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Arin Rungjang on LGBTQ Identity and Mid-Century Thailand

The Thai artist talks about his personal relationship with history.
Reading time 3 minutes
Shirt and tie: Dries Van Noten; “Code 11.59 by Audemars Piguet” self-winding 18-carat white gold watch, 41 mm, Audemars Piguet.

When we met with Arin Rungjang, he welcomed us into his Berlin apartment. The 44-year-old artist is the recipient of a one-year artistic residence in the city from the German Academic Exchange Service, or DAAD, which in addition to university exchanges provides one-year scholarships to artists. Currently, he is preparing a personal exhibition that will open in Singapore in August, at the Gillman Barracks artistic hub. In November, he will participate in the Toronto Biennial. Rungjang spoke with L'Officiel Italia about his sources of inspiration and bringing his LGBTQ identity into his work.

Wool cardigan, Prada; “Code 11.59 by Audemars Piguet” self-winding 18-carat white gold watch, 41 mm, Audemars Piguet. At the beginning of the service.

Where did you find inspiration during your formative years? 

Originally, Thailand's economy depended on agriculture. In 1932, when the political system changed from an absolute monarchy to a constitutional one, the prime minister decided to force men to westernize by wearing hats, so that they looked more English, and eating eggs to increase their muscle mass! It's absurd, don't you think? My mother belongs to the first generation born during this time, but she has always felt connected to the agricultural era of boats in the canals and buffalo in the rice fields. It is important that you understand the landscape of my youth. The art school that I attended had a traditional reputation. My teachers' generation was the first to have had the chance to study abroad. People came back with legendary stories, similar to the days when villagers returned from the forest and claimed to have killed a tiger, and the whole village would believe it! One of my professors went to Düsseldorf; on his return, he told us about Joseph Beuys. There was no internet at the time, so we had no choice but to believe him. And from that, we have drawn our consequences.

 

Right now you are working on pieces for "Spectrosynthesis II", the second most important event in Asia dedicated to LGBTQ art. Until now, your sexuality has never been at the center of your journey. 

It didn't seem necessary. I felt comfortable with who I was. When I received the invitation to participate in this event, I began to reflect on my childhood and the difficulties I encountered as a gay man. I realized that it was not about sharing my private problems, but it was important to highlight common points with more general paradigms. Among my friends, I was the luckiest; many had great difficulties in coming out, others died of AIDS. 

 

Was there a moment when you felt that your professional life had to take another direction? 

The "Rwanda Project", an installation I made for the 2012 Sydney Biennale, had a great impact on me. I worked with 13 orphans whose parents had been killed in the genocide. Having lost my father myself, I felt very close to them. Not only did I learn a lot from their testimonies, but I felt humanly connected to them through the work.

Photography: Dennis Schoenberg 
Styling: Bodo Ernle
Grooming: Kenny Campbell

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