US artist Bradford Edwards' artwork, created from salvaged items from
the local landscape, will be on display at his latest exhibition –
Bradford Edwards at his latest "migrant studio" (left). A wall sculpture titled Future of Buddha from the artist’s project in Cambodia (right).
Bradford Edwards is the ultimate scavenger. Be it antique embroidered Chinese boots or spare motorbike parts, cut up flip-flops and rope or old Buddhist wall hangings. If it can be found, it has probably been used in one of the US artist's numerous mixed-media art exhibitions across the globe.
Although primarily based in Hanoi, Edwards has spent large amounts of time in Phnom Penh, as well as in Santa Barbara, California, working out of what he calls "migrant studios" - economically viable spaces in which to collect and construct works of art central to the places and cultures he is in at the time.
Edwards' latest exhibition, titled "Accidental Voodoo", will feature 22 "thematic dioramas" fashioned from the end-cuts of wooden blocks.
Each cabinet-like piece will contain a mixture of found and scrounged materials, all from Cambodia, and will ultimately come together to make a commentary on social, political and cultural issues.
The artist describes himself as "certainly not the van Gogh tortured painter, slinging paint alone in his studio for days on end, but rather the collector, hoarder, scavenger who makes stuff to hang on the wall."
I like the simple and reductive idea that all you need is right in front of you, just outside your doorstep.
"I construct wall sculptures with found materials, images and objects."
According to Edwards, the process of accumulating material is just as important, if not more so, than fashioning the end product.
"The majority of the work takes about 70 to 80 percent of the time outside the studio, and about 20 to 30 percent inside," he said, insisting that all of the materials he uses must have been produced in the country.
Art students lend a hand
Local artisans, craftspeople and art students are also involved in the creation process, under the supervision of Edwards - inevitably adding their own ideas, suggestions and energy to the final projects.
For this particular show, Edwards enlisted several students from the Royal University of Fine Arts, who assisted in hand-carving the wooden blocks and welding the metal work.
"Accidental Voodoo" refers to the fetish-like qualities of the objects that Edwards has accumulated here in Cambodia. "They're almost like charged symbols or charms, spiritually infused objects," Edwards said.
"As a foreigner in Cambodia, I'm using symbols that I may or may not be aware of." Thus, he said, it is accidental voodoo, as he is not concerned with the strictly correct usage of Khmer symbols, but rather attempts to create "visual essays" with the objects he finds.
One such visual essay is titled Death of the Market, a commentary on the foreseeable demise of the traditional market in lieu of various supermarket conglomerates. In square recesses carved out of a wooden block, Edwards has placed items from local markets, all in the colour white - the colour of death in Cambodia. Items include cotton balls, pieces of rope, soap, candles and electrical wire, creating a visually pleasing yet socially telling piece.
Social and political messages are often central to Edwards' work, evident in his Truth piece - a small, hollowed-out wooden block topped with metal grating securely fastened over the top of a scuffed up piece of plexiglass. Inside the box are four scraps of paper, each with the word "truth" written in Khmer, English, French and Chinese.
Local artist honoured
In another piece, Edwards pays tribute to Cambodian artist Svay Ken, utilizing a photo of a painting of a fuse box by the local artist, placed inside a niche in a wooden block, accompanied by pieces of fuses and electrical wire.
"It's a physical realisation of a photo of a painting, and an homage to Ken," he said.
"A lot of the work for me is seducing the viewer through material, colour and texture to deliver some sort of concept, some reason for doing it all," he said.
"I like the simple and reductive idea that all you need is right in front of you, just outside your doorstep, readily seen from your balcony. I want to reflect my personal experience and interpretation of what I see, smell, touch and do. ‘Be here now' is my mantra."
"Accidental Voodoo" is sponsored by the US embassy and will open at the FCC on December 11 at 6pm, running through the end of January.