An afternoon at Duckunit, Bangkok
I met up with visual artist Wit Pimkanchanapong (33, right) and motion graphics designer Rueangrith Suntisuk (27, left) during a visit to Bangkok to learn more about the Thai media-arts scene. The pair work out of a studio called Duckunit in the Aree district, not far from the Ari skytrain station. I’ve known about Wit since 2005 when I saw a post on the Garagecube forum about an amazing large-scale projection that made me really curious about what was going on in Thailand.
I got in touch with Rueangrith during my research on VJs in Bangkok. He featured in a video of my friend Fredrik Stolpe’s (a.k.a. Cornbeast) performance at the Whiteout Bar earlier this year. I was pretty stoked when I found out that Rueangrith was working together with Wit.
Ductunit is an office for freelance digital artists. Between 5-7 people occupy the space at various times. “I’m not exactly sure how many we are,” Wit says, “we have people coming in from time to time and friends come by to hang out all the time. It’s hard to know who’s considered Duckunit and who’s not.”
The office is a two-story building with a front patio. There are workstations on both levels and the ground floor also holds a big project table and a workshop area. The patio has tables and benches, a bar and a bunch of cool junk lying around, and attracts an amiable stray dog who just comes over to hang out.
The freelancers at Ducktunit usually work independently but twice a year they collaborate. One of these occasions is the yearly FAT Music Festival that Duckunit has been doing together with the FAT Radio station since 2002. Duckunit is in charge of planning, architecture, art direction and production of graphic material from print to video. They also collaborate with filmmaker Apichatpong Weerasethakul and Japanese light designer Jiro Endo.
Wit studied Architecture at Chualalongkong University and has a Master’s degree in Visual Communication from Kent Institute of Art & Design (U.K). Rueangrith has a Bachelor’s degree in Communication Design from Bangkok University where he had Wit as a teacher. Wit later took him under his wing and brought him to Duckunit. Wit has currently taken a break from teaching, however Rueangrith now lectures in New Media at his old university.
“We don’t really do much VJing these days,” the pair confess, “it’s a good way in to the media-arts scene but we’ve now moved on to more complex work with robotics and physical interaction.” Rueangrith used to VJ with a younger crew called B.O.R.E.D. but admits that he now has problems keeping up with the B.O.R.E.D. guys’ party lifestyle. He explains there are about 20-30 VJs in Thailand, but they’re mostly boys straight out of design school. There are a couple of girls out there VJing, but not very frequently.
I wondered about what inspired these guys. Ruangrith claimed that he didn’t really have any role models at all. Wit on the other hand said that he is very inspired by the Japanese company Maywa Denki which is kind of conceptual art in itself. He’s also interested in what’s happening on the Mexican and the Brazilian scene at the moment without dropping any specific names.
I talked with Wit about how they funded their art projects and he told me that they always try to do things in connection with the FAT music festival since they have a high budget and they are up for fun ideas. Sometimes they get commissioned by galleries or art institutions to do projects, or they get money from commercial projects.
The good thing with Thailand is that everything is cheap; labour hardly costs anything, equipment rental doesn’t cost much and there are no rules about how to build things. However, they can’t get hold of all their equipment in Thailand. They pre-order some technical hardware from friends visiting Japan, and they also order a lot of parts for their installation projects from China through eBay. The quality of these Chinese electronics isn’t that consistent so they always have to get extra units just in case.
Rueangrith has constructed some small DIY solutions like the simple yet excellent light rig in the Cornbeast video (above) that was made with a budget of only 2000 Bath ($60). One of Rueangrith’s side projects has been building “fixie” bikes, with one gear and no breaks. “It’s just a trend,” he says, claiming that he doesn’t really ride his bike any more. “It isn’t very practical in the Bangkok traffic.” His friend continues to build them and they post regular bike news on their blog – it’s currently the most frequently updated blog in the Duckunit family.
I’d been looking at Wit and Ruangrith’s work and I noticed a lack of Thai typography. As a person from the western world I find Thai typography exotic and beautiful and I would love to see it used in screen based digital media. Wit tells me that there aren’t that many digital typefaces available for designers, so the options are somewhat limited. Wit doesn’t like using typography in his artwork at all because it gives it a very literal meaning. And as for VJing, he doesn’t think it fits the pace, that Thai type is more of the gentle pace of a brush stroke or a calligraphy pen. Wit says that his teachers tried to push Thai typography really hard and consequently he’s is in denial. He reveals that he reaches “Thainess” not so much through visual representation but rather with the use of concepts, pace and “flexible ways of working”. By the latter he refers to the way he is able to use cheap labor, no rules, inexpensive materials and rentals, among other things.
Before leaving I wanted to check what equipment and software they were using. Computer-wise there seemed to be mostly Macs around the studio. However, I did see a little PC laptop standing somewhere and I’ve seen PC software being used in at least one of their videos. Wit says they’ve been using the Modul8 software for VJing and large screen projections. For installations, like the kinetic Ma-ya-rab project, he used the Arduino micro controller together with Processing and Open Frameworks. Rueangrith is also working with Apple’s Quartz Composer. They had a Korg MicroKONTROL lying around somewhere for whenever they need to control something with MIDI. Wit has a programmer friend that helps out with some of the more complex object oriented programming and he gets paid with massages (not by the Duckunit crew but by professionals), the kind with a happy ending! I guess this also plays into the “flexible way of working” in some respect…
As Rueangrith is driving me back to the Skytrain station he says, “You know when you asked me if I had any role models and I didn’t say anything? I didn’t want to say it in front of him but Wit is my role model. He pretty much founded the media-arts scene here in Thailand at the beginning of the Millennium.