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Pushing artistic boundaries

The all-video art exhibit ‘Virtual Geometries' aims to change the landscape of creative communication in the Kingdom.

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Video art from "Virtual Geometries."

Throughout the 1960s pioneers of video art began using new technology that enabled them to instantly play back recordings rather than wait for film processing. The portable and closer-to-real-time process was liberating for artists who were all searching for new ways to communicate. 

Nearly a half-century later, artists and audiences in Cambodia are appreciating video as an art form. Despite the time and technology lag, the country is not as far behind as it might seem. Only in this decade have the world's leading art schools widely validated video art as an area of study.

While the few art schools in Cambodia seem far from offering degrees in any contemporary medium, informal education opportunities seep in via workshops with visiting artists, offering students options beyond their classical training, such as video art.

"Virtual Geometries" - an exhibition dedicated solely to video art - opens at the French Cultural Centre this Saturday. Its production was organic and can be traced to the complementary paths of its co-curators - Colombian-born artist Carlos Franklin and French Cultural Centre Director Alain Arnaudet.

While Arnaudet created the collaboration system between Cambodian and foreign artists, Franklin, who graduated from the esteemed Le Fresnoy - a postgraduate art school in France known for its excellence in all audiovisual media - both worked with artists and made selections of video art from around the world.

Of the 26 artists in the show, four are Cambodian, while many others have connections with Le Fresnoy or are based in Phnom Penh.

The wide-ranging material that was collected or created offers a thorough introduction to video art under the theme of "landscape".

"As Phnom Penh is changing so quickly, I decided to choose work that considers in some way our landscape or surroundings," Franklin said.

Audiences can discover works - all under 15 minutes - in a variety of ways. Single-channel videos play on old television and new plasma screens, and as projections onto walls. Some videos are silent, others need headphones and still others fill the gallery space with sound.

Only in this decade have ... leading art schools widely validated video art as an area of study.

A 10-minute piece by Swiss artist Anna Katharina Scheidegger is perhaps a good example of accessible and strong video art that relies on low technology and no language. The making of the video was spontaneous, said Arnaudet.
"Scheidegger happened to be wearing her camera when she noticed a simple and comic scene of a man with a large belly looking out to an unknown landscape."

In the video, we see the man straining to see something in the distance as he uses his hand as a visor to block the sun. Other characters join him, standing on the same plane and looking out with the same gesture. Scheidegger never turns her camera. We never learn what they are looking at. Consequently, she shows us there are other things worth knowing, like not knowing.

Arnaudet characterises Schiedegger's witty approach as the height of a learning curve.

 "Artists can move little by little from capturing  something [akin to a] straight documentary, to something more personal, to something more removed or conceptual until they are always ready to catch things like this."

Cambodian classical dancer Belle Chumvan Sodhachivy, who collaborated with Phnom Penh-based multimedia artist Victor Corolleur, is beginning to understand this learning curve.

Corolleur found himself working backwards from his usual process in which he first defines sound, which he often samples from the natural environment, as inspiration for visual content and finally overall concept.  

"One day he asked me to dance a colour, the next day he asked me to dance a sound. We did this without any color or sound in the room, though," she said. The result is Belle in the City, two three-minute, twenty-second videos.

When asked to consider how Cambodian audiences may react to the exhibition, Belle said, like herself, most Cambodians have never considered video as art.

"But maybe," she added, "because now we know TV commercials and film trailers, which sometimes have suspense, we can understand a little more now than we could before."

In effect, "Virtual Geometries" is describing a tradition, but also helping to define and create one.

The exhibition opens this Saturday and runs through to April 4 at the French Cultural Centre.

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