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Sophie Colin
Entretien | 25 mai

“To go round censorship, I use symbols or subversion”
Apichatpong Weerasethakul, Thai filmmaker (Palme d’Or 2010) and visual artist, recalls the difficulties of creation in his country where censorship rages. He exhibits his work at the Galerie Torri in Paris this month.

 © Kick the Machine et TORRI, Paris
We knew the filmmaker Apichatpong Weerasethakul, the most famous Thai director in France and one of the favorites of the Cannes film festival (Palme d’Or in 2010 for Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives among other awards). His films immerse viewers in an enigmatic and poetic world, made of contrasts between dreams and reality: man and nature, light and shadow, the loud sounds produced by nature, the soft voice of the characters… His marked aesthetic choices respond to a deep commitment to topics such as memory and social and political matters, in a country where creation often comes up against the regime’s hardening.

We know less about the visual artist. After exhibiting at the Paris Modern Art Museum in 2009, he is back with the Fire garden exhibition at the Galerie Torri, where he unveils recent videos and photographs. An occasion to question him about the connections between his filmmaker pieces and his artistic creations, and about the working conditions in a country subject to censorship.
 © Kick the Machine et TORRI, Paris

Pluris – How are the photographs and videos you direct as a visual artist distinguished from your filmmaker’s work?

Apichatpong Weerasethakul – Every medium obeys its own rules. For film, there is a team, a cameraman. In art, I am freer, I don’t feel restrained by the format. But the style is more or less the same in both fields, and you have to forget the technique to express and share emotion. Besides, at the movie theater, viewers are in a dark room, hypnotized by the movie: it is like an almost primitive ritual. They are very passive. In art, you have to catch the attention and provoke reactions with certain words or certain images. This balance between passivity and activity is very important.

Your movies are characterized by a very peculiar enigmatic, poetic and aesthetic atmosphere and omnipresent contrasts. You play with light and obscurity, slowness and softness in gestures, sounds, etc. Do we find this track in your videos and photographs?

That’s a mystery! When it comes to atmosphere, I don’t try to tell a story per se but to foreground emotion. For instance, if someone moves from a point A to a point B, it is not the topic. The important is to show what the person feels in the environment he or she goes through. That is my point of view both as a filmmaker and as a visual artist. As for contrasts, I believe that to appreciate one, you must appreciate the other. If I put obscurity in a film or photograph, I will bring its opposite: light. It is an endless process. It is the process of life.
“Being subversive can fuel creativity but it can also be a trap, and become boring. I keep thinking that freedom brings more creativity.” Apichatpong Weerasethakul

The army is very present in your movies. Is cinema the strongest medium to show the current political situation in Thailand?

Today, one can express so many things from film images or photographs. Cinema has a lot of power but it is also very dangerous because it can manipulate viewers and misrepresent the truth for propaganda purposes. That is the reason why, in many countries, dictators are afraid of what cinema shows or of the use made of film images. Personally, I live in a climate of fear. The situation is threatening and prejudicial. The regime uses the national security logic to intimidate people. Facing this, I try to find a balance. The message I am sending says at the same time that what the dictatorship says is untrue but that you have to treat everyone in a respectable way, even a dictator. That is what it takes to understand each other. It is not strength but communication.

How do you work with the censorship imposed by the regime?

We arrive at a point where dictatorship has become extremely hard for creation. So we should use other ways and observe other countries to think about what is happening at home. Automatically, I must express things symbolically or be subversive. Being subversive can fuel creativity but it can also be a trap, and become boring. But I keep thinking that freedom brings more creativity.

You said that you would like to live outside of Thailand but that this idea scares you. Are you going to leave Thailand and, if so, in which country would you like to live?

I am going to stay in Thailand for a while but I would like to work abroad. Creating sincerely in my country is becoming dangerous today. I am attracted to Southern Asia countries and Latin America, to these unstable regions, their culture and the brutality of their history. I am particularly interested in the colonization’s heritage. Observing and understanding what is happening in these countries allows me to better understand the events occurring in Thailand today. And I like their landscapes.

You are known as an experimental filmmaker. But are you an experimental artist as well?

First of all, I don’t try to be an experimental filmmaker! I have always liked the 1950s-60s “experimental” movies until they became too institutionalized and stopped being experimentation. For cinema and for art, I don’t experiment. I try to find a balance. Like in life, I live but I don’t experiment. For me, experimentation is more physical, more chemical.
 © Kick the Machine et TORRI, Paris

Which filmmakers inspired you?

Many of the ones from the 1950s and 60s, mostly American, like Andy Warhol, whose philosophy I admire.

What are your next projects?

I am working on a performance that will take place in Brussels great theater from the 21st to the 25th of May. It will be very intimate, with no actors. For me, it is cinema, but from another kind. Then I will start working on other artistic projects and direct a new film.
 Fire garden exhibition at the Galerie Torri, until the 28th of May 2016.

 © Kick the Machine et TORRI, Paris
 © Kick the Machine et TORRI, Paris
 © Kick the Machine et TORRI, Paris
 © Kick the Machine et TORRI, Paris
 © Kick the Machine et TORRI, Paris
Crédits photo : Kick the Machine et TORRI, Paris
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