Avant-art masters of the Kingdom impress at Sa Sa Gallery exhibition

Master of Lands and Waters – Where Mchas Teuk Mchas Dei in Khmer – is a collective exhibition by Cambodian art collective Stiev Selapak with artists Khvay Samnang, Lim Sokchanlina and Vuth Lino presenting their works together for the first time at Sa Sa Art Projects in an exhibition from January 15 to March 31.

The exhibition features recent works by the three artists consisting of videos, sculptures, photographs and a light installation, all thematically focused on beliefs about nature and spiritual practices dealing with the supernatural in animism and powerful spirits. Cambodians traditionally believe in caring for people and their homes as well as the land and its animals.

“It highlights the complex interplay and relationships between nature and the supernatural, humans and non-humans, the tangible and the intangible – and between states – that continue to shape our politics, economies, cultures, traditions, livelihoods and essential social structures,” says Chanveasna, head of Sa Sa Art Projects and curator of the Master of Lands and Waters exposure.

Samnang’s multimedia work popil (2018) and Sokchanlina letter to the sea (2019) have already been presented in international galleries and biennials, but this is the first time they have been presented in Phnom Penh.

New for this exhibition, Lyno created an architectural installation composed of neon lights and images of Chumneang Pteah or spirit houses.

from Samnang popil consists of two videos of a performance by dancers wearing dragon mask headdresses made of vines as well as five photographs of actual popil, which are rituals that Cambodians often perform ceremonially for baby showers, weddings, funerals and other important occasions. The passage of the popil in a circle symbolizes the cycle of life.

“People perform this ritual to recall the 19 souls a person has in their body, because if any of the souls are missing, that person will become sick or unstable. At weddings, people perform the popil to recall the souls of the couple and ask for prosperity and children,” says Samnang.

Two Cambodian classical dancers – Mot Pharan and Sot Sovanndy – perform a choreographed dance for Samnang’s popil which tells the story of courtship between two dragons. In their energetic performance in the video, the pair fly, twist and twirl as they traverse the Kingdom.

Their movements and gestures not only express intimacy and love, but also the tension and conflict between them as they enact ritualistic narratives. Their presence across the geography of Cambodia suggests that beyond a romantic relationship, there is also one that is political.

popil presents a love story describing the geography and environmental changes from the northern part of Cambodia to Phnom Penh and then the southern part of Cambodia, passing through mountains, forests and rapidly growing cities on their way to the sea. The dance is performed in the classical Cambodian style with different stories of rituals that make offerings to the spirits of the earth, forest and water,” says Samnang.

Master of Lands and Waters is a group exhibition by Cambodian art collective Stiev Selapak featuring (from left to right) Khvay Samnang, Lim Sokchanlina and Vuth Lino. Hean Ransey

At Lim Sokchanlina letter to the sea is also a video and is accompanied by documents, an archive of letters and related objects. It focuses on Cambodian fishermen working in Thailand, where this industry is notorious for labor exploitation, human trafficking, drug use and other illegal activities.

After visiting Thailand and learning the stories of many Cambodian fishermen working on boats in the Gulf of Thailand and the Andaman Sea, Sokchanlina wrote about their experiences and then read what he had written aloud at the bottom from the sea near Koh Kut, which is an island along the border between Thailand and Cambodia.

“When I was researching many places along the Thai coast, from Pattani Province to Trat Province and even Koh Kong Province in Cambodia, I wondered how I could connect with the stories I I heard Cambodian fishermen in Thailand,” he said. said.

He describes some of the difficulties faced by Cambodian fishermen. They are exploited, abused and trafficked. Some become drug addicts and others become mentally ill. Sokchanlina dedicates his lyrics to the spirit of the sea and the spirits of Cambodian fishermen who died at sea.

“They live difficult lives and some of them die at sea. I wanted to share their stories with other people, but at the same time I also wanted to pay my respects and send my condolences to them,” says Sokchanlina.

The seething sounds of his lungs expelling air into the water as he tries to speak while submerged and the blurry images of him in the depths of the sea combine to bring home the poetic stories and haunting sadness and crisis experienced by Cambodians who work on fishing boats.

“I hope the babble that emerges from my underwater readings will allow my voice to reach the rest of the world on their behalf,” he says.

Lyno’s work Tomb (2022) discusses the practices of Chumneang Pteah or Spirit House, which are influenced by traditional Chinese beliefs about spirits who care for each house that have been adopted by other Asian cultures over the centuries.

Cambodians also commonly follow the practice of placing a Chumneang Pteah – which looks like miniature houses or temples – on the ground facing the entrance to their homes or businesses and they leave spirit offerings there.

On the other hand, Lyno Tomb is a human-sized Chumneang Pteah in skeletal fragments made of neon tubes suspended in space. It radiates a fiery red glow and faces downward, confronting exhibition visitors as they enter the gallery.

The other four wall pieces are made of alluring golden stainless steel which depict Chumneang Pteah in various forms. They are shiny and reflect like mirrors, producing ever-changing reflected images as the audience walks past them.

Between lighting and reflections reminiscent of the playful mirrors of the house, Lyno’s installation creates a new experience through a vision of an otherworldly space where the public and the spirits of the house can interact directly.

Content Image - Phnom Penh Post
Participants view art on display for the Master of Lands and Waters group exhibition at Sa Sa Art Projects. Hean Ransey

“I’ve created art before using neon lights suspended in space. However, this time it is not installed in a grid structure parallel to the ground like last time. The neon light is presented angularly and angled downward 20 degrees as if the Chumneang Pteah is flying from above towards the audience,” says Lyno.

“The ceiling in the gallery’s front yard from which the work hangs also slopes downward on one side. These two factors introduced a new challenge to the technique and the way we installed. Sometimes we had to figure it out. On the other hand, the four pieces of the mirror shrines are made of golden stainless steel. It’s a new material that I work with locally. It went through a few tests for me to learn the nature of this material and how best to present it.

Lyno says people easily associated her neon and steel creation with Chumneang Pteah because of their iconic shapes.

Visitors to the exhibition find the installation fascinating and they often walk past it several times to see the shifting images in the reflections, which are unsettling in the way they distort everything, producing a visual sensation that can only be described as very strange. .

“I’m very curious to know more about how people in this neighborhood and passers-by on the street react to red neon lights, because everything is very visible from the street,” says Lyno.

Sa Sa Art Projects was founded over ten years ago with the mission of supporting the development of contemporary art in Cambodia. Chanveasna says they help and promote young Cambodian artists and their works locally and regionally through their education and residency programs and exhibitions.

“I think we’re best known for our openness to experimentation in terms of programming and what the artists who work with us are able to produce, as well as our commitment to quality in everything we do.

“We’ve also tried to foster a sense of community and be responsive to the changing needs of artists. Our program has evolved over the years to meet these needs, which are essential to the growth of the field. Looking back, the nature of Sa Sa Art Projects is that we learn and grow together and that’s at the heart of why we remain relevant,” says Chanveasna.

Sa Sa Art Projects is located at BKK3 at No. 47 St 350 (near St 95) in Phnom Penh. For more information on the Masters of Lands and Waters exhibition, visit their Facebook page: @sasaartprojects

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