“Letters to Chantri #1”: Thai artist Korakrit Arunanondchai at S.M.A.K. in Belgium

Controversial Buddhist sect provides genesis for immersive installation’s purification ritual. 

Korakrit Arunanondchai examines integral structures behind contemporary society by researching Thailand’s fastest-growing Buddhist movement to produce “new, sacred ideals”. 

Korakrit Arunanondchai, "Letters to Chantri #1: The lady at the door/The gift that keeps on giving (feat. boy child)", installation view at The Mistake Room, Los Angeles, 2014. Photo: Josh White/JW Pictures.

Korakrit Arunanondchai, “Letters to Chantri #1: The lady at the door/The gift that keeps on giving (feat. boy child)”, installation view at The Mistake Room, Los Angeles, 2014. Photo: Josh White/JW Pictures.

“Letters to Chantri #1” opened on 20 February 2016 at S.M.A.K. (the Museum of Contemporary Art Ghent, Belgium) and closes on 8 May 2016. The installation has been gifted to the Museum and according to the venue’s website, represents a unique opportunity between public and private entities:

Korakrit Arunanondchai Gift is one of a series of presentations of recent gifts to S.M.A.K. The Letters to Chantri #1 installation was purchased by ten international art collectors with the purpose of handing it over to S.M.A.K. This form of donation opens up possible new ways of cooperation between public institutions and private initiatives.

The multimedia “performative” installation represents a departure for the artist, by merging ritual with a traditional guided museum tour.

Korakrit Arunanondchai, "Letters to Chantri #1: The lady at the door/The gift that keeps on giving (feat. boy child)" installation view at The Mistake Room, Los Angeles, 2014. Photo: Josh White/JW Pictures.

Korakrit Arunanondchai, “Letters to Chantri #1: The lady at the door/The gift that keeps on giving (feat. boy child)”, installation view at The Mistake Room, Los Angeles, 2014. Photo: Josh White/JW Pictures.

As a high school student, Korakrit Arunanondchai (b. 1986, Bangkok) became interested in Fine Art after seeing Olaufur Eliasson‘s “The Weather Project” in London. The artist then went on to pursue his BFA from the Rhode Island School of Design (2009) before earning his MFA from Columbia University (2012), studying under fellow Thai artist Rirkrit Tiravanija. Arunanondchai’s work is often collaborative in nature and is a lively mashup of pop culture and music, reaching across media and including cross-cultural narratives.

Korakrit Arunanondchai, "Letters to Chantri #1: The lady at the door/The gift that keeps on giving (feat. boy child)" installation view at The Mistake Room, Los Angeles, 2014. Photo: Josh White/JW Pictures.

Korakrit Arunanondchai, “Letters to Chantri #1: The lady at the door/The gift that keeps on giving (feat. boy child)”, installation view at The Mistake Room, Los Angeles, 2014. Photo: Josh White/JW Pictures.

“Letters to Chantri #1” consists of pictures, sculptures and videos where Arunanondchai examines contemporary society through the lens of religion as a commodity. His “hybrid experience” is based upon researched gleaned about Thailand’s Dhammakaya movement, where visitors are required to don white uniforms and some claim there is a “money for merit” campaign. Here, the audience is led into an immersive installation, part museum tour, part ritual, where the “new”, as a press release for the installation states, replaces previous paradigms:

Arunanondchai introduces the archetype of the young artist through recent strategies used by Eastern religions in their effort to deepen their relationship with a growing population of Thai youth. A video mimicking a late-night ad for a new product introduces the experience during the subsequent group visit to an adjacent large-scale assembly room. Heritage and tradition collapse into a world of anxiety, immediacy, deregulation and detachment, where myths of innovation and notions of “the new” have become new, sacred ideals.

Letters to Chantri #1: The lady at the door / The gift that keeps on giving (Trailer) from Korakrit Arunanondchai on Vimeo

This idea of pushing the envelope beyond its established boundaries fits Arunanondchai like a glove. His work embraces a “hybrid” of traditional influences from Eastern and Western cultures to modern-day politics and cutting-edge contemporary art. As the artist relayed in an article in Interview Magazine, Arunanondchai is not so much interested in the “outdated way of thinking about art” but the results that come from mixing disciplines together:

I think there’s an outdated way of talking about art— “Oh, this is a cross between art and music,” or, “This is a cross between fashion and art.” This show is not about that, it’s not about mixing everything together for the sake of mixing everything together. It’s posed in a framework of: All of that has already happened, and now I’m trying to explore the possibilities of what you can make from that result.

Basically, you walk in, and it functions as a—like, if you go to Disney World or the Scientology museum, you go into a room, and this person leads you to an experience with media and objects. That’s what this is… It’s almost like the “company” utilizes my identity as an artist. It’s like this company comes to me, and I kind of pull my signature moves and my story as an artist to sell their brand.

Korakrit Arunanondchai, "Letters to Chantri #1: The lady at the door/The gift that keeps on giving (feat. boy child)" installation view at The Mistake Room, Los Angeles, 2014. Photo: Josh White/JW Pictures.

Korakrit Arunanondchai, “Letters to Chantri #1: The lady at the door/The gift that keeps on giving (feat. boy child)”, installation view at The Mistake Room, Los Angeles, 2014. Photo: Josh White/JW Pictures.

And yes, there really are letters to Chantri. In the same article, Arunanondchai talked about the real-life connection behind the title:

She is a friend in Thailand that I write letters to.

Lisa Pollman

1113

Related Topics: Buddhist art, consumerism, globalisation, identity art, museum shows, Thai artists

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