Running from September 28 to October 7, the fifth annual Our City Festival will showcase ideas for Phnom Penh’s urban development from of artists, architects and photographers in locations across the city. 7 Days spoke to several people behind the coming week’s exhibitions to ask about their perspective on urban Cambodia’s future direction. The full program is available at ourcityfestival.org.
Part of the Hidden Sometimes Forgotten series at the Plantation Hotel. Photograph Chea Phal/7Days
Som Vannita and Lorenzo Martini’s concept art for bus shelters in Phnom Penh. Photograph: Com Vannita/7Days
A student assembles models as part of the Urban Lab series taking place at the Bophana Centre. Photograph: Shelby Doyle/7Days
One of the sculptures on display at No Problem Park in the coming week. Photograph: Kong Vollak/7Days
World of Difference
In collaboration with Sahmakum Tneang Tnaut, an NGO established in 2005 to promote sustainable housing and develop urban infrastructure, Australian photographer Crystal Patterson’s exhibition aims to capture Phnom Penh’s development boom and changing cityscape against the backdrop of its inhabitants.
“What I basically want to do is provoke the question: who is urban development for?’” Patterson says. “It’s an interesting question to ask because there’s a lot of development happening, and I don’t think it’s asked enough: is it for Cambodians, or is it for foreigners?”
A photographer for the last eight years, Patterson is currently based in Phnom Penh as a freelancer and English teacher.
The World of Difference exhibition opens at the Baitong Restaurant, #7 St 360, at 5:30pm on October 3.
Walking the City
Kong Vollak, a graduate of the Royal University of Fine Arts, is one of the founding members of the prolific Stiev Selapak art collective. For this year’s Our City Festival, Vollak has painstakingly sculpted a clay model representation of Phnom Penh for display in a public park.
The artist is ambivalent about the runaway urban development’s effects on the city, and would like to see the effects on the population be more carefully considered.
“To my mind, I would like have modern buildings built outside the centre of Phnom Penh” he says. “The buildings create jobs for Cambodian people and those that are very poor find the work to have more money, but when they build in the centre of Phnom Penh, I see the problems it causes the residents and the environment.”
Kong Vallak will be exhibiting for the duration of the festival at No Problem Park, #55 St 178, between 10am and 6pm daily. His installation will sit alongside other artists as part of the Multiple Streams exhibition being held in the park.
Bus Stop @ The Urban Lab
Architect Som Vannita and interior designer Lorenzo Martini believe the most pressing urban development issue facing Phnom Penh is the increasing congestion on the city’s roads.
With a lack of new infrastructure and a growing number of vehicles on existing roads, the pair believes that the reintroduction of a public transport system and improved pedestrian walkways tailored to the climate would help alleviate the city’s traffic problems.
“The population of Phnom gets bigger and bigger each year,” says Vannita. “The infrastructure and the roads are still the same. It creates a lot of problems for people travelling around. I think the best way to solve this is by public transportation.”
The pair will showcase environmentally friendly bus stops with a view to combatting some of the problems that plagued Phnom Penh’s abortive introduction of a public bus service in 2001.
Som Vannita and Lorenzo Martini’s exhibition opens at the Bophana Audiovisual Resource Centre, #64 St 200, at 5pm on Saturday September 29.
Hidden Sometimes Forgotten
Photographer Chea Phal’s interest in architecture stemmed from a friend, who educated him about the city’s holdovers from the colonial and Sihanouk era.
Phal is a founding member of the Cambodian chapter of Urbex, a worldwide organisation based around the exploration of abandoned or off-limits urban areas.
Much of his photography is an exploration of abandoned architectural relics left by Phnom Penh’s wayside, juxtaposed with scenes of frenetic activity and development as the city moves forward from the past.
“The issue is that economic growth has pushed the development of Cambodia and changed it quite a lot, but we don’t pay attention to what that has done in terms of identity to our city and we don’t have and effective appreciation of heritage,” Phal says.
Hidden Sometimes Forgotten will open at 6pm on October 1 at The Plantation Hotel, #28 St 184.
One of the most extensively engaged participants in the Our City Festival is Fulbright scholar Shelby Doyle, who has spent the last couple of years researching the relationship between water, architecture and infrastructure in Phnom Penh.
Alongside architectural design company Collaborative Studio, Doyle is staging a public exhibition of potential scenarios for the future of the city’s development.
“The Interventions images are installed as ‘advertisements’ on a series of tuk-tuks, which travel the city throughout the day sharing these ideas with the public they are designed to serve,” Doyle says. “The goal is to treat the city as a gallery space and to communicate with a wide audience which may otherwise not be engaged in issues of public space.”
The Urban Interventions display will begin from October 1. Doyle is also responsible for Mekong Flux, a time lapse video of photos documenting the ebb and flow of the Mekong River which will be exhibited at No Problem Park, and curating the Living Archive exhibition at the Bophana Centre, which showcases the works of current Cambodian architecture students and aims to serve as a discussion forum for the future of urban development.