Art/Culture

In Conversation With Chai Siris

Following an impressive 2016 that marked his first show in Bangkok and the premier of his film 500,000 Pee at the Venice Film Festival, we look back to an interview we conducted with Chiang Mai-based contemporary artist Chai Siris at the start of last year.

January 17, 2017
Installation view of Under the Same Sky at NOVA Contemporary

What are you currently working on?
I am writing a script about the night that my grandparents, uncle, and mother (who was very young at the time) escaped across the river from Burma during the revolution. My grandfather (mother’s father) is Burmese and he had to leave with his family because he was a target of the military junta. I am focusing specifically on the night that the four of them escaped.

What inspires you?
The beauty in the lives of those that surround me.

Your photographs are beautiful and have a certain clarity, often juxtaposing materials, natural and manmade: people vs. nature, nature vs. architecture, etc. Can you explain a little about the commonality that the work has?
Most of my work is concerned with storytelling in multiple dimensions, from film and writing to illustrations and photographs. Usually I will take the history of either society at large or my own personal one and deconstruct it in order to expose points of view and perspectives other than what is common.

The creation of duality by borrowing different elements and then separating them is a method that I prefer to use because it enables me to see details that I would not normally see or even think of. For example, in my past work I would do research in the same way that I would do if I were to make a film, from finding the location and writing the script to casting the actors and building the props. But rather than bring these elements together, as I would in a single film, I would separate each part and use them as installations.

You lived in Paris for a while and had a show there too. What was the experience like? Do you miss it?
To be honest, when I was living there, I didn’t have much time to explore because I had shows that I was working on all year long, so most of my time was spent working in the office at the Palais de Tokyo and going to meetings. Being an emerging artist from Thailand brought quite a bit of attention: there were often curators asking to look at my work. They would say that my outlook and way of working was different from other people’s. It was fun working in Paris because the people there were curious and wanted to know about my work.
King Kong
The Sea and the Mountain
The thing that I miss is the River Seine, as my apartment was right on the riverbank in Le Marais. Every evening I would go for a walk and think about my work. Some days I would be so lost in thought that I would end up near the Eiffel Tower, which is many kilometers away from where I stayed. Living far away from Thailand enabled me to stop thinking about politics and all the turmoil at that time.

People who follow my work have observed that the work I created there [in Paris] was “poetic” to the point that one would not expect this from me. This enabled me to discover another dimension of myself. Sometimes I would miss home, Chiang Mai, so I would go to the plant nursery and buy a tropical plant. There was one point when I got so carried away that my apartment was totally full of plants and I had to include the big banana tree I had bought in my show to free up room in my apartment. In that piece of work I had P’Pod [Moderndog] compose a song as part of the work. A friend of mine said that the song was so sweet my boyfriend must have written it for me. So I answered back, no my boyfriend is not so “sweet”.