting which really moved you, whether in a good or bad way?
I saw Inland Empire [dir. David Lynch] at the cinema a couple of weeks ago. I’ve seen it first a long time ago when I was in college and, structurally, I just didn’t get it. It was intense and made me feel insecure about the fractured, fragile nature of reality and cognition. And then seeing it again in my adult life, it actually still generated a similar feeling, but this time I was able to understand the construction of it a bit more and it was really great. It made a very big impression on me actually. And then probably the last movie I saw was Barbie [dir. Greta Gerwig]. It’s interesting to think that movies are like this now. America which, in itself, can be seen as a cultural project, is represented in this movie in such an interesting way.
How about music? What kind of role does it play for you?
It’s a medium that probably talks most effectively and directly to emotions and perhaps even to memory itself. For me, one of the biggest joys in making moving images is to be able to use sound. People come together through sound. Contemporary Art is its own culture and has its own developed language and ways of understanding, but it also in itself builds a wall. Whereas, sound or music has an element that can perhaps talk more directly to a larger variant of people and minds. It can open doors in that way.
What is the inspiration behind your collection with THE SKATEROOM?
There are different variations of the editions we are making together. For one of them, I took an excerpt from a video called Songs for living which I made in collaboration with Alex Gvojic a few years ago. The text is partly based on an excerpt from the book “The Sun of Consciousness” by Edourd Glissant. It reads: “Beyond the upheaval, beyond threads of the modern world, which assail the human spirit in that discovery of the disparate, we find the fundamental other who nourishes the nostalgia for unity.” So on the triptych piece it reads “nostalgia for unity”. It’s a small excerpt from this larger text but it’s something that really stuck with me, the idea of unity being connected to an urge to revisit the past.
I made a painting that incorporated this text, which will become the triptych skateboards. The painting has a golden sun rising above a golden mountain. The painting is burned to reveal an underlayer of a blue colored mirrored foil which reflects back the person looking at the board. We’re also releasing limited edition decks which will contain the burnt abstract painting that I made.
For this collaboration, you chose to support the Sati Foundation. Why is this organization close to your heart?
Sati is a foundation started by my friend Sakson Rouypirom. It’s a social impact project which works with communities in Bangkok and outside. I discovered THE SKATEROOM through Sati actually, many years ago, before the pandemic. The last project we worked on together was an artist-culinary project that worked with refugees in the kitchen. It was part of Ghost:2565, a festival I organized in Bangkok.Through the project with THE SKATEROOM, they are building skateparks and teaching at-risk youth and teenagers how to skate.
Everytime I go outside Bangkok to other provinces in Thailand, in some corner there are always kids skating and it’s quite amazing.The addictiveness of skateboarding is a good thing – you go outside, move your body, interact with architecture and landscape. I think any activity that gives you a sport’s high and builds its own macro community, taking you away from other activities which could be harmful, is useful. Skating has a relationship with the ground and the sky. So much of it is about jumping and revealing. You only see the underside of the skate deck when it turns upwards towards the sky. It is also quite a new thing to Thailand, especially to the non-metropolitan areas, so I’m excited for these kids to be able to learn how to skate and develop relationships to themselves and others around it.