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Nov 08 2018

Shamanistic Artistry: Highlights from Ghost:2561

by Annie Jael Kwan

Installation view of METAHAVEN’s Information Skies, 2017, video, dimensions variable, at Ghost:2561, SAC Subhashok The Arts Centre, 2018. Photo by Miti Ruangkritya. Courtesy Ghost Foundation, Bangkok.

The first edition of the triennial video and performance series Ghost:2561 materialized recently across nine venues in bustling Bangkok, amid Thailand’s feverish season of art festivals. Conceived by artist and curator Korakrit Arunanondchai and Bangkok CityCity Gallery director Akapol Sudasna, Ghost:2561 embraces a range of stories of invisible forces that shape contemporary society. Four videos in particular explored the notion of ghost in relation to cultural subjectivity, either lesser recognized or in transition. 

Hong Kong-born artist Samson Young’s video installation, We Are the World, As Performed by the Hong Kong Federation of Trade Unions Choir (2014), presented at Artist+Run, depicts a choir associated with the city’s largest pro-Beijing labor group (which holds five seats in the Legislative Council of Hong Kong) mouthing the lyrics of the eponymous charity pop song, energetically mimicking the posture of singing though the sound is almost inaudible. In front of the screen are vintage theater seats, evoking the interior of an old cinema, perhaps in reference to the golden era of Hong Kong cinema during the 1970s and ’80s, now subsumed by large-scale mainland Chinese productions. The performative nature of Young’s video, where it is the collective effort of the choir that makes each breath explicit, gestures toward the publicly invisible manipulations of lobby groups behind the scenes that can effect changes in the political, economic and cultural landscape.

Installation view of SAMSON YOUNG’s We Are the World, As Performed by the Hong Kong Federation of Trade Unions Choir, 2017, single-channel HD video, and 8 channel sound installation, carpet, 10 vintage theatre chairs, acoustic panels, 1 round spotlight: 5 min 26 sec, at Ghost:2561, Artist+Run Gallery, Bangkok, 2018. Photo by Miti Ruangkritya. Courtesy the artist and Ghost Foundation, Bangkok.

Installation view of STEPHANIE COMILANG Lumapit Sa Akin (Come To Me Paradise), 2016, three-channel HD video with color and sound: 25 min 44 sec, at Ghost:2561, Cartel ArtSpace, Bangkok, 2018. Photo by Miti Ruangkritya. Courtesy the artist and Ghost Foundation, Bangkok.

At Cartel ArtSpace, visitors sat on a cardboard-box-lined floor—a reference to the makeshift mats on the streets of big cities, where predominantly female, migrant domestic workers gather on their days off—to view Filipina-Canadian artist Stephanie Comilang’s Lumapit Sa Akin, Paraiso (Come to Me, Paradise) (2016). The video presents mainlythe perspective of a sentient drone named Paradise, voiced by the artist’s mother, Emily Comilang, who emigrated to Canada from the Philippines in the 1970s. Paradise sees itself as a conduit between overseas domestic workers and their families back home, acting as a mobile server to which the former can upload personal videos for the latter to view. Speculating on the relative invisibility of this marginalized community, and the nature of home and distance, the drone anxiously tracks the private and public lives of three Filipina domestic workers through the busy cosmopolis of Hong Kong. Capturing slices of everyday life on the periphery through a mix of drone and personal footage of its three subjects, the quasi-documentary is suffused with a longing for recognition and belonging. Paradise’s voice is hopeful, as she observes it is much easier to build a community when there are more domestic workers, underscoring the necessity of feminine camaraderie in the big city.

Jon Wang tackles ghosts more literally in his site-specific, two-channel video installation You Belong Two Me (2018), created as a site-specific response to the heritage Jim Thompson House Museum, the design legacy of its founder, and its collection of Burmese Nat spirit sculptures. The screens flank a spirit sculpture, and portray two male, Burmese spirit mediums with slicked back hair, heavily powdered faces and red lips. Adorned with pearl chokers and earrings, they whisper and dance enticingly to the camera. Wang celebrates the positions of economic and spiritual power enjoyed by mediums, who are highly sought after in Myanmar, while positioning their unconventional and non-gender-conforming allure to queer the notions of traditional aesthetics and beauty.

Installation view of JON WANG’s You Belong Two Me, 2018, two-channel HD video with color and sound: 9 min 4 sec, at Ghost:2561, Jim Thompson House and Museum, Bangkok, 2018. Photo by Miti Ruangkritya. Courtesy the artist and Ghost Foundation, Bangkok.

Installation view of CHULAYARNNON SIRIPHOL’s Golden Spiral, 2018, single-channel HD video with color and sound: 18 min, at Ghost:2561, Doxza Art Lab, Bangkok. 2018. Photo by Miti Ruangkritya. Courtesy the artist and Ghost Foundation, Bangkok.

The link between beauty and spirituality also runs through Chulayarnnon Siriphol’s surreal and darkly humorous video installation Golden Spiral (2018), situated in Doxza Art Lab. Centered on the repeated use of golden snail shells, the film unravels an acerbic satirical narrative about the obsessive pursuit of everlasting youth. Featuring women fixated with serums for rejuvenating skin, and a mutant human-snail scientist, clad in a bright yellow turtleneck and lab coat with his golden shell peeking out, who creates new beauty products, the film uses animation, comedic sketches, appropriated footage from games and YouTube videos, and a soundtrack of sad songs and discordant sounds to depict the dark absurdity of society’s fear of mortality that drives its consumerist desire.

The aforementioned works arguably express most cogently Ghost:2561’s attempt to manifest and reconcile with the many ghosts of old class, political and cultural systems that continue to haunt contemporary society—a necessary collective process if we are to look toward a shared future of multiple subjective agencies.

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