Phnom Penh: Rescue Archaeology, The Body and the Lens in the City, brings together single-channel video works of performance by seven artists born and living in Cambodia. In archaeological practice, a rescue archaeologist is required to react urgently, yet carefully, to a transitional moment in which there is a threat of change and irrevocable loss, aside from the archaeologist’s efforts to document. During a critical time of rapid urban, social, economic and cultural change and continuity in Phnom Penh, artists in Cambodia have been working with a sense of timeliness, inspired by or in response to memory, place, and the fluctuating urban present. Rescue Archaeology presents the selected artists and works within the framework of multiple inquiry: into nascent and overlapping practices in performance and video in Cambodia, and the relationships between these practices and their relation to the city.
Khvay Samnang, Untitled (2011), filmed throughout 2010, as the Cambodian government quietly partnered with private companies to in-fill and develop Phnom Penh’s lakes, Khvay Samnang made nine precarious performances in five of the capital’s largest water bodies. He entered the lakes, among refuse, vegetation, or families dismantling their homes, searching for an unknown anchor on which he could balance his body. It is from these landscapes that Untitled begins and ends as Khvay pours one bucket of sand over his head. This quiet and succinct act was for posterity: a marker of change, and a gesture of solidarity for the increasing number of evictees country-wide.
With subtle humour and coded communication, Khvay Samnang (b. Svay Rieng) offers new interpretations of history, contentious current affairs, and longstanding cultural practices. His practice spans from photography, video to performance. Recent exhibitions include Staging Cambodia at HAU, Berlin (2014), Everyday Life, 4th Asian Art Biennale (2013) and If The World Changed, 4th Singapore Biennale (2013). He is a founding member of the artist collective Stiev Selapak.
Lim Sokchanlina, The Rock (White Building) (2011), was created in response to the private encroachment on the historical Front du Bassac, an area developed in the 1960s as Phnom Penh’s cultural district by Cambodia’s iconic urban planner and architect Vann Molyvann. Atop the bustling and now dilapidated apartment complex known as the White Building which today remains home to many of Cambodia’s artists, Lim Sokchanlina’s performance forecasts the fate of the architecture and its residents. The artist silently asks what forces will determine the future of the White Building in a context in which many residents regard its destruction as inevitable, or even imminent.
Pairing a conceptual and archival impulse, Lim Sokchanlina’s (b. Prey Veng) practice in photography, video, and installation calls attention to social, cultural, economic and environmental change. His recent works in performance and video approach similar themes through fantastical landscapes requiring laborious processes. Recent exhibitions include Urban Street Night Club, Art Stage Singapore (2014), Wrapped Future (Triangle Park), Brooklyn, NYC (2013), and Phnom Penh: Rescue Archaeology, ifa, Berlin (2013). He is a founding member of the artist collective Stiev Selapak.
Anica Yoeu Ali, Spiral Cyclo (2012), is part of Anida Yoeu Ali’s ongoing The Buddhist Bug Project, Spiral Cyclo seeks to map a new spiritual and social landscape through its surreal existence amongst ordinary people and everyday environments. The Bug is fantastical saffron-colored creature conceived as an autobiography exploration of identity, especially spiritual turmoil between Islam and Buddhism. In a typical neighbourhood alley new Phnom Penh’s Central Market, an unlikely visitor dropped off by a cyclo driver provokes questions around belonging and displacement
Anida Yoeu Ali (b. Cambodia) is an artist whose works span performance, installation, video, poetry, public encounters and political agitation. She is a first generation Muslim Khmer woman born in Cambodia and raised in Chicago. Her works investigate the artistic, spiritual and political collisions of a hybrid transitional identity. Ali recently participated in the 5th Fukuoko Asian Art Triennale (2014).
Leang Seckon, Goodbye Boeung Kak (2010, 2014). Once a longtime resident at the former lake Boeung Kak, artist Leang Seckon choreographed and recorded a performance shortly before eviction from his home in 2010. Goodbye Boeung Kak documents the artist’s critique of the sand in-filling at the lake by staging a Khmer funerary ritual. As a group of fishermen attempt to rescue a ceremonial flag adorned with symbolic scales, they discover it dead and immediately proceed to dress themselves, the flag and the soon-toperish home in white. After enacting a calling of the souls with ritual objects including the popil and candles, they hold a cremation ceremony at sunset atop another in-filled site.
Leang Seckon (b. Prey Veng) works in collage, sculpture, installation and video exploring past and present myths and histories specific to the Kingdom of Cambodia. Recent exhibitions include Phnom Penh: Rescue Archaeology, Berlin and Stuttgart (2013), Kathmandu International Art Festival (2012) Reactivation, Shanghai Biennial (2012), and Heavy Skirt, Rossi and Rossi, London (2010).
Sok Chanrado, Memory (2012), reverses footage of his childhood friend Rada who is reciting memories from the site of their former home known as “Small Building”. The building was originally used as a practice venue for traditional folk dance and music in the 1960s before its residents were evicted during the Khmer Rouge era. Resettled by many families following the war, including those of Rado and Rada, Small Building was forcibly emptied again in 2009 during the Dey Krahom evictions.
Sok Chanrado (b. Phnom Penh) is interested in the role of media and its influence on public opinion in relation to concepts of freedom and transparency. He currently studies art Sa Sa Art Projects, and Media and Communication at Pannasastra University, Phnom Penh. His group exhibitions include The White Building and the City, The Packer Collegiate Institute Carol Shen Gallery, New York (2013), The White Night and Cambodian Youth Art Festival’s Snit Snaal, both 2012 at Sa Sa Art Projects, Phnom Penh.
Tith Kanitha, Heavy Sand (2012), is a film of a performance event title Reclamation Recreation: An Urban Beach Party, where artist Tith Kanitha staged diurnal ritual: a shower as is taken in a humble household, manually, with buckets of water. Her only covering was a bikini and a clinical facemask normally associated with protection from pollution but also more recently used to conceal protestors’ identities. At the time a resident of Boeung Kak lakeside, Tith’s performance brings to bear aspects of life experienced there since 2008, where people risked their lives to protest evictions; women and children at the front lines.
Tith Kanitha works across a range of media, including sculpture, installatio and performance. In 2013, Tith was a resident at Transparent Studios, Bose Pacia, New York, and exhibited in Phnom Penh: Rescue Archaeology, Berlin and Stuttgart.
Svay Sareth, Mon Boulet (2011), documents a 5-day durational performance in which the artist dragged a cumbersome reflective metal sphere 250 kilometers from the ancient capital of Angkor to the present capital Phnom Penh, carrying with him a few basic amenities known to refugees worldwide. The public aspect of Sisyphean futility was intended to confront conditions of the artist’s and ‘audiences’ pasts as a cathartic move into the future. In the artist’s words, “The heart is marked forever by the atrocities of the war. The mind – the seat of the body’s creative power – is a force of alchemy able to transform the difficulty, the fear, the suffering, the discouragement, into energy and creative freedom. And the body, finally, is used for resistance.”
Having lived through three violent regimes, Svay Sareth’s (b. Battambang) practices in sculpture and performance reference the experience of the refugee and survivor through acts of adventure and futility. Svay co-founded Phare Ponlue Selpak, an art school in Battambang, and holds an MFA, Caen (2009). Recent exhibitions include If The World Changed, 4th Singapore Biennale, Phnom Penh: Rescue Archaeology, ifa, Berlin and Stuttgart (2013), and Traffic Circle, SA SA BASSAC (2012).