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Mental projection

Photographer Darkle examines himself and the frailty of mind in a nod to Ingmar Bergman

Photos courtesy of Darkle

Throughout the Bangkok Biennial, a number of pavilions have been set up in unusual locations -- from a temple in Nang Loeng district (the Supernatural Pavilion) to the Bangrak Bazaar market (for "Quid Pro Quo"), a light bulb shop (for "Sangnual 2551") or even an internet website (lololol.net).

In comparison, photographer and filmmaker Darkle's choice of exhibition venue seems almost conventional.

Visitors enter Darkle's Chinatown shophouse-turned-apartment and view the exhibition in his bedroom, a space painted entirely black, save for the wooden window pane and a lightbox placed on the wall. The lightbox provides the backdrop for Darkle's series of noirish, dreamlike photographs collectively titled "In A Glass Darkly" that explore ideas of entrapment, as well as states of mental rapture and unravelling.

Reminiscent of an X-ray reading as well as a film editing room -- the photographic shots are a preliminary step in the creation of a feature film, says Darkle -- it is up to the audience to create the works' narrative by aligning the 36 acetate film prints on the lightbox or switching their order in a cut-and-paste manner.

"People can move the pictures around and make sense of the situation, because she can't," Darkle says of his model and collaborator May Worada, whom he directed in this project, and who plays the role of an institutionalised mental patient -- although the nature of her affliction is not known.

Apart from being a nod to the artist's moniker "Darkle", the exhibition's title is a riff on Ingmar Bergman's film Through A Glass Darkly, in which the female protagonist -- recently released from a mental asylum -- suffers from delusions. The cyclical, almost manic nature of Darkle's installation, through which the audience is invited to endlessly reshape the story's sequencing, is reminiscent of attempts to retake control over a collapsing mind.

Shot in an abandoned mental health facility in Bangkok where dated equipment is still stored, the photographs appear clinical at first sight -- owing to the minimal, white tiling on the floors and walls, the hospital gown worn by the model and the fluorescent lighting sometimes used. The meticulousness with which one is expected to handle the film prints further confers a surgical aspect upon the show.

Yet, "In A Glass Darkly" is far from building a spectacle out of the experience. Although highly designed, the photographs retain a softness in shots where natural lighting warms the bare room, bringing out flesh and pastel hues. This feeling of intimacy is further conveyed through the exhibition's setting in Darkle's own bedroom.

"I didn't want to have everyone playing doctor and fetishising the show's subject. There have been enough such films about female insanity," he says. "It was important for me to capture May's frailty but also to retain her dignity."

For Darkle, having visitors penetrate his interior is unsettling: "I don't know if everyone coming into the place feels the way that I do," but the experience ties into the show's theme of self-examination. After all, a room, a bed or couch and a psyche to investigate constitute the most familiar of surroundings.

"In A Glass Darkly" is on show at Darkle's den at 181 Soi Ramaitree, Pomprab, Rama IV, Bangkok 10100. By appointment only. To visit, please call 096-940-8437 or message through Instagram @_darkle.

Photographer Darkle's "In A Glass Darkly" Exhibition Darkle

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