Artists and architects blur distinctions by focusing on the ways that we – and art – occupy space.
The first buildings were purely functional. A layer of branches propped up as a lean-to probably didn’t inspire any of our ancestors into song, and the decor may have been a dead rabbit and some wild onions.
The years in between have seen artists beautifying buildings, a process that has in turn influenced art in ways that most of us may not understand.
This transformation of architecture as art forms the basis of a lecture, “Artistes et Architectes”, held tonight at the French Cultural Centre by local curator Erin Gleeson.
Gleeson will present a slideshow of artwork that illustrates how social and structural principles used by architects also influence much of the visual art being produced today.
“We think of an architect as being a creator with the freedom to think about their practice in any way they want, but they have to think about many external influences, such as how people will move through and interact with the building,” said Gleeson.
“Modernism allowed artists to remain relatively free from these constraints and to see art as object, whereas contemporary artists are often acting like architects.”
MODERNISM ALLOWED ARTISTS
TO ... SEE ART AS OBJECT, WHEREAS CONTEMPORARY ARTISTS ARE OFTEN ACTING LIKE ARCHITECTS.
Most of the slides to be displayed in the lecture were taken when Gleeson attended the 53rd Venice Biennale an event held in August that represented contemporary art trends from more than 100 countries.
“Venice has an impressive backdrop of religious pre-Renaissance buildings whose architects and artists are mostly anonymous, partly because there was not yet separation of church and state,” she said.
“Just down the canal are relatively smaller and non-ornamented modern pavilions designed by some of last century’s most celebrated architects.
“These pavilions act as galleries to exhibit visual artists who are celebrated as significant to our time.”
This Italian architectural landscape can be compared with any culture with impressive religious structures that remain anonymously constructed, until a more secular sector takes hold.
This was the case in Cambodia for the most part, up until the last decade – with the notable exception of the 1950s and 1960s.
The master Molyvann