Sunny Leerasanthanah

March 21, 2024
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Sunny Leerasanthanah (b. 1994 Bangkok, Thailand) documents and interprets notions of time, place, identity, loss, and belonging. These threads have woven through topics including migration, policy, animal species, family, archives, rituals, and xenophobia. They work across video installation, film, photography, books, prints, roleplay, prompts, and conversation. Sunny is a recipient of the Artists Alliance Inc. LES Studio Program (2024), Center for Book Arts Residency (2023), Image Text Workshop Residency (2023), Fire Island Artist Residency (2022), Queens Council on the Arts New Work Grant (2021), Rehearsal Residency (2018), and Ithaca College’s James B. Pendleton Grant (2015). They have exhibited at Smack Mellon (NY), John Michael Kohler Arts Center (WI), SculptureCenter (NY), Lubov (Projects) (NY), Local Project Art Space (NY), and Handwerker Gallery (NY), amongst other spaces. Their book Mom’s Magnets (2020) is in the collection of Asia Art Archive in America (NY) and Fathom Library (RI). Sunny received an MA from Teachers College, Columbia University, and a BFA in from Ithaca College. They currently live in Brooklyn, New York.
Tell us about your practice.
Previously, I’ve invited strangers—connected via online community threads for Thai immigrants in New York City – to roleplay as my dead father. On a beach in southern Thailand, I photographed the intricate patterns sand bubbler crabs create, narrating their human-like Sisyphean cycles of labor. I’ve asked performers to embody fictional U.S. National Parks rangers and answer prompts about invasive species control. Most recently, I combed through my father’s archive of home video footage to compile all of the instances he filmed clocks (there were a lot of clocks). In my practice, I document and interpret notions of time, place, loss, identity, immigration, and belonging.
Touching on the mediums of your practice, how did you come to film and performance as a means to convey your ideas?
I love using the creative devices that filming, editing, directing, and performing uniquely offer, especially to explore the themes that thread through my practice, including time, place, identity, and dialogue. The expansive language of the film also allows me to enter into a different dimension of storytelling and world-building. One where, as Fiona Tan describes, time is sculpted, and time is both a tool and material. My experimentation with performance, or acting, stems from my background in studying dramaturgy and theater. I’m interested in acting as a mirroring tool for the actor themself to have a profound experience. For that reason, I’ve centered improvisation and roleplay in performance because I think it presents a compelling slippage between fiction and non-fiction, character and performer.
We see that the themes and formats you address within your video practice are quite varied, ranging from delving into personal history and family archives to addressing the theme of xenophobia. What guides you in choosing one theme over another?
Though my explored themes and topics are wide-ranging, ultimately, my projects are thinking through things I’m moved by or want to problem-solve. Sometimes that requires looking inward, at lived experience and family archives, and sometimes that requires searching outward, diving into public discourse. Each theme or topic also invites experimenting with different mediums and formats. I don’t want to limit myself on what tools I can use in my practice, so I continue to learn new skills and ways of creating and fitting the pieces together. There are infinite subjects I’m interested in and wish I could pursue every line of questioning.
What does your research process look like? Do you enter it with a specific line of inquiry, or are you more guided by what you discover? Relatedly, can you touch on how your work with book-making manifests in your practice?
I believe research processes can be embodied in many ways. If research is about gathering information, then my process includes reading texts, looking at images, watching media, going to places, taking notes, organizing materials, gathering feedback, returning to discarded ideas, and having conversations with people who can offer different perspectives. I’m also interested in studying the production of knowledge and transference of information, so I want to challenge my own assumptions about what research can look like. My current approach to research as it relates to my artmaking is to move the focus away from getting all the answers and to instead prioritize asking meaningful questions.
My introduction to making books and zines was initiated by my desire to find a practical and approachable way to share my photographs as bodies of work. As with film and performance, bookmaking also offers exciting opportunities for creative collaborations. And relating to my inclinations toward film and video installation, bookmaking allows for sequencing, spatial arrangement, materiality, movement, and experience of time. As I learn more about bookmaking and gain new technical skills, I’ve also moved away from mass-printing to experimenting with the sculptural materiality of the book itself, crafting individual books.
What has been inspiring you?
Horror movies. Horror is a powerful, persuasive, and subversive genre and one that encourages metacommentary, experimentation, and innovation. It’s an incredible lens to unravel ideas about people and society. I love studying how they elicit such strong, sometimes conflicting emotions like fear and relief, seduction and repulsion. And they capture the zeitgeist of different generations’ anxieties. Horror movies are also a meticulous composition of elements I’m interested in in my practice: story, time, place, and identity. 
What are you investigating these days? Is there anything we can look forward to seeing in the future?
I’ve been chipping away at topics that straddle the personal and the political. For one, I’ve been thinking about Chinese funerary traditions around offering things to the dead. Specifically, the tradition of burning Chinese joss paper and elaborate paper goods to deliver treasures into the afterlife. I’ve also been thinking about the collective imaginary of America, considering the intersections of American imperialism, immigration, and cultural policy. I’ve been excited to explore this using rich analogies including hunting, invasive species control, and panda diplomacy. Upcoming, I’ll be a resident in the Artists Alliance Inc. LES Studio Program and completing new projects.

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