There’s no tinge of doubt that Apichatpong Weerasethakul is one of the most prolific contemporary Thai artists of our time. He’s the main feature in Tokyo’s boutique art gallery, the SCAI the Bathhouse. Apichatpong’s very popular works like Blissfully Yours (2002), Tropical Malady (2003), Power Boy (2009), Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives (2009), the Fireworks (2015), and The Serenity of Madness (2016) catapulted him into limelight in the global art stage.
The Importance of Telepathy is his 2012 sculpture for documenta 12 which he worked on in collaboration with his fellow colleague Chai Siris. The public art exhibit was on display in the Orangerie garden in Kassel. Sitting idly at the lush garden, the sculpture is crafted out of ceramic and drabbed in dazzlingly white cloth cloaks to resemble the mythical creature of the shadows. It’s immersed in what looks like an ethereal glow and covered to reveal only a scary face, giving it a believable ghostly appearance. There are also the hammocks and the wind chimes strapped on the trees around the garden. Together, the large sculpture brings to mind Phi Boon, a popular ghost in Thai folklore and literature.
Also, hiding behind the mask of Phi Boon is Sakda Kaewbuadee, a Thai actor who has acted in various cinematic installations as an astronaut, and a monk, and a tiger. The public art was first exhibited at in Kassel, Germany.
The story behind the sculpture
The story behind The Importance of Telepathy is as fascinating as the art installation itself. In Thailand, there exists a type of ghost known as Phi Boon. Contrary to the textbook definition of ghosts, Phi Boon isn’t a dead creature, but a living person who is believed to possess godly powers and ability to deliver the villagers from oppressive regimes and their pains. Besides being a symbol of hope, this ghost also entertains the villagers with otherworldly songs, poems, and texts.
For over 260 years, Phi Boons have revolted against unjust regimes and governments – hence, what they call Phi Boon uprisings. Unfortunately, the last of Phi Boons and their believers were executed in the 1950s.
From the artist’s perspective, the sculpture is a reminiscence of what Thailand as a country has gone through in the past tumultuous decades – the revolt, the military coups, the war, and then the hope, the faith, and the fear that often engulfs the northeastern state.
About Apichatpong Weerasethakul
Apichatpong Weerasethakul is a Thai independent film producer, screenwriter, film director, and artist, all rolled into one. His award-winning works have been featured in collections around the world, notably Tate and MoMA.