The delicate meat at the heart of Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s Primitive (2009) is a challenge to coach from its interstellar shell. As if to echo the Thai filmmaker’s oblique storytelling, the subterranean playground of Tate Modern’s Tanks asserts its own narrative, from panicked parents on the march to the loud ignorance of aficionados (“Is this that silly Japanese thing? ‘Pong’ somebody?”). Here, the multi-screen installation’s fragmentary beauty occasionally sputters within the vast, cathedral-like space devoted to it. But beauty there is – and plenty of it.
A running and dancing gaggle of breathless youths kicks a fiery football through an anonymous rural landscape. Lightning strikes evoke a profound, otherworldly mystery, despite the exposed artifice of pyro technicians and camera crews. A mysterious forest creature turns slowly to flame as it walks through the jungle at dusk. A silhouetted spaceship rises gently above the trees before settling back, silently, to earth. A beguiling voiceover blends social history, folklore and science fiction to tempt our imaginations:
“Too bad we are not in the future where there is a machine that lets you see forever.”
As the 9 varied videos reset and repeat, they create a constantly evolving symphony of sound and light. For committed cellar-dwellers, keen to explore this wilfully elusive place to its fullest, the looping timeframe – where past, present and far future take place simultaneously – is seductive and strange in equal measure.
Take a cushion and suspend your reality for a couple of hours; you’ll be glad you did.
Apichatpong Weerasethakul, Primitive (2009), Tate Modern, Bankside, London. 05.07.16