May Adadol Ingawanij is a writer, curator and teacher. She works on de-westernised and decentred histories and genealogies of cinematic arts; avant-garde legacies in Southeast Asia; forms of potentiality in contemporary artistic and curatorial practices; aesthetics and circulation of artists’ moving image, art and independent films in, around, and related to Southeast Asia. Her major research and teaching themes intersect film and media studies, art history, curatorial practice, artistic research, and area studies. She is Professor of Cinematic Arts and Co-director of the Centre for Research and Education in Arts and Media.
Through wide-ranging publication forms and curatorial research initiatives, May’s work is recognised for its contribution to studies and practices of Southeast Asian artists’ moving image, contemporary art, and independent cinema. Her research creatively develops decolonial methods for studying histories and genealogies of cinematic and artistic practices, and for conducting artistic and curatorial research situated in and related to Southeast Asia.
May writes in English and Thai for many academic and arts publications. She is writing a book titled Animistic Medium: Contemporary Southeast Asian Artists Moving Image. Her English-language publications include ‘Stories of Animistic Cinema’ ‘(2021); ‘Ghost Cinema for a Damaged World’ (2020); ‘Comedy of Entanglement: The Karrabing Film Collective' (2019); ‘Aesthetics of Potentiality: Nguyen Trinh Thi's Essay Films' (2019); ‘Art’s Potentiality Revisited: Araya Rasdjarmrearnsook’s Late Style and Chiang Mai Social Installation’ (2018); ‘Itinerant Cinematic Practices In and Around Thailand During the Cold War’ (2018); 'Exhibiting Lav Diaz's Long Films: Currencies of Circulation and Dialectics of Spectatorship' (2017), ‘Long Walk to Life: the Films of Lav Diaz’ (2015); 'Animism and the Performative Realist Cinema of Apichatpong Weerasethakul' (2013); Glimpses of Freedom: Independent Cinema in Southeast Asia (2012); 'Mother India in Six Voices: Melodrama, Voice Performance and Indian Films in Siam' (2012).
Her curatorial projects are collaborative, speculative and open-ended. They include: NANG10 Futures (with NANG magazine and others, 2021); Animistic Apparatus (with Julian Ross and others 2018 - ); Lav Diaz: Journeys (with George Clark and others 2017); Fields: On Attachments and Unknowns (with Sa Sa Bassac 2017); Comparing Experimental Cinemas (with Experimenta India 2014); Bangkok Experimental Film Festival 2012: Raiding the Archives.
May’s research projects have received funding from the British Academy, Leverhulme Trust, EU Asia-Europe Foundation, and other academic and arts grants.
May supervises practice and written PhD projects on world cinema, artists' moving image practices, contemporary artistic practices, and experimental documentary practices. She regularly serves as examiner for both written and practice PhDs.
Current and recent PhD researchers for which she is Director of Studies include:
- Thuy-han Nguyen-chi, In Search for Imaginations of Freedom: Exploring Freedom of Movement through The Eye(s) of The Refugee and The Camera
- Patrick Campos, Filipino Film as Method: From National Cinema to Film Islands
- Zhuang Wubin, Documenting as Method: Photography in Southeast Asia
- George Clark, Offerings for a Ghost Film: From Fragmented Work to Cosmic Assemblages
- Khong Kok Wai, Exploring the Fantastic: Contemporary Malaysian Cinema
- Gilherme Leal, Ruins of Progress: Destructive Effects of Development in Contemporary Brazilian Documentary
- Treasa O'Brien, Town of Strangers: The Performative 'Making-of' Film and the Production of Reality
May is interested in PhD research proposals on histories and practices of contemporary art, cinematic arts, or the curatorial in, around, or entangled with Southeast Asia; world cinema or cinematic arts of the global south; artists' moving image histories, practices, and modalities of self-organisation or institutionalisation; grassroots, activistic or radical modes of curating cinematic arts and artists' moving image; among other topics.
May is part of the teaching team for the MA in Film, Television and Moving Image, which has a number of specialised options including film programming and moving image curation, and Asian cinema. She has been Co-Director of the CREAM Doctoral Programme and Course Leader for the MA Film, Television and Moving Image.
One of May’s current major projects is Animistic Apparatus, funded by the British Academy’s Mid-career Fellowship (£121,000) and several arts funders. Animistic Apparatus is a curatorial and publication project that places contemporary Southeast Asian artists’ moving images, such as those of Apichatpong Weerasethakul, Lav Diaz, and Nguyen Trinh Thi, in constellation with the region’s itinerant film projection rituals performed as an offering addressed to powerful spirits of local territories. The project develops a method of inquiry entwining artists’ moving image with Southeast Asia’s scattered genealogies of animism, defined as improvisatory rituals and apparatuses of human-spirit sociality and communication. Animistic Apparatus has been presented at Berwick Film and Media Arts Festival (2019). In devising this experimental method for gathering and juxtaposing cinematic and mediating practices, Animistic Apparatus conceptualises the regional, enunciative and relational characteristics of Southeast Asian artists’ moving image. The affinity between regional artistic and animistic practices that the project identifies ultimately concerns the agency of precarious humans to enhance life’s possibility, to make relationships and affirm bonds of sociality across times and beings within an ecology of existence in which powerless human agents orientate toward the future.
