For Korakrit Arunanondchai (1986, Bangkok, Thailand; lives and works in New York), living amongst different cultures leads naturally into the combination of various artistic disciplines. By merging influences from the digital world and from Western and Eastern mythology, religion, economics, fashion, film, current political events and lifestyle, the artist creates hybrid work, often in collaboration with other artists. Arunanondchai’s ambitious large-scale installation Letters to Chantri #1 (2014), featuring performance artist Boychild, emerged from the artist’s research into Dhammakaya, the fastest-growing Thai Buddhist movement.
For the development of the Letters to Chantri #1 installation, Arunanondchai set up an imaginary joint venture with a product brand comparable to Dhammakaya, leading to a setting midway between a Buddhist temple and a futuristic luxury shop. By fusing religion and consumerism into a new purification ritual, with deliverance and salvation at its heart, it shows the transformation of spiritual faith into a lifestyle brand that is occurring today in Thailand and beyond.
Arunanondchai introduces the archetype of the young artist through recent strategies used by Eastern religions in their effort to deepen their relationship with a growing population of Thai youth. A video mimicking a late-night ad for a new product introduces the experience during the subsequent group visit to an adjacent large-scale assembly room. Heritage and tradition collapse into a world of anxiety, immediacy, deregulation and detachment, where myths of innovation and notions of “the new” have become new, sacred ideals.
Structured as a performative experience, this work integrates paintings, sculptures and videos into an immersive spatial installation. By blurring the boundary between ritual and guided exhibition tour, Arunanondchai marked a new approach to the presentation of his work, and in this regard considers this installation to be a key piece in his young oeuvre.
The exhibition is one of a series of presentations of recent gifts to S.M.A.K. The Letters to Chantri #1 installation was purchased by ten international art collectors with the purpose of handing it over to the museum. This form of donation opens up possible new ways of cooperation between public institutions and private initiatives.
The exhibition was mounted with support from the Carlos Ishikawa Gallery in London.