Sand-covered Cambodian artist Khvay Samnang’s Phnom Penh lake performance

CONTEMPORARY ART EXHIBITION PERFORMANCE PHOTOGRAPHY VIDEO

For a recent solo show, “Untitled”, at SA SA BASSAC gallery in Cambodia, Khvay Samnang combined performance art with photography and video to create works about the controversial urban development of Boeung Kak and other lakes in Phnom Penh.

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Khvay Samnang, 'Untitled', 2011, Digital C-print. Image courtesy the artist.

Need for discussion outweighs risks

Over the course of a year, Khvay Samnang visited the lakes and set up the scenes for his performances. Using himself as the subject, he spent time framing his image with his camera and tripod. The artist then proceeded to wade into the polluted waters, find something stable to stand on and pour a bucket of sand over his head. He repeated this action at different locations and documented it using photography and video.

In creating his rigorous performance, he risked illness from pollution and sewage, arrest for trespassing and even gambled on the chance that his camera might be confiscated. Why would an artist do such a thing? Khvay wanted to highlight the urban development of the lakes that is irrevocably changing the natural environment and the livelihoods of many thousands of poor urban families.

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Khvay Samnang, 'Untitled', 2011, Digital C-Print, 80 x 110 cm, Edition of 7 + 2AP. Image courtesy the artist.

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Khvay Samnang, 'Untitled', 2011, Digital C-Print, 60 x 110 cm, Edition of 7 + 2AP. Image courtesy the artist.

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Khvay Samnang, 'Untitled', 2011, Digital C-Print, 80 x 110 cm Edition of 7 + 2AP. Image courtesy the artist.

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Khvay Samnang, 'Untitled', 2011, Digital C-Print, 80 x 110 cm, Edition of 7 + 2AP. Image courtesy the artist.

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Khvay Samnang, ‘Untitled’, 2011, Digital C-Print, 80 x 110 cm, Edition of 7 + 2AP. Image courtesy the artist.

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Khvay Samnang, ‘Untitled’, 2011, Digital C-Print, 80 x 110 cm, Edition of 7 + 2AP. Image courtesy the artist.

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Khvay Samnang, ‘Untitled’, 2011, Digital C-Print, 80 x 110 cm, Edition of 7 + 2AP. Image courtesy the artist.

Who is burying whom? Khvay Samnang questions

The resulting body of work consists of nine photographs and a video, all included in the exhibition, called “Untitled”, that was held at Cambodian gallery SA SA BASSAC from 15 July to 21 August 2011.

The photographs are open to interpretation; there is an element of ambiguity surrounding who the person concealed by sand may be. Who is burying whom? Are they a victim, a lakeside resident standing in the water they polluted for so many years? Perhaps the figure is a member of one of the families that refused to move from the lake’s edge?

The video shows the artist at each of the nine locations depicted in the photographs, and the action of sand pouring repeats and increases in speed before looping back to the beginning. Although only one man is shown pouring sand over himself, the repetitive sound of falling sand implies an accumulation of the material somewhere outside of the frame.

Erin Gleeson, curator of “Untitled” and director of SA SA BASSAC, says of the exhibition, “International audiences have likened this work to Chinese artists responding to similar conditions in the mid 1990s and [have] referenced texts such as Hou Hanru’s On the Mid-Ground.”

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Khvay Samnang, ‘Untitled’, 2011, Digital C-Print, 80 x 110 cm, Edition of 7 + 2AP. Image courtesy the artist.

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Khvay Samnang, ‘Untitled’, 2011, Digital C-Print, 80 x 110 cm, Edition of 7 + 2AP. Image courtesy the artist.

Boeung Kak redevelopement explained

Boeung Kak was once the largest of Phnom Penh’s lakes but it is slowly disappearing as property developers fill it with sand, displacing the water and forcing thousands of people to leave their existing homes to make way for high-rise buildings and shopping centres. Many have not been offered proper compensation.

The World Bank, which provides up to US$70 million in loans for Cambodia, has criticised the way in which property developers are handling the project and has withdrawn loans until the resettlement issues are resolved. There are also environmental concerns that urban flooding and sewage overflows have been worsening since work began on the lake and the issue has received a lot of attention both in Cambodia and internationally.

About artist Khvay Samnang

Khvay Samnang

Khvay Samnang. Image from sasabassac.com

Khvay Samnang is part of a new wave of contemporary Cambodian-born artists emerging from the Royal University of Fine Arts in Phnom Penh. He holds a BA in Fine Arts in Painting, but has expanded his practice to include sculpture, photography, video and installation. He uses this array of media to question the effects and relevance of various aspects of Cambodian society. The artist’s work has been widely exhibited in Cambodia and has been included in international exhibitions such as “Arles Photo Festival Night of the Year” in France (2008 and 2011), “Forever Until Now” held at 10 Chancery Lane Gallery in Hong Kong (2009) and “Tokyo Story 2010” at Tokyo Wonder Site Hongo (2011).

DC/KN/HH

Related Topics: Cambodian artists, photography, performance art, art about the environment

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