Arin Rungjang

Arin Rungjang, Mongkut (2015), two single-channel digital videos (color, sound, 15 min. and 14:30 min.), blueprint paper, copy of King Mongkut crown made with lacquer, gold leaf, gold silk, and synthetic stones (rubies, sapphire, emeralds, diamonds, pearls), and soapstone molds, overall installation dimensions variable, © Arin Rungjang; Jeu de Paume, Paris; Fondation Nationale des Arts Graphiques et Plastiques, Paris; CAPC musée d’art contemporain de Bordeaux; Future Perfect, Singapore

When Arin Rungjang speaks about history, he uses a vocabulary associated with rumor and hearsay: history is neither fact nor uncontested. For Rungjang, who was born in Bangkok in 1975, the contention is rooted in how Thai political history is represented in his country today, both in terms of the nation-state’s relationship to colonialism and how the major ideologies of the twentieth century have been instrumentalized to perpetuate various forms of dictatorship.

Rungjang’s project titled 246247596248914102516 … And then there were none revolves around two historic sites, the Democracy Monument in Bangkok and the National Technical University in Athens. The Democracy Monument performs a dual function: while it celebrates the the Siamese victory of the 1932 democratic revolution over the absolute monarchy, the monument’s glorification of power also made it into a manifestation of military tyranny, signaling fascism and the practice of lip service to Thai democracy. The popular uprising of October 14, 1973 saw more than 400,000 people march against the military junta from Thammasat University to the Democracy Monument. To win public sympathy and support, the students based their political activities on the same foundations of legitimacy used by the military: the triumvirate of nation, religion, and monarchy, and subverted them against the junta. The uprising ushered in a period of extreme unrest and violence with the absolute monarchy’s and the military’s growing fear of communism resulting in the Thammasat University massacre on October 6, 1976.

Similarly, the already highly politicized space of the National Technical University became the nexus of the Athens Polytechnic uprising in November 1973, which sought to overthrow the military junta in Greece. Participants in the massive and bloody demonstration have intimated that their protest was inspired by the Thammasat University uprising, of which they learned through radio and oral accounts.

The elements of Rungjang’s presentation at documenta 14 are built on oral and archival materials, which highlight the complexities of ideological conflicts as well as their subjectivity and malleability in how they can be read or narrated. Both 246247596248914102516, a sculptural installation that references the numerological symbolism that shapes much of the Democracy Monument’s ideological signification, and And then there were none, a single-channel video that stages a semi-fictional account of ten students who fled Bangkok in the aftermath of the uprising, deconstruct what monuments perform, which narratives feed the nation-state, and, ultimately, the space we have agreed to call history.

—Hendrik Folkerts

Posted in Public Exhibition
Excerpted from the documenta 14: Daybook