A Minor History is conceived as a two-part exhibition, which is the culmination of Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s revisiting Isan, or Northeastern Thailand, during the recent pandemic lockdowns. After spending two years working on his Cannes Film Festival’s Jury Prize feature film, Memoria (2021), which was shot entirely in Colombia, he returned to his hometown Khon Kaen in early 2021, travelled along the Mekong River, met new generations, and accumulated an extensive array of interviews, photographs, and local perspectives that shed light on the country’s current political landscape. The exhibition revolves around the artist’s long-running themes of light, time, dream, personal and social memory, and obscured history, such as the likes of state repression. Part One features a three-channel video installation that dramatises a series of unresolved cases of forcibly disappeared dissidents whose mutilated bodies were found floating in the Mekong River. The video installation, with its hybrid form of storytelling, hovers between the realms of reality and dream, reflecting on the decay of memories and representations, as well as the disintegration of social narrative and truth.
Apichatpong continues his journey to observe and contemplate the country’s current political and social state of affairs in Part Two of A Minor History entitled Beautiful Things, with a focus being placed on exploring perspectives, both visual and mental. Represented on the two-dimensional photographs are the scenes of the hotel room interiors, the skeletal remains of an old cinema theatre, and the vacant throne room depicted in the painted Morlam (Isan folk performance) theatre backdrop. In these photographs, mostly taken during his Isan road trip, he makes use of perspective to draw attention to memories, dreams, realities, and everything in between. In some photographs, a vanishing point is used to create a realistic image of a room interior, whilst in others, disparate images with a multi-point perspective are superimposed on the original images; For example, the images of the confluence of the Mekong and Mun Rivers at the Thailand-Laos border, youth-led protests, and crumbling pillars, walls, and ceilings are pasted onto the images of the rooms. The artist plays with perspective to present dramatic, overlapping, or distorted images; His use of light and shadow also suggests a presence in the seemingly empty rooms, lending the photographs a mysterious air, and he thereby questions what we see in these images in relation to reality, and ponders the role of art — painting, photography, and cinema — in revealing the truth.
In Beautiful Things exhibition, Apichatpong uses text to tell non-linear stories across space and time. At the forefront of the main exhibition space, texts placed over the photographic image function like the opening titles of a double bill: Mekong Murder Mystery VS Dreams and Delusions, whilst a vertical video projection projects scrolling texts alternating with white spheres, slowly moving up from bottom to top. The text comprises a diverse range of stories from flakes of memories, thoughts, and knowledge, such as Apichatpong’s nature observation during evening trekking in Mae Rim Forest; the ways Khrua in Khong, a celebrated Siamese painter of the 19th century, utilised perspective system to create a realistic impression in his paintings for the first time; and a blind masseur who converted his arm tattoo from a Swastika to a dragon, like a petite Naga incarnate. The use of text on a dark background gives an impression of someone trying to fall asleep from middle-of-the-night awakening to a loud bang only to have random and refracted thoughts punched into their head. For Apichatpong, who tries to build as much sleep — and thus dream — time, the bed becomes a vehicle for entering a dreamscape realm.
Furthermore, also included in Beautiful Things as an intervention to share their views and interact with Apichatpong’s work are artworks by two Chiang Mai-based young artists: Methagod and Natanon Senjit. In this exhibition, Methagod’s sculpture Thep Nelumbo Nucifera (Sacred Lotus Deity) refers to the meaning behind the Sacred Lotus (Nelumbo Nucifera) that emerges from underground rhizomes and can remain viable for a hundred years; This fascinating plant can go dormant, germinate from mud, and give rise to new offspring, hence the artwork being symbolic of immortality. The sculpture reminds us of the perpetual resurrection of Thailand’s youth movements despite being time and again suppressed. Meanwhile, at the back end of the exhibition space, the Morlam theatre backdrop depicting an empty palace is overlaid with Natanon’s painting Break Out of the Loop of National Conflict into Peaceful Nature. Through this work, the young artist emphasises the importance of people-power movements continuing their resistance, yet he nevertheless expresses his hope and desire to live in peace and harmony even in the midst of the country’s political polarisation and predicament.
Beautiful Things offers us a window into Apichapong’s points of view on the world around him. The work gives a glimpse into his meditative musings on beauty, reality, knowledge, progress, and revolution, as he is pondering on the philosophy of J. Krishnamurti, who prefers looking at nature to any picture in any museum. Observing nature with sensitivity, seeing the tree as it is, is prerequisite for beautiful things to reveal themselves to us. For Apichatpong, beauty is likened to walking through the forest, being aware of other companions, and being in the presence of each and every living thing, witnessing their myriad of expressions throughout their natural cycle. The awakening to a rumbling sound and the awareness of different views, struggles, desires to continue, as well as even of simply being in the present, are truly beautiful things.