An exhibition at H Gallery, Bangkok, deliberately ‘un-compares’ art from Bangkok and Phnom Penh.

“Rates of Exchange, Un-Compared”, a collaborative project between Bangkok and Phnom Penh, deviates from a comparative study of art in the two cities. The project aims instead to explore and uncover new possibilities of understanding art by exploring the unpredictable relationships between artists.

Khvay Samnang, from "Preah Ream Thlaeng Sor" series, 2012, digital C-print, 80 x 120 cm. Image courtesy the artist and H Gallery.

Khvay Samnang, from “Preah Ream Thlaeng Sor” series, 2012, digital C-print, 80 x 120 cm. Image courtesy Brian Curtin.

“Rates of Exchange, Un-Compared: Contemporary Art in Bangkok and Phnom Penh” runs at H Gallery in Bangkok until 28 December 2014, and will travel to SA SA BASSAC gallery in Phnom Penh in January 2015.

Funded by the Australian Council for the Arts and co-curated by Roger Nelson and Brian Curtin, the exhibition is the result of a six-month project launched in July 2014. The project comprises public programmes, symposia, meetings and artist residencies in a collaborative approach between the two Southeast Asian cities’ art practitioners and creative thinkers.

Erin Gleeson and Roger Nelson at the Reading Room, Bangkok, during the seminar "Contemporary Art in Phnom Penh: Some Divergent Views", 4 October 2014.

Erin Gleeson and Roger Nelson at the Reading Room, Bangkok, during the seminar “Contemporary Art in Phnom Penh: Some Divergent Views”, 4 October 2014. Photo by Brian Curtin.

An ‘un-comparative’ approach

As expressed in the press release, the project “Rates of Exchange, Un-Compared”

steadfastly skirts a particular way of looking at and conceptualising contemporary art from these two cities. Ideas of the nation-state, comparative histories and the economic and institutional currency of geography, among other typical or potential frameworks, are held in critical relief.

Jakkai Siributr Fast Fashion detailJakkai Siributr, 'Fast Fashion', 2014, (detail), embroidery on garments, dimensions variable, installation view at H Gallery, Bangkok. Photo by Brian Curtin.

Jakkai Siributr, ‘Fast Fashion’, 2014, (detail), embroidery on garments, dimensions variable, installation view at H Gallery, Bangkok. Photo by Brian Curtin.

Suggested in the title is a consideration of the ‘costs’ of distinct frameworks for approaching and disseminating knowledge about contemporary art. The project further focuses on the exploration of unpredictable relationships that arise between artists during a discursive inquiry into art from both cities.

Amy Lee Sanford's presentation for "RATES OF EXCHANGE" at Reading Room, Bangkok, 2014.

Amy Lee Sanford’s presentation for “Rates of Exchange: Un-Compared” at Reading Room, Bangkok, 2014. Photo by Brian Curtin.

Cambodia and Thailand share a national border, are both constitutional monarchies, hold a belief system based on animism and Theravada Buddhism, and are economically reliant on tourism and manufacturing. Although potential comparisons between Bangkok and Phnom Penh can be drawn on many levels, the curators emphasise their choice of the two cities as “arbitrary”.

Pen Sereypagna, 'Phnom Penh Visions', 2013, digital print with pen on paper, 79 x 119cm. Image courtesy Brian Curtin.

Pen Sereypagna, ‘Phnom Penh Visions’, 2013, digital print with pen on paper, 79 x 119 cm. Image courtesy Brian Curtin.

The project and the resulting exhibition skirt commonalities and differences, challenging fixed interpretations of contemporary art from the region. Instead, the curators insist “on the critical value of [the two cities] remaining deliberately ‘un-compared’.”

Pinaree Sanpitak participatory event 'PRA HOK PLA RAA' as part of "Rates of Exchange: Un-compared", Phnom Penh, July 2014. Photo by Brian Curtin.

Pinaree Sanpitak participatory event ‘PRA HOK PLA RAA’ as part of “Rates of Exchange: Un-Compared”, Phnom Penh, July 2014. Photo by Brian Curtin.

