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Treading a fine line between being poetic and being provocative, artist Araya Rasdjarmrearnsook’s video works bridge history and contemporary politics, different cultures, as well as the realms of the living and the dead.
The single-channel video The Class (2005) delivers a literal lesson on death in an unlikely setting, a somber classroom. Six corpses lie dormant on silver morgue trays, while a living teacher, played by the artist herself, lectures them on death in a sedative and didactic tone.
Apart from offering a satire of pedagogical conventions through the absurd narrative of a living person teaching death to the dead, the work also relativizes death. In the lecture, the teacher covers a plethora of topics—definitions of death, neutral or even positive dimensions of death, different religions’ attitudes towards it, etc.—topics that underline the diverse ways of approaching and understanding death. Of course, to the lifeless students, death is no longer a mystery that invites interpretations, but a cold, definitive, and singular truth. The artwork thereby proposes that conceptualizing death is a privilege of the living, for whom death acts as a projection of personal and collective subjectivities. The teacher’s statement that “art can play with the meaning of death… approach it from different angles” points to one perspective of this biennial: through artworks that embrace diverse conceptions of death, viewers may gain a deeper understanding of different cosmologies.