Thai artist Arin Rungjang, best known for his internationally acclaimed, site-specific installation Golden Teardrop (2013), makes a stop in Bangkok for a month and a half to showcase his latest creation 246247596248914102516...And then there were none at Gallery VER.
This installation was previously shown at the world’s largest international contemporary art festival, Documenta 14, which, was hosted this year in two different cities: Athens in Greece and Kassel in Germany.The installation series 246247596248914102516...And then there were none shown in Kassel, and now in Bangkok, is a sequel to the And then there were none (Tomorrow we will become Thailand) exhibition displayed in Athens.
What inspired you to create this exhibition? One day I was watching a documentary on the History Channel called Inside Hitler's Reich Chancellery, which chronicles the life of Adolf Hitler during [and after] World War II. There was a part when Hitler was hiding in his bunker after the war, and it showed his guestbook in close-up, revealing that the last name on the last page was a Thai name. So, I did research to find out who that Thai person was, why did he come to see Hitler 10 days before the Nazi leader shot himself to death.
And what did you discover? I found out that the man was Prasat Chutin or Phra Prasatphitthayayut, whose name doesn’t appear in Thai history lessons. He went to Germany to study military science, where his classmates later became Nazi members. So it kind of makes sense that, after the Thai political revolution, he was appointed the Thai ambassador in Berlin. My work decodes Prasart Chutin’s memoir, 225 Days in a Russian Prison, published in honor of his wife at her funeral. In it, he wrote about Hitler, describing the Nazi leader as “the most gentle man I’ve ever met in Germany.” This was never reflected in mass media like movies, books or photographs.
What should we expect from 246247596248914102516...And then there were none? As a visual maker, I grew up seeing the Democracy Monument all my life. So I’ve reinterpreted it as a massive bas-relief sculpture depicting a group of military veterans, inscripted with [the words], "Soldiers Fighting For Democracy." Another part [of the exhibition] is inspired by the memoir of Prasart Chutin, while another part is a video featuring memories of my great-grandfather, who took part in the pro-royalist Boworadet rebellion; my dad, who was beaten up by a Neo-Nazi gang (he passed away a while later); and myself, who was brought up by my single mom. There’s also a performance video that documents Germany after the Russians took over and all Nazi-related public elements were demolished or transformed into something else.
Your exhibition title contains a lot of numbers, seemingly random. What do they mean? The numbers are related to significant political events that happened in Thai history, which I’ll leave for people to decode themselves. Also, I chose to title my exhibition with numbers because our lives and memories these days are also run by numbers. Things are presented in numbers—like your date, month and year of birth, for example. If I asked, “do you remember when Thai soldiers shot at the masses?,” you might not be able to indicate which incident I’m talking about because it happened more than once. But when 14 October 1973 is stated, you’d know it right away.
What were the reactions from the audience when the exhibition was shown at Documenta 14 in Kassel earlier this year? Some Germans who came to see the work were itched and deeply moved [by the content]. When people talk about World War II, they usually talk about the genocide of the Jews. But Chutin documented the war from a different perspective, narrating the mass deaths of German veterans. This is history written from a personal memory. It’s powerful, and it’s totally different from the collective memory.
What kind of reaction do you expect from the Bangkok audience? I don’t expect anything; as I said earlier, my work is neutral. I grew up seeing the Democracy Monument, just like everyone who grows up in Thailand. Everyone is sharing the same [monumental] context. Getting to see the Democracy Monument again from a contemporary art context depends on the audience’s perception of democracy. My work can, therefore, either be seen as non-political or anything, depending on the viewers. Again, my work never forces the audience to see it in a certain way. It’s about returning the space to the audience to see and decide for themselves.