Horrors of massacre brought to life in AR on 44th anniversary of Thailand’s ‘Black October’

“Four bodies are buried in the field. At 7:45 we received a report that an unnamed man was hanged underneath a tamarind tree in front of the Wisetchaisri Gate of the Sanam Luang,” a voice from an army newscast blares from four decades ago through an iPad showing the lynching victim described. 

Technology is helping to recall one of Thailand’s ugliest days 44 years ago by bringing its visceral moments to life through augmented reality. Months of research and development went into Hanged, an exhibition now at Thammasat University’s Tha Prachan campus recalling what happened there on Oct. 6, 1976.

See and hear Oct. 6 massacre with AR tech at anniversary exhibition

“We want to tell the story differently this time,” said Thanapon Jaturongtawatchai of Digital Picnic, an interactive arts firm that developed the installation along with computer engineering professor Priyakorn Pusawiro.

Six iPads are installed at six spots throughout the school’s Sri Burapha Hall to conjure the circumstances of death. At the entrance is the real rusty “Red Gate” where two men – Vichai Kaetsripongsa and Chumporn Thumthai – were hanged west of Bangkok after protesting the return of exiled dictator Field Marshal Thanom Kittikachorn. On the screen, their lifeless bodies put the historical artifact into horrific context.

A button allows viewers to cover the most graphic elements.

Further in is a backdrop stretching through the hall showing the trees which then and now ringed the Sanam Luang. Three iPads depict five men being hanged from them. Some are named on a placard displayed like a history museum exhibit. Others are not.

Thanapon said it came from discovering there were many lynchings that day when police, security forces and ultranationalist paramilitaries rained gunfire onto the campus where students had gathered for mass protests. More hangings than that most infamous image of a man beating a lynched student’s corpse with a folding chair before a laughing crowd. 

“When we found out from the research that actually there were five more people who were hanged at the trees, we tried to pin down who they were, where and how it happened,” Thanapon said. “Then we used the soundtrack archives of the military radio station to go along with the visuals.”

The army played an active role in whipping up a frenzy of outrage against the students through broadcasts from its many radio stations.

Ascending to the second floor, attendees will find a corner with an iPad’s camera trained on the campus football field. Projected onto it, the bullet-ridden body of Charupong Thongsin is being dragged off the field by four men. Shift to the opposite corner, where the infamous chair-beating moment captured Associated Press photographer Neal Ulevich is coupled via AR with Ulevich’s voice describing his experience that day.

Organized by CCPC Thai, a group pressing for constitutional reforms based on public consensus, and the October 6 Museum Project; the exhibition this year employs technology to close the gap of time by invoking the sights and sounds from the massacre. 

Apart from the AR tech, the exhibition has QR codes for attendees to scan and read more about what happened.

The 44th anniversary exhibition Hanged runs through Oct. 11  at Thammasat University, Tha Prachan campus.

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See and hear Oct. 6 massacre with AR tech at anniversary exhibition

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