Review: Levitating Exhibition by Ukrit Sa-nguanhai @SeaShorts

Suvarnabhumi, also known as the Land of Gold, has remained one of the most debated toponyms due to its mythical and contentious nature. Vaguely, we understand that it is possibly within Southeast Asia, but we have no concrete facts beyond certain informed guesses and nationalistic agendas.

But perhaps this elusiveness is the very quality that allows our imagination to fill in the gaps and to wonder how Suvarnabhumi came about. Was it definitely a physical place, or perhaps an imagery made by travellers to depict hope, joy and wealth? 

Levitating Exhibition by Thai video artist and filmmaker Ukrit Sa-nguanhai starts off with a brief introduction to this land that seems so out of reach. There are primitive-like scrawls on rocky walls and visual storytelling accompanied by a voiceover, before a transition into one room of a love motel. A jump from the historical into the present, we see housekeepers armed with toothbrushes scrubbing the tiles clean while engaging in conversation. 

Cognitively, I struggle to grasp what was going on and am unable to see the relationship between the history of Suvarnabhumi and the love motel. Perhaps I lack the contextual knowledge, however, there is a sense of coherence that comes from the ambiguity in time and space; operating within a vacuum where past and present seem to coexist together. 

Ukrit reveals that the opening sequence and the museum scene share the same location: "The artefacts were found in "Nakhon Pathom", my hometown which is also where the motel's located. Coincidentally, it’s also the area that was once believed to be the centre of Suvarnabhumi, The Golden Peninsular, by the Thai Government. All these spaces have some interesting relationship in terms of time and space."

With no one scene done of the outside world in terms of earth and sky, time stretches itself within the film. Day and night did not seem to matter, neither did truth and embellishments. The interiors cave in on the characters and engulf their presence on screen. The nature of existence becomes a feeling, a sixth sense and a passive observation. This left me feeling the transcendence of a title such as Levitating Exhibition.

"I found that the word “Levitating” is a good implication of this kind of history that we have in Thailand (maybe also in other Southeast Asia countries), the history of the great ancient kingdom that exists between myth and history, and it is used to show how grateful we were in the past," explains Ukrit.

On the concept, Ukrit goes into the idea of boundaries: "It begins with the boundary between the myth and the history of Suvarnabhumi, then I link the relationship between past and present, and the function of them which somehow are fantasy and the tasks of someone/something in maintaining their beauty."

Each room featured in the film are specifically chosen to serve their story in the narrative. Besides the liminal space that the short film seem to take the audience into, the intimacy is heightened through portrayal of crumpled sheets and whatever is left behind after sex. Well, it is a love motel after all. Though the various acts are left to imaginative thoughts fuelled by a voiceover commentary, I feel a strange sense of voyeurism and violation that one might be able to guess so much just from dirty sheets, pillow positions, accidental stains.

And if we are able to piece together entire scenarios and narratives from small clues, how are we still lost about Suvarnabhumi or is nothing left behind from that period of time? Or maybe, we are not looking in the right places?

Of confusion and speculation, I asked Ukrit if there's a certain aspect of Thailand he wants to show through this film. He replies, "I have no specific part of Thailand that I want to show, but showing the film in other Southeast Asian countries that share some common myth and history is very interesting for me personally. So I’m very happy that the film will be shown in Malaysia, which is also believed by some scholar to be Suvarnabhumi (The Golden Peninsular)."

I find myself pondering over his answer, and wonder if this is Suvarnabhumi and we just don't recognise it without nostalgia and pensiveness. Who knows?
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