Stepping into the Sa Sa Bassac gallery, a visitor would need their wits about them to avoid colliding into the fence that seals off two-thirds of the room’s space.
Set against cream walls and the grating hum of fluorescent lights, this vaguely menacing edifice instantly makes the rest of the gallery feel claustrophobic.
Any curiosity it arouses is dashed soon after: the walls are too high to peek overhead, and there is no way around.
Whatever lies behind is a mystery; the only thing left is a stretch of metal, hiving away what was once land freely explored.
So begins the immersion into Wrapped Future, a project by 24-year-old Prey Veng native Lim Sokchanlina to chronicle Phnom Penh’s runaway development and rapidly changing landscape.
Over the last three years, Lim has photographed the opaque construction fences cluttering the city’s horizon.
In the process, he has managed to highlight the rapid erasure of its past and the uncertainties of its future.
The exhibition strikes a mournful note with its oblique references to the traumatic and often violent evictions that have blighted Cambodia’s urban landscape in recent years.
The centrepiece depicts the pale blue barrier that sealed off the site of the Dey Krahorm building in the weeks after the eviction of its tenants, while another photo shows the construction fence erected to seal off the Borei Keila site from the public after the demolition of residents buildings there.
In other places, Lim Sokchanlina laments the loss of architectural icons, with sparse renderings of the fences that seal off the colonial-era Ministry of Tourism building at the intersection of Sisowath Quay and Sothearos Boulevard, and the site of the former National Theatre, designed by Cambodia’s pre-eminent architect Vann Molyvann.
Lim Sokchanlina is a photographer talented beyond his years, and has once again demonstrated his morbid fascination at the country’s rapid economic development and its contested legacy.
Though his walls provoke curiosity about the nature of their hidden contents, they are also beautiful objects in themselves, however maudlin at times.
Each of them has a story to tell, sometimes promising and sometimes baleful, and it is through the images that Lim Sokchanlina poses questions which have never been answered to satisfaction: to what end the encroachment of private property on the city’s public treasures?
When the new once again displaces the old and the walls are torn down, how many of Phnom Penh’s residents will still be on the outside, unable to see in?
Wrapped Future will be on display at Sa Sa Bassac Gallery, #18 Sothearos Boulevard, Phnom Penh, until Sunday, April 1. Opening times are Thursday-Friday 2-6pm and Saturday-Sunday 10am-6pm.