River Kwai: This Memorial Service was
Held in the Memory of the Deceased (2022)
“River Kwai: This Memorial Service was Held in the Memory of the Deceased” explores the memory of geography and the memorialization of histories. The artist’s practice is rooted in the sociohistorical research of specific, and at times unassuming, geographical locations that often belie their current appearance and form. This three-part multimedia work, River Kwai: This Memorial Service was Held in the Memory of the Deceased is inherently progressive, provocative, and emotional. Reacting to popular and official narratives, Supasuthivech examines the corruption of our histories and the dissolution of our identities. And it drives the viewer to question the very source of their knowledge, if not their knowledge altogether.
An artist coming of age in a Thailand grappling with such questions, Supasuthivech takes as a microcosm for this ten-sion a location on the Mae Klong River—now known internationally as the River Kwai—where the now-defunct Burma Railway crosses into Thailand. He uses the history that surrounds this bridge as the inspiration and framework for this work to explore how a remote geographical area, in the western Thai province of Kanchanaburi, has been divorced from its environs, its people, and from reality, serving instead the forces of popular and official interest: Representing no longer a community, but a spectacle.
Since 1980, the Tourism Authority of Thailand has organized “The River Kwai Bridge Light and Sound Show” at an annual week-long festival commemorating the Allied prisoners of
war who lost their lives building the Burma Railway. Part of the Japanese war effort, the infamous conditions under which POWs were forced to work earned it the dubious distinction of the ‘Death Railway.’ However, an excerpt from the memoir of a former POW, Hugh V. Clarke—in his 1986 memoir A Life for Every Sleeper, counts the dead at:13,000 British, American, and Dutch prisoners of war and an estimated 70,000 Asian civilian labourers... The total workforce on the railway included 51,000 British, Dutch, and American prisoners of war, 9,500 Australians, and over 270,000 conscripted Asian labourers from China, Burma, Thailand, Malaya, and Singapore.
Supasuthivech was struck by both the magnitude of the Asian workforce—who by the few available accounts, were recruited as indentured labourers only to end up as slaves—and the lack of acknowledgment around their sacrifice. While the 1957 film, The Bridge on the River Kwai is one of the most well-recognized narratives of events and conditions surrounding the POW experience and the Burma Railway, it is not historically accurate. And yet, by virtue of its cultural currency, it has inspired the renaming of a major river of Thailand’s central basin, redefined the location, and diminished local agency.
4k digital video and audio 2 channels and
Thai garland resin marble powder sculpture
Duration : screen1 22:40 min, screen2 13:50 min