Apichatpong Weerasethakul & Cao Guimarães
This autumn EYE is organizing a major exhibition on the work of two prominent film artists: Apichatpong Weerasethakul (1970) and Cao Guimarães (1965). Their acclaimed work evokes a world that blends dream, sensory experience and reality, inviting visitors to momentarily step out of their rationally structured lives.
Thai artist Apichatpong Weerasethakul won a Golden Palm at Cannes Film Festival in 2010. In addition, he creates video installations, photographs and experimental documentaries that transcend the confines of cinema. Brazilian artist Cao Guimarães is primarily known for his short films and video installations, but he also creates remarkable movies and photographic works.
Both artists are steeped in their local contexts. Apichatpong and Guimarães draw inspiration from the landscapes, stories, history and socio-political conditions of their respective countries, while their work also explores memory, time, friendship and human dignity.
Guimarães and Weerasethakul are like-minded artists whose work starts with the ordinary, everyday life all around us, but it requires an exceptional eye, a trained eye, to reveal its beauty, colours, rhythms, light, sounds and smells. Both artists make humane works that raise the ‘ordinary’ to another level. Their creations evoke a sensory world that invites observers to immerse themselves and escape from their limited and often rational way of thinking.
Apichatpong Weerasethakul, honoured with the 2016 Prince Claus Award, has taken part in major film festivals in Cannes, Venice, Rotterdam, Toronto and elsewhere. He was a participating artist in documenta 13 in Kassel (2012) and in various biennales, and he has had major presentations at, among others, Haus der Kunst in Munich, The New Museum in New York, and Tate Modern in London.
Most of Weerasethakul’s films, photographs, experimental videos and film installations are set in the north-east of Thailand, the region where he grew up. Weerasethakul is interested in the history, memory and sensory experience of this region. His world makes no distinction between the present and past, between visible reality and dreamed truth. Many of his works feature ‘spirits’ — ancestors, wood nymphs, figures from ancient legends or from mythical stories. The seemingly casual way they form part of his filmed reality shows that, for Weerasethakul, they are no strangers but simply part of life.
The exhibition at EYE features large big film installation Primitive. It consists of eight short and slightly longer ‘mini films’ or ‘sketches’ that capture the lives of a number of teenagers in Nabua, a small village in the north-east of Thailand. In the 1960s and 70s, this village was the scene of battle between Thai military forces and local civilians who were accused of being communist or having communist sympathies. In this village ‘full of repressed memories’, Weerasethakul films teenagers who gather to chat, play football and daydream. Just like in all his work, this film demonstrates his attentive way of looking, his protracted shots, his heightened sensitivity to both natural and artificial light, and also his ability to subtly invite viewers to reflect on their own lives and on the deeper layers behind our daily existence.
The work of Cao Guimarães has featured at major film festivals around the world, including Locarno, Cannes, Rotterdam, Sundance and Venice, and it has been exhibited and acquired by prominent museums such as the Tate Modern in London, Guggenheim Museum in New York, Inhotim Institute in Belo Horizonte, Jumex collection in Mexico City, and Fondation Cartier in Paris.
Like Weerasethakul, Cao Guimarães also has a keen eye for small occurrences, objects, colours and sounds that one normally doesn’t notice. The power of Guimarães lies in revealing the casual poetry in the ordinary. His films are populated by minuscule insects, soap bubbles, raindrops, petals falling on the ground, footprints, bits of fluff floating in the air. He is drawn to those very places where people live but are often overlooked, people who avoid the predictably structured lives we are expected to live in a modern capitalist society. Not only people on the fringes of society, drifters and hermits, but also children who, to him, represent the freedom to live as you want, free of any rules of behaviour and full of uncertainty about how to proceed. Guimarães presents us with alternative ways of living, offering us space to break free from our own, structured lives.
Another important element in his work is the landscape and other natural phenomena such as sunlight, weather, reflections of light on water. We also see that the relationship between people and their natural environment is not a hierarchical one but a natural connection.
The work of Cao Guimarães is situated at the interface between cinema and art. Self-taught, he pays little heed to prevailing rules and predictable forms of filmmaking. Although documentary by nature, his images seem to float between familiar reality and a world in which the senses enjoy free reign and – just as in the work of Weerasethakul – break free from rational considerations. And in that way, Guimarães’s images also evoke a world that blends dream, sensory experience and reality.