Many artists focus on one discipline obsessively in order to master it, often for years at a time or even as the sole focus of their artistic careers. Others fixate on a certain medium or technique, like a painter who works exclusively with oils or a sculptor whose works are always welded from scrap metal.
Vuth Lyno’s work as an artist defies these stereotypical rules and roles because it spans across a wide array of different media and forms including photography, film, sculpture, light and sound design and experiential art installations.
For over a decade now, Lyno has been presenting his artworks across the region and around the world, participating in international exhibitions in places like China, Indonesia, Poland, the Philippines, Singapore, Australia, Hong Kong and Thailand.
The life of an artist comes naturally to Lyno these days, but his purpose in life early on wasn’t so obvious to him and like many young people he says he spent a great deal of time utterly bewildered and running from one career path to another trying to figure out what to do.
Lyno graduated from high school at the age of 16. He says he had no idea at that time what he wanted or what he needed in life.
“I did have a connection with the arts, though, ever since I was little. I love design and drawing and creating something new. However, I was still uncertain about my future so I decided to follow my parents’ advice and I chose computer science and engineering as my intended university major because that was the big deal at the time and what they desired.
“Then after I got my bachelor’s I went to school to get a master’s of social sciences and international development from RMIT University in Melbourne. I then had a chance to actually do some work in the communications field which led me to photography.
“That was how I got to see for the first time the potential – my own potential – with photos, pictures and the arts. So I finally understood that I did have a home, I had a calling and it was art.
“So I found a scholarship to study for a master’s in art history in New York,” Lyno tells The Post.
Lyno says that over the years since his motivation and inspiration as an artist has come from four distinct factors in his life. The first was his innate love for the arts that fuels his curiosity and pushes him to create.
The second factor has been his social life – most of his friends are artists or creative people and early on his friendships from his photography class helped sustain his momentum and remain important to him today. He founded the art collective Stiev Selapak with friends and co-runs Sa Sa Art Projects with friends as well. What this amounts to, he says, is probably best described by the word community rather than friendship.
Lyno’s third motivating factor has been mentoring and teaching younger artists and the fourth thing Lyno cites as having a motivating influence on him is an academic research paper by Ingrid Muan, the now-defunct Reyum Institute of Arts and Culture’s co-founder, that discussed Cambodian art history at the end of the French-colonial period.
“All these very different inspirations woke me up so I could see my life path in the arts and they made me realise how powerful the arts could actually be when they are used to enable and empower people,” he says.
He says that although his home is with the arts, all the knowledge, understanding and experiences he gained while pursuing his degrees for other career paths wasn’t time wasted because all of his experiences played a role in shaping his journey.
Lyno’s personal ease with academic jargon is his most obvious inheritance from his years spent studying art history in New York, but he employs this arcane vocabulary casually and without any hint of pretension.
When he says that his artworks often engage with micro and overlooked histories, notions of community, place-making and the production of social relations, you can probably take him at his word, but if you aren’t sure what all that might entail, he tells The Post: “I often construct architectural bodies as settings for interaction. I introduce human stories and knowledge within these installations by drawing on a wide range of materials such as original interviews, artifacts or newly made objects,” the 39-year-old artist explains.
Of all of his projects the two he says he is most proud of to date are his very first one in 2011, titled Thoamada, and the latest one he built in 2020-21 called Sala Samnak.
“Thoamada and Sala Samnak were both projects that very fully encompassed and clearly reflected all of what I had learned in the past. Both helped me develop my own arts-language and influenced how I expressed myself using it thereafter,” Lyon says.
Thoamada is the Khmer word for “normal” or “everyday” and it consisted of a photo series exploring individual and collective identities among Cambodian gay and bisexual men.
“This project helped me in two essential ways. First, it helped me to understand my identity crisis which involves my gender. Second, it helped me understand my work as an artist like what I can actually do with the arts,” he says.
Lyno’s installation Sala Samnak is titled after a particular kind of communal space that exists throughout Cambodia. They are modest rest halls built on the roadside or in villages for passersby and visitors and they are provided through the generosity of the local villagers usually with no government support involved.
“I find the act [of giving shelter to strangers] has so much empathy and virtue to it. It is something that I want Cambodians to maintain as part of their culture. I want to use arts to remind people about this because unlike in the provinces you can’t really find Sala Samnak here in the capital,” says Lyno.
Lyno says that every time he creates art he doesn’t want it to be about him alone or even him using his voice to speak up for someone else. Instead he wants the people he collaborates with to have the ability, the right and the power to speak out using their own voices.
He says his artistic and curatorial practices are participatory in nature, with the goal of engaging mutual and communal learning and experimentation in an attempt to bring together multiple voices to make something meaningful and he believes in the potency of collective actions, storytelling and using cultural objects as pathways to meaning.
Whenever Lyno comes up with a topic, he says he first thinks of how he can make an experience that is surreal but also captures the essential truth underlying a real experience in order to convey that to the public and that is where his variety of techniques are utilised.
For instance, the Thoamada project was done in collaboration with an LGBTIQ activist and it engages nine men of diverse ages from Phnom Penh and several provinces in discussion through a workshop where they share their views on sex, gender and sexuality. After the workshop, each participant painted an image of their choice on their face for a portrait photograph.
The resulting photographs were installed double-sided in a suspended, circular format to invoke the workshop’s conversational setting. The audience can observe these portraits from the outside or enter and stand among them. When viewed from inside the installation, the intended effect is that the audience is instead being observed by the images.
For Sala Samnak, Lyno has changed up his style a bit. The architectural installation is made of blue neon light that appears to be suspended in midair and illuminates the whole space. The mesmerising and radiating quality of the light structure produces an otherworldly experience, suggesting something you’d see in a dream.
“For me, I don’t spend a lot of time fussing over what art is. Instead, I focus on what art can actually do. Art has the real potential to move us emotionally and intellectually. It enriches our imagination and binds us together. It allows us to see our connections to each other and it creates empathy,” Lyno says.
Lyno mentions that currently he and his team are working on a unique project that involves the creation of a rainbow. Natural rainbows are caused when sunlight is separated into different wavelengths by refraction through water in the atmosphere.
“I want to create something that is untouchable. I want to bring people from diverse backgrounds and the LGBT community together with a splendorous thing that occurs from nature’s elements. We hope to have it ready to share with the public by the end of this year,” Lyno says.