Primitive is a multi-platform project by Apichatpong Weerasethakul. Commissioned by Haus der Kunst, Munich with FACT Liverpool, and Animate Projects. Produced by Illuminations Films, London with Kick the Machine, Bangkok.

The short online film by Weerasethakul will be presented by Animate Projects in February 2009 to coincide with the opening of the Primitive installation at Haus der Kunst, Munich on 20 February. The cinema version of the short film, entitled Primitive: A Letter to Uncle Boonmee, will have its world premiere in Munich at the same time. The installation will receive its UK premiere at FACT, Liverpool in September 2009.

Primitive will be shot in the border town, Nabua, where the Mekong River divides Thailand and Laos, an area with a long history of racial migration and slaughter. It was also a ‘red zone’ where the Mao-influenced Communist party moved into the mountain range and the Thai government targeted local communities as communist sympathisers. Nabua has an ancient legend about a widow ghost who would abduct any man who enters her empire.

The Primitive project re-imagines Nabua, the ‘widow town’, as a town of men, freed from the widow ghost’s empire, and features the male descendants of the farmer communists – teenagers that will lead a journey, fabricate memories, and build a dreamscape in the jungle.

I’ve been intrigued about this Primitive project ever since Twitch first began mentioning it several months ago. The idea of an installation piece that works on an immersion as well as cinematic level may not be unique, but attempting to take the more easily transported elements, the films, and share them with a broader base than simply those who can make it to the gallery, shows an honest desire to communicate. It’s also a stab in the eye of perceived elitism among art circles, particularly when it’s decided to host one element of the installation for free on the internet.

The short film Phantoms of Nabua:

Perhaps for an economic reason, most of the houses in Asia are illuminated by fluorescent lights. Even though these lights make the skin look pale, even dead, for me they relate to home, to being home.

The film’s setting is a rear projection of Nabua (from the Primitive installation) and a recreation of a fluorescent light pole back in my hometown. I used this setting as a playground for the teens who emerged from the dark with a football raging with fire. They took turns kicking the ball that left illuminated trails on the grass. Finally they burned the screen which revealed behind it a ghostly white beam of a projector.

Like A Letter To Uncle Boonmee, Phantoms of Nabua is a portrait of home. The film portrays a communication of lights, the lights that exude, on the one hand, the comfort of home and, on the other, of destruction.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

It’s not a particularly accessible piece and that probably wouldn’t change with any context from other layers of this impending installation. It’s also funny how the delivery of the short, the internet, allows for sharing while also proving to be the worst conveyance imaginable. This film should be seen large, in the dark, with good speakers.

Still, I like the idea of Weerasethakul. He’s the recipient of many awards and accolades for his work, he focuses on his home of Thailand without running off to Hong Kong to be a rockstar, and he’s established a production company, Kick the Machine Films, to support independent and experimental film. People who don’t seem to compromise inspire me even if what they do doesn’t.

Thanks to Twitch for keeping me informed as well as Animate Projects for their participation in Primitive, including the video I’ve stolen. Stolen video loaded via VodPod. Picture of Primitive by Chayaporn Maneesutham for Kick the Machine.

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