Animistic Apparatus is one indication of May’s effort to develop experimental and decolonial methods and concepts for researching cinematic arts in Southeast Asia and the global south, which would radically blur the boundary between notions of the traditional, the modern, and the contemporary. In the past decade she has been developing speculative approaches to historicising genealogies of cinematic practice in Thailand and Southeast Asia, her motivation being to shift away from the established narrative of cinema as the cultural form and cultural contribution of cosmopolitan urban elites. In her work on cinematic dispositif and circulation in Thailand during the Cold War period, she pivot away from the historiographic and analytic focus on (mostly male) film directors and (mostly female) spectators in urban picture palaces, and instead research practices of projection in itinerant open-air and junk print circuits in order to conceptualise the role of humans as intermediaries in the cinematic dispositif. Her proposition is to consider what cinema is when humans form part of the ecology of cinema as voice performers in intermedial live cinematic performances, or as projectionists in rituals of cinematic offering to spirits. Funded in its first phase by a Leverhulme Early Career Fellowship (£80,000), her de-centred historiography of cinematic dispositif has resulted in a number of journal articles and public engagement texts, which are widely used in academic teaching, artistic and curatorial research. These are such as the journal article ‘Itinerant Cinematic Practices In and Around Thailand During the Cold War,’ which tells a story of a cinematic practice that came into being from unpredictable processes metamorphosing film technological material and matter, war infrastructure, and the wartime and transnational circulation of films, into an animistic cinematic ecology and ritual.
As an academic and curator working with filmmakers and artists whose contexts of creation are ones of fragile and at risk artistic and cultural infrastructures, May prioritises spending time and effort supporting the creative processes of filmmakers and artists, and relatedly, situating her written publications within curatorial projects with multiple components and many collaborators. One of her longstanding research commitments is to the praxis of Filipino radical filmmaker Lav Diaz, whose films she has been curating and writing about since the late 2000s. Her most recent work in this context is the exhibition and publication project Lav Diaz: Journeys, exploring the material, institutional, and discursive challenges of exhibiting Diaz’s very long films. Its components are: the first comprehensive UK exhibition of six films by Diaz, each running between nearly four hours to nine hours in duration, taking place at the University of Westminster’s art school gallery and cinema theatre and in external partnership with MUBI, Austrian Film Archive, and others; one of the first academic symposium dedicated to the artist’s works and a public programme of gallery conversations; a series of single-authored articles including ‘Long Walk to Life: The Films of Lav Diaz,’ and ‘Exhibiting Lav Diaz’s Long Films: Currencies of Circulation and Dialectics of Spectatorship.’ The project’s curatorial method adapts the migratory model of exhibiting radical films and artists’ moving image, and draws inspiration from Southeast Asian genealogies of performative and curatorial praxis. Her articles displace the notion that Diaz’s films exemplify the durational aesthetics of slow cinema, and instead analyses the artist’s historiographic aesthetics in the context of the legacies and aporias of the Philippines’s 20th century artistic and cultural vanguardisms. Her writings also analyse the vexed exhibition history of Diaz’s long films, critically highlighting the tensions shaped by the persistence of the western modernist paradigm of art film spectatorship in advocating the value of global contemporary art or radical films.
With international academic and arts collaborators, May is developing a large-scale, multi-strand research initiative on speculative practices of future-making involving film and moving image creation and circulation. The first strand proposes to explore how Southeast Asian artists-initiated and artistic research platforms are addressing climate and ecological change, and climate justice issues, and how such initiatives draw on the technics, circuits and cultures of moving image as part of their speculative, redistributive and future-oriented practices. The second strand is a film curation and film magazine editing project exploring critical, historical, speculative, and retroactive visions of the future of Asian film and artists’ moving image.
May has won a number of research and arts grants including:
- Asia-Europe Foundation Cultural Mobility grant: Animistic Apparatus @ Berwick Film and Media Arts Festival (2019)
- British Academy Mid Career Fellowship: Contemporary Art and Animistic Cinematic Practice in Southeast Asia (2018-19)
- Strategic Research Fund, University of Westminster: Long Films in the Gallery: An Exhibition and Symposium on the Films of Lav Diaz (2017)
- Strategic Research Fund, UoW: Southern Collectives (2016)
- British Academy International Partnership and Mobility Scheme: Comparing Experimental Cinemas (2014-2015)
- Leverhulme Trust Early Career Fellowship: Historicising Cinema Experience in Cold War Siam (2009-2012)
- Asia-Europe Foundation Cultural Partnership Initiative: The 6th Bangkok Experimental Film Festival: Raiding the Archives (2012)
May is regularly invited to give keynote addresses and lectures on her research, and to contribute curatorial activities, at academic and arts institutions worldwide.
For details of all my research outputs, visit my WestminsterResearch profile.