Korakrit Arunanondchai’s work is, at this point, synonymous with garish, frenetically arranged installations, which is a shame. Although Arunanondchai is best known for these big, bold, and often boring works, he is actually most talented as a filmmaker. Thankfully, in his latest show at Clearing gallery in Brooklyn, the spotlight was held by a meditative video about memory—the kind stored in human brains as well as on computer hard drives.
Titled “with history in a room filled with people with funny names 4” after the sole video on view, the tender exhibition was one of Arunanondchai’s most mature outings to date. It did sometimes succumb to excess, such as when it presented a room resembling a burned-down forest. Nevertheless, it revealed an emotional core that’s rarely seen in the Thai-born artist’s work.
With history in a room filled with people with funny names 4, the video, is an involving work that strings together ideas about America’s tense political situation, Arunanondchai’s personal history, Thai mythology, and new technology. Like recent works by Anicka Yi, Tuan Andrew Nguyen, and Hito Steyerl, Arunanondchai’s video is in the tradition of Chris Marker’s essay films. The formula: create a potpourri of concepts and see how, if at all, they might relate.
Arunanondchai is an adept essayist, gracefully weaving between gauzy shots of his grandmother, who suffers from dementia, and on-the-fly footage of recent anti-Trump protests in New York and Washington, D.C. His mother, narrating in French, offers various musings, such as “Will you find beauty in this sea of data?” And so, Arunanondchai does. Cutting to a shot of a fleet of drones rising into the sky, his mother notes that “the air is full of spirits.” What’s analog is now digital; what’s spiritual is now technological. Everything, in Arunanondchai’s strange world, is in flux. Perhaps as a reflection of his grandmother’s impending death, the video makes it seem as if humanity itself doesn’t have much longer on this earth.
Two installations nicely echoed the video, loudly underscoring its themes. One was like a post-apocalyptic tangle of trees that had been set afire; it featured sacs, wires, and “dad’s dirt”—dirt that was walked on by the recently deceased king of Thailand. It was dark and foreboding, and found its opposite in an adjacent light-filled room. Minimalist and oddly moving, the second installation included a slipper placed on top of a stack of magazines and a button-down shirt hung neatly on a wire hanger. These clothes felt reminiscent of objects that appear in with history in a room filled with people with funny names 4, as though even after the world ends, even after the artist’s mother dies, Arunanondchai’s memories linger on.