After Nge Lay's talk, KS said a couple of things about the shared themes of building worlds, linking her work with Wenguang’s founding of Caochangdi and his village interventions.
Lyno continued in this vein.
First, he spoke about his collective, Stiev Selapak, founded by six people: three from fine arts institutions, three (including himself) from non-art backgrounds. The works he chose to highlight were more or less about community and society: Khvay Samnang's Untitled Series, where he pours sand on himself to reflect the swallowing of homes by sand to make way for highrise condo developments; Lim Sokchanlina's video Ice Confection at Tonle Sap, where he serves iced drinks to the fishermen on the lake and talks about their lives; Lyno's own Thoamada project where he facilitated discussions between gay and bisexual men from across the country, recorded their stories, then photographed them with faces painted to disguise their identities. (I'm uploading an interview with him soon all about this work at the gay Asian LGBT website Fridae
. Watch out for it.)
Lyno: People used to ask us you are a collective, so what is the collective for? You don’t do any work together.
Lyno: Except we do in some sort of way.
This is Sa Sa Art Projects, housed in the White Building, an apartment block that was meant to be the triumph of 1960s Cambodian architecture - the golden age of modernist culture under Sihanouk. Designed as low-cost housing, it was never fully occupied - the civil war broke out, and then the Khmer Rouge happened, and so it was that the 1980s, the nation's surviving artists were called to gather together in the ruins...
Unfortunately, the place very quickly decayed into a slum: an overpopulated hive of squatters where bourgeois art-goers are scared to go, because of the poverty, the crime, the drugs.
But this is precisely what drew Sa Sa Art Projects there.
Lyno: We are worried by how art is perceived by everyday Cambodians. They were like, what? Are you singing, are you dancing? They are still into celebrity or TV events. We feel like there is a big gap between people’s understanding of how they perceive art. And we wanted to work with everyday Cambodians, simple people, to understand them but also to bring something to them as well in a way that is not too alien and not too strange.
So they set up shop, with pop-up exhibitions, spaces where kids can write their reactions to shows on the walls, and student-led projects - for instance, White Nights, where young people took photos of the residents (sometimes showing them how to operate cameras for the very first time), cobbling together sculptures from their discarded items. These works were shown where the students chose: walls under stairways, coffeeshops, stores.
And really, it sounds like Sa Sa's had a transformative effect on the neighbourhood: there's now a beer garden which has begun screening video art, there are film screenings which were meant to be one-night-only, but which the residents have set up tentages for all over again the next night to keep it going...
But the truth is, the White Building itself may not be around much longer. It's the last of the old buildings in the area still standing: everything else has been bulldozed for development, and the government refuses to grant licences to the squatters: they're at risk of eviction every day.
Lyno: So we believe this community may not stay together for very long, But hope that while it does we can continue to engage and the young can continue to express. Because in the end it’s their community. It’s not my community.
He's creating an online archive of works made by the students and the public in this space. Physical worlds into virtual worlds. As they say in Singapore, boh her, hei ah ho. If there's no fish, prawns will have to do.