Celebrated Chiang Mai-based artist and filmmaker Apichatpong Weerasethakul, 46, is currently in Bangkok to host a side project at library-slash-art-space The Reading Room called “Soldiers/Senility.” As part of the venue’s ongoing “Sleepover” series of talks, the first event on Oct 3 invited retired-soldiers to discuss the military’s role in Thai society. Apichatpong will follow this on Oct 10 (6:30pm) with a second talk which discusses the topic of aging with a group of senior citizens.
What drew you to the topics of “Soldiers/Senility”?
It’s my personal interest. I turned 46 this year, and have felt a lot of changes physically and emotionally, as well as with my memory. As I grow older, and in view of the fact Thailand will become an aging society over the next few decades, I want to share my thoughts with senior citizens about what we have to face in the future as we grow older. I’m curious about the illusion painted in the media that senility is dreadful and that we must try and slow down the aging process. What most interests me is that we live in a highly youth-oriented society and yet we’re always ruled by old people.
Is that because Thailand is so often under military rule?
Sure. We’re so often ruled by junta governments and it keeps circling back. We need to communicate about the Thai military no matter which side we’re on. I feel that the military is like a black hole: and we have no idea what’s inside even though it’s so important. They’re our rulers. What kind of system created that mindset in them and “attitude adjustment” towards others? I feel it’s dangerous and we need to talk about it. It’s really confusing when I try to explain our constitutional reform with foreign friends. Thailand might be the only country in this world that is now ruled by a junta, yet we always try and say we’re democratic only it’s a different kind of democracy. Why do we lie to ourselves?*
You’ve mentioned Thailand being a hybrid between North Korea and Singapore, and feeling safe under tanks and guns.
I personally see that people might feel safe because the military is billed as one of Thailand’s institutions: nation, religion and monarchy. The military is like a part of the nation. It’s an institution, not individuals. The military exists in Thailand as the fence of the nation. Children can climb on tanks and play with guns on Children’s Day, which helps secure the feeling that we need the military. When people see corruption in civilian governments, they point to individuals. When it’s the military, the feeling is different. It’s as though it’s legitimate for them to hold power. As a third-world country, it’s pretty risky to have a non-transparent junta government.
Artists have been monitored a lot lately when their works relate to politics. How do you feel about freedom of expression in Thailand’s art scene?
I think it’s about how artists communicate their message. We’re in an era where you can post anything, so saying something straightforward isn’t art anymore. Art is rebellion. So it’s a question of how artists feel, address and convey their message. For me, the greater concern is about how everyone, not just artists, have to self-censor their views on politics. People can’t talk openly about politics anymore, which is so wrong. No matter how our thinking might clash, we should have a space that lets us learn and make up our own minds.
You recently decided not to put your new movie, Cemetery of Splendor (2015), up for classification from the Thai film board. Did you feel this was unfair to local audiences?
I’m sorry with this decision too. As a filmmaker, I want to share my movie on a giant screen. But we have limited freedom here; it’s not 100 percent. Ten years ago, the situation wasn’t like this. It has driven me to not want to participate at all with the Thai film board. It would take too long to deal with everything: the censorship, the scene cutting. I just don’t want to go through this process any more.
Soldiers/Senility is the final installment of Sleepover, a series of six-month project at The Reading Room. The two talks will be turned into a film which will screen on Oct 30 from 3pm. The footage is recorded and edited Chulayarnnon Siriphol and Abhichon Rattanabhayon. Events will be conducted in Thai.
*Editor’s note: Wikipedia.org lists Thailand’s constitutional form as “n/a,” alongside Libya, meaning “No constitutionally-defined basis to the current regime.”