Time Out meets Chulayarnnon Siriphol

The video artist reveals what’s really “behind the painting”
Chulayarnnon Siriphol
Sereechai Puttes/Time Out Bangkok
By Top Koaysomboon |

Bangkok CityCity Gallery is no longer your usual Bangkok CityCity Gallery—at least from between now and 21 Jan. A guy named Nopporn (who seems to have deep pockets) has turned the whitewashed art space into Museum of Kirati, a hall to remember the love of his life who passed away years ago, a noblewoman named Kirati.

Anybody familiar with Thai pop culture would know that what’s written above is inspired by fiction, and that Nopporn and Kirati are just but leading characters from author Sri Burapa’s classic masterpiece Behind the Painting (Kang Lang Pab). Museum of Kirati, instead, was created by video artist Chulayarnnon Siriphol, who re-examines the novel in the context of social norms and political views back in the 1930s when it was written.

Time Out sits down for a quick chat with the artist.



Why Behind the Painting?
It all started long ago when I saw the movie based on the novel. I was moved by the tragic love story. After that, I read a literary analysis that questioned Kirati and Nopporn’s relationship and postulated that maybe there is more to the story than just love between two people of different ages. The author was a famous newspaper editor and political activist, and he wrote the novel only five years after the Siamese Revolution. The two leading characters could possibly be representative of two different classes—the declining old regime and the rising new power—which, in the end, won’t be able to unite. It inspired me to remake the novel, but in my own way.


Can you explain a bit more?
Kirati was a noblewoman, born and bred in the royal court. Women from her class would only get to see the world through marriage, which came to Kirati at an old age. She was a victim of the old regime in a way. Nopporn, on the other hand, was a wise man from a moneyed middleclass family who went to study in Japan, which was the rising nation at that time. So, he represents the modern generation. There are many differences between the two, so it’s clear that their love—or the unification of the old and new—is not meant to be.


You portray both Kirati and Nopporn roles in this reimagination. Why is that?
Because what seemed unable to unite at the beginning of the revolution are now dependent on each other, and enjoying quite a good relationship. Those who supported Kirati’s class in the latest uprising seemed to be from Nopporn’s class. So it turns out, in the end, there’s Kirati in Nopporn and vice versa, so I decided to play both roles.



Apart from portraying both Nopporn and Kirati, you also chose to present Pi, the woman Nopporn eventually married, as a transgender. Are gender issues part of your message?
It was after the Siamese Revolution when Nopporn married his wife, Pi. I think one of the symbols of the modern, revolutionized world is gender diversity and gentrification. So I chose a transgender character to represent this part.


How did your idea eventually become the Museum of Kirati?
I imagined what could have happened after the novel, creating fiction on top of fiction. Museum of Kirati is a museum the older Nopporn created in remembrance of Kirati and his love for her. It’s like resurrecting Kirati, and that’s the reason why I opted for video. For me, still images would be for the dead, while moving images are meant for those who live. And from there, I interpreted further so it becomes like a living museum.
        I wouldn’t like to obviously convey the political messages behind everything. As with Behind the Painting, people from different backgrounds perceive and interpret it differently. I’d like the same for this show.


As for foreigners who might not know about Behind the Painting, do you think they would understand what you’re trying to express?
I don’t think you need to completely understand Behind the Painting to get the idea. But you’ll realize it’s an interpretation [based on] a novel. Like, suddenly, one day, Bangkok CityCity is no longer a gallery. The function of the gallery is replaced by the function of a museum. So even if you know nothing about Behind the Painting, you’ll see that everything being shown is all about remembering a certain thing, curating something—which is the basic function of all other museums around the world. And Behind the Painting would just become an element of the museum.


“The two leading characters could possibly be representative of two different classes”


There’s also a memoir to Kirati written by three people. Please tell us more about this.
I invented three people to embody three figures in Kirati’s life: Nopporn, her father, and her friend all wrote an individual memoir in her remembrance. My thought was like, how can you learn more about a person that has passed? You learn from other people’s points of view. So you’ll learn more about Kirati by reading it.


Why would Nopporn establish a museum dedicated to his dead lover. Shouldn’t he be living his life happily?
Actually, the answer will be revealed after this show. I wrote a fictional annex to Behind the Painting, which will explain why Nopporn had to build this museum years after Kirati died and he married a woman named Pi. It will explain that Nopporn didn’t live a happy life with his wife. He discovered Pi wasn’t the ideal woman so he started reminiscing, asking himself if Kirati was actually his true love. At the time Nopporn was already wealthy enough, and was capable of building the museum.


Are you saying, politically, that this represents the new generation looking back and learning how to cherish old traditions?
Nopporn could have represented the new [class] during the Siamese Revolution. But later on, his political views could have changed. He could have looked back and realize the goodness of the old [traditions]. 


Museum of Kirati, Bangkok CityCity Gallery. Until 21 January


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