Archipelago Cinema

Artist: Ole Scheeren
Location: Koh Yao Noi, Thailand
Year: 2012
Researcher: Leon Tan

Film on the Rocks Yao Noi was founded by Nat Sarasas, Chomwan Weeraworawit and 2010 Palme d’Or winner Apichatpong Weerasethakul as an annual festival for art and film on Koh Yao Noi (Yao Noi Island) in Phang Nga Bay, Thailand. For the inaugural edition (9-13 March, 2012), the German architect Ole Scheeren was commissioned to create a floating auditorium for outdoor screenings. Scheeren studied local spatial practices, specifically, the construction of floating lobster farms – “Local fishermen farm lobsters on rafts. Wooden frames are tied by rubber straps to foam blocks wrapped in mosquito nets.” - and devised a system of modular components that could be assembled into a floating platform. Subsequently given the name Archipelago Cinema, the structure was essentially a super-sized raft built out of recycled materials.

During the festival, invited guests were taken by boat at nighttime to the floating auditorium. Set against a dramatic backdrop of towering rocks and sea, Archipelago Cinema afforded spectacular experiences of the convergence of nature and moving image. Describing his project, the architect wrote, “Hovering above the sea, somewhere in the middle of this incredible space of the lagoon, focused on the moving images across the water. A landscape of pieces playfully joined together. A sense of temporality, randomness. Almost like drift wood.”

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In a sense, Archipelago Cinema opened the tradition of cinema up to the natural environment; the screening times were dictated by tidal rhythms while the cinematic narratives had to work alongside the sound of wind and lapping water.

The festival curators, Tilda Swinton and Apichatpong Weerasethakul, were responsible for the selection of film titles for Archipelago Cinema. Alongside the screenings, they also facilitated activities and conversations as a means of deepening audience engagement with the films and the natural environment. Additionally, Swinton and Weerasethakul instigated the ‘Message in a Bottle’ project, where guests were asked to bring a ‘message in a bottle’ in the form of a film, book, sculpture or painting to share. These messages ended up in a dedicated ‘local library’ presumably for future visitors to the island.

At the conclusion of the festival, Archipelago Cinema was dismantled and gifted to the village where it was built. Scheeren thought of it as “something that belongs to them, that was merely borrowed.”

Like the architect’s other acclaimed project, the Marfa Drive-In (a drive in cinema in the Texas desert),

Archipelago Cinema was an intentionally brief outdoor cinematic experience, its limited life cycle expressing Scheeren’s ongoing interest in the condition of transience. For him, “the short-term occupation of space” is symptomatic of the increase in global mobility and intensification of economic precarity characterizing our contemporary moment. As a proposition, Archipelago Cinema suggests that architects might profitably focus on the design of temporary services and mediated public encounters to capture the attention of increasingly mobile (and transient) communities. A cinema (or theatre or playground) conceived as a modular series of rafts assembled and dissembled as needed is the perfect expression for what Scheeren has described as an “emergent culture of change.”

All copyright belongs to Shanghai Academy of Fine Arts, Shanghai University.

Progress Agency