Introducing the artists

Featured in the exhibition are five artists from Thailand and six from Cambodia. Thai artist Pinaree Sanpitak (b. 1961) focuses on the exploration of women’s experience and is inspired by the female body.

Jakkai Siributr (b. 1969) works primarily with textiles, creating powerful statements about religious, social and political issues in contemporary Thailand.

Jakkai Siributr, 'Fast Fashion', 2014, embroidery on garments, dimensions variable, installation view at H Gallery, Bangkok. Photo by Brian Curtin.

Jakkai Siributr, ‘Fast Fashion’, 2014, embroidery on garments, dimensions variable, installation view at H Gallery, Bangkok. Photo by Brian Curtin.

Cambodian-American Amy Lee Sanford (b. 1972, Cambodia) explores the evolution of emotional stagnation and the lasting psychological effects of war including guilt, loss, alienation and displacement.

Cambodian Lim Sokchanlina’s (b. 1987) multidisciplinary practice engages with issues of social, political, cultural, economic and environmental changes in Cambodia in relation to the world.

"Rates of Exchange: Un-compared" installation view at H Gallery, Bangkok, 2014, with Pinaree Sanpitak and Khvay Samnang. Photo by Brian Curtin.

“Rates of Exchange: Un-compared” installation view at H Gallery, Bangkok, 2014, with Pinaree Sanpitak and Khvay Samnang. Photo by Brian Curtin.

The other artists in this exhibition work in a variety of media, including photography, performance, painting, sculpture, installation and video, and address diverse issues relating to the socio-political and cultural landscape of their respective environments. The artists are:

  • Orawan Arunrak (b. 1985, Thailand)
  • Makha Sanewong Na Ayuthaya (b. 1987, Thailand)
  • Tada Hengsapkul (b. 1987, Thailand)
  • Khvay Samnang (b. 1982, Cambodia)
  • Pen Sereypagna (b. 1989, Cambodia)
  • Sovan Philong (b. 1986, Cambodia)
  • Imhathai Suwatthanaslip (b. 1981, Thailand)
  • Tith Kanitha (b. 1987, Cambodia)
Makha Sanewong Na Ayuthaya, 'Trap', 2014, school chair, pen, rope, 160 x 100 x 60cm. Photo by Brian Curtin.

Makha Sanewong Na Ayuthaya, ‘Trap’, 2014, school chair, pen, rope, 160 x 100 x 60cm. Photo by Brian Curtin.

Collaboration across borders

Over its six months, the project has activated connections between artists, curators and galleries from the two cities. The participants stand at diverse levels in their career, work in varying contexts and hold different ambitions. The collaborative approach of “Rates of Exchange, Un-Compared” drew from the premise that contact and dialogue between these players has been low, thus offering a platform for the exchange of ideas.

Lim Sokchanlina, 'Wrapped Future', 2009-2012, digital C-print, 80 x 120 cm each. Photo by Brian Curtin.

Lim Sokchanlina, ‘Wrapped Future’, 2009-2012, digital C-print, 80 x 120 cm each. Photo by Brian Curtin.

The curators emphasise the importance of diversity and multiplicity in widening the horizon for the interpretation of contemporary art in the region:

“Rates of Exchange, Un-Compared” insists on the multiplicity of meanings inherent not only in a given art ‘world’ and geographical location but also within artists’ practices. The project’s objective is to activate connections as an alternative to proposing fixed interpretations.

C. A. Xuan Mai Ardia

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Related Topics: Cambodian artists, Thai artists, curatorial practice, emerging artists, gallery shows, picture feasts, events in Bangkok, events in Phnom Penh

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By Brittney

Brittney is a writer, curator and contemporary art gallerist. Born in Singapore and based in New York City, Brittney maintains a deep interest in the contemporary art landscape of Southeast Asia. This is combined with an equally strong interest in contemporary art from the Asian diasporas, alongside the issues of identity, transmigration and global relations.

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