Apichatpong Weerasethakul's double vision

The Dazed Visionary talks about evading censorship in Thailand and speaking in code for his new London show

AW 02

Following the release of his debut film, 2000's Mysterious Object at Noon, Thai filmmaker Apichatpong Weerasethakul has emerged as one of world cinema's great artists. In the time since then, this week's Dazed Visionary has been busy winning awards at Cannes, offending the Thai government and creating short films and gallery installations around the world. His latest work, Double Visions, an exhibition built around the idea of dreaming, sees him take over the Anthony Reynolds gallery in London, where we caught up with him for a quick chat about censorship, escapism, and speaking in codes.

Dazed Digital: Could you talk about the ideas behind your new installation, Double Visions?

Apichatpong Weerasethakul: This installation is the combination of works I have made over a number of years which share certain elements of the issues that I'm interested in now, which is sleeping, and lights, and how they relate to each other. We're showing Dilbar, which is a piece I made last year in the Arab Emirates about a worker who is building a contemporary art museum, and it's a portrait of a guy who's asleep through the whole film. There's another work, Teem, of my boyfriend, who I filmed using my phone's camera to wake him up each morning for three days in a row. It's all about looking at the people unconscious, in a kind of drifting state.

DD: Why does this idea interest you so much?

Apichatpong Weerasethakul: At home I started to question the relevance of what I do, and I feel that there are certain things that I cannot talk about, or I have to flip to another mode of expression because of censorship and all these other things, so I'm getting more interested in the idea of escape, and of living in another dimension. It started quite a while ago, even as far back as Tropical Malady in 2004, and all the films in the installation share this theme of escape.

DD: Is censorship still a problem for you?

Apichatpong Weerasethakul: Yes. If I want to show a movie back home in Thailand, I have to operate in a certain way, which is good and bad because you are forced to be more creative and say things differently. There are some issues that you really can't talk about: certain obvious sexual expression, religion, and also the monarchy. I think what I do in the art, compared to the filmmaking, becomes more of a release, or something I can play more abstract. 

DD: How did you first get into films?

Apichatpong Weerasethakul: I was studying architecture at university in Thailand but I always wanted to make movies, but I didn't know what kind of movies, and then I studied experimental filmmaking in Chicago. After that, I mainly worked in Thailand, where I was one of the first independent filmmakers, so because there was nobody to pave the way before, there were quite a lot of new ways to do things. I had to recruit people, and then we just made films together.

DD: You said you studied architecture. How does that inform your filmmaking?

Apichatpong Weerasethakul: Back when I was younger, the construction movement was very trendy, and I became interested in the different ways of looking at space and dimension. When you walk into a building and it feels like it's alive, it challenges you to look at space in different ways.

DD: Would you say the way you structure the narratives of your films, usually splitting them into two different yet similar parts, comes from your study of architecture?

Apichatpong Weerasethakul: I think I like the idea of duality. Also, I'm the kind of person who's not really focused, so when I start something I always feel like: "OK, I'll get to here then I'll move in another direction" and I try to express this in the structures of my movies. I care about moments, feelings, and experience more than telling a stories. I really like American experimental cinema, which is very free and a mixture of all this kind of film expression, but what I do is just present my narrative. It's more challenging to experiment with that while at the same time communicating ideas to a larger audience. 

DD: The countryside is another important element in your films. What interests you about the natural world?

Apichatpong Weerasethakul: I grew up in the countryside before my hometown grew very rapidly, and now it's something else, and I'll always miss that. The mode of operation, of thinking, of believing, is, for me, something that I never questioned when I was younger, and now, for some reason, it seems like I'm exploring this world through cinema. I'm making diaries tracing my interests and my life, and I'm interested in the origins of superstitions and rituals. 

DD: And spirituality?

Apichatpong Weerasethakul: That comes from life, and from living in Thailand. Thailand is a mixture of this so-called progress and the spiritual beliefs, so I found it very in tune with movies; specifically how they create parallel space between illusion and life, and how they draw you into that world. I think living in Thailand is also like that at certain times, and you have to operate outside of reality sometimes because you cannot always express yourself in a specific way. You have to do things differently - or learn to speak in codes.

Double Visions is on from April 11 to May 17 at the Anthony Reynolds Gallery, London.

More Arts+Culture