There is a general consensus that the making and exhibiting of creative work follows a certain trajectory. It goes like this: idea, creative process, final piece, exhibition.
Australian curator Roger Nelson has defied this trajectory in an experimental show – titled New Artefacts –, with which he proposes to “counter a problematic model for creative exchange in developing and post-trauma societies like Cambodia.”
New Artefacts ushers in a wind of change.
Works by both Cambodian and Australian artists which have been “left over” from past exhibitions will be shown in the white cube space of Sa Sa Bassac Gallery, which until now has only hosted solo shows for Cambodian artists.
Nelson is the first independent curator to be granted a show at the gallery and his presence is felt strongly, being the driving force bringing together a diverse set of names and works.
His is a creative role, but he is not an artist. “I learn from the artists I work with,” says Nelson, whose belief in the artists he works with is evident.
The eight artists will display anything from videos to drawings, which have a connection with a previously exhibited final piece or more generally with their usual practice.
“I didn’t want a unified aesthetic for the show”, says Nelson. “I wanted the show to be a space for dialogue between the works as well as between the audiences for those works.”
Australian artist Clare McCracken predicts that exhibiting working materials for her permanent installation, Speed Check, will have a “demystifying effect” on her final piece.
“A transparent process helps people to follow your thoughts,” she says.
While McCracken sees her work in the exhibition as a helpful tool for understanding, other artists speak of a different natured relationship between their working materials and the “proper piece”.
Renowned artist Khvay Samnang speaks of his video as “real documentary”.
The video shows Khvay wading through the oftentimes dirty water of lakes, soon to become development sites.
The photographs – the work that is usually for exhibition and sale – establish a simple language of symbols which anticipates and parodies the impending development.
The video differs immensely from the photographs, placing more emphasis on the effort of the artist and the threat to his work by security officials.
Khvay speaks of a “fight” between the photographs and the video, which, in his mind, is “opposite from the photographs”.
Other artists offering “documentary” include Amy Lee Sanford, Drew Pettifer and Alfredo & Isabel Aquilizan. Svay Sareth’s video offers a trace of his endurance piece, Mon Boulet.
Svay Ken’s Palette Canvas stands out as a piece which has not clearly accompanied or constituted as work towards a particular final work.
Its simplicity of form – attempting to represent nothing, being blotches of colour on a white canvas – contributes something entirely different to the unique show.
Mention of “dialogue”, “discourse” and theory-led curatorship has the potential to intimidate audiences, but Nelson is keen to point out the presence of humour in each of the works.
“Many of the works invite giggles and smiles: Clare McCracken’s public installation with a smiley-face made from LED lights is all about the enlisting power of play; Svay Sareth’s deadpan answers to the people he encountered during his Mon Boulet performance provoke squeals of laughter; the naughtiness of Drew Pettifer recording the sounds of masturbation is titillating; the baffling strangeness and futility of Khvay Samnang’s Untitled performance is comic in its absurdity.”
New Artefacts is as engaging as it is complex and as humorous as it is serious.
Emerging from the spaces in-between these diverse effects is the human element. All of the artists exhibiting in new artefacts have used their practice to confront a human issue, such as the experiences of diaspora communities, trauma or sexuality.
It is the human element which makes new artefacts not only intellectually stimulating, but inspiring to see.
New Artefacts is opening 9th August at Sa Sa Bassac Gallery; it is supported by The Australian Embassy and Institute Francais, Cambodia.
To contact the reporter on this story: Hannah Sender at [email protected]