Last Wednesday I descended to The Tanks at Tate Modern in London, the crypt-like space made from where oil was stored in the days the building was a power station, Tate Modern’s past life so to speak.
Here there is an installation worth catching of nine screens of the work of the Thai film-maker and installation artist, Apichatpong Weerasethakul. Go for the experience first of all, which is immersive: you can lie on the floor and lose yourself in time and the darkness, and soak up several screens that are separated in space at the same time. With the focus film, Primitive, one screen was on top of the other; while I have seen screens side-by-side, I have not seen this before. But putting aside the novelty, go for the images. AW has a thing about fire. You can see some young men playing flaming football, i.e. as they kick it about the ball is on fire. You can see artificial lightning flashes. These are intriguing because I thought at first they were ground-to-air fireworks, but as I looked I concluded they were activated by an electrical flash transmitted from above the camera frame, and therefore offscreen, to a lightning conductor in the ground. The ambiguity about how it was done is suspenseful, and anyway, the result is spectacular. Most extraordinary was the moment in Primitive when a figure in a white garment moves through a deep twilight landscape, and suddenly the garment bursts into flames, giving a vision of an animated flame-sculpture moving in the darkness.
I tend to be wary of modern film-making, because the technology has caused film-makers to jettison the chemistry that comes from between shots, from juxtapositions of forms and meanings, in favour of letting the camera run, and of running the risk of losing the visual excitement that editing can give. But here AW creates spectacular thrills for the camera to film, which are beautifully presented in this cavernous space.
Here is a list of the films on screen (all 2009):
- I’m Still Breathing (11 min)
- Nabua (9 min)
- Primitive (30 min)
- Nabua Song (4 min)
- An Evening Shoot (4 min)
- Making of the Spaceship (28 min)
- A Dedicated Machine (1 min 35 secs)
- Phantoms of Nabua (11 min)
- A Letter to Uncle Boonmee
If you go, give yourself time.