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Architecture exhibition builds connections

'I Love Phnom Penh' draws people into urban design process

Tracey Shelton

Artist Kong Vollak shows one of his exhibits about how electric lines in Phnom Penh can affect the beauty of the city.

THE I Love Phnom Penh exhibition that opens tonight at Java Cafe and Gallery as part of architecture month aims to give everyone a voice about the architectural changes taking place in the city.

The idea behind the exhibition is to get artists and people in general "interested, involved and thinking" about the changes taking place around them, said Dana Langlois, owner of Java Cafe and Gallery.

"We want people to see themselves as participants in the development of Phnom Penh rather than just observers. People need to have a voice about the architectural changes taking place in Phnom Penh, and the art community is where this voice could and should start," Langlois said.

The interactive exhibition, which will feature a collaboration between 12 Khmer and five expat artists, presents the participants with an opportunity to discuss and respond to the development of Phnom Penh through a wide variety of media including drawing, photography and installations. Participants are invited to express their vision of Phnom Penh, not necessarily seen as a specific location but rather as a system of relations and structures that define contemporary life, stated the exhibition brochure.

We want people to see themselves as participants in the deve-lopment of the city.

Evolving exhibition

The most important aspect of the exhibition is that it is supposed to evolve during its two-week lifespan, said Panca Evenblij, the exhibition's curator. "We would like people to be involved and not just on the opening night.

Postcards advertising the "I love Phnom Penh" exhibition have been distributed around the city.

The exhibition is a work in progress. Anyone can contribute by either commenting on other people's work or bringing in their own. Even just snapshots of Phnom Penh," Evenblij said.

While generally positive about Phnom Penh's development, the exhibition's organisers have not always been happy with the haphazard and destructive way the city has grown. 

"I would like for people to take more interest and become more involved in reflection about where the city is heading," said Langlois, adding that the hardest thing for her is watching old buildings being demolished. "Cities have to evolve, but the development of Phnom Penh could be done in a better way," she said.

"My biggest frustration is that there seems to be no plan behind the new developments. Not many people know what is happening and what is going to happen next," Evenblij said.

"Cambodian people seem to take interest in the environment around them only when it directly affects them, like what is happening in Boueng Kak at the moment, and many are eager to make money from the real estate boom if they have money to begin with," Evenblij said, adding that it is a luxury of many expats to be able to think about where the city is heading architecturally.

"Development will find its own way. I think that balance will be achieved eventually," Langlois said.

Untidy lines

Kong Vollak, 25, drawing teacher at Preah Polea high school, said that he has been inspired to take part in the exhibition by the fast pace at which Phnom Penh has developed in recent years. "I want to educate the audience about the developing of my city," he said, adding that he will be showing three pieces in the exhibition.

"I don't want Phnom Penh to start looking like Bangkok where there are many high buildings in the city center," he said. "It would be better if all the high buildings were built in the suburbs rather than the city."

"One of my exhibits is a drawing about how electric lines in Phnom Penh are often very untidy and can affect the beauty of the city."

"I hope that this exhibition will be successful and that it will make people think about both the good and bad aspects of development in Phnom Penh."

The I Love Phnom Penh exhibition opens at Java Cafe & Gallery at 6pm tonight and runs until September 28.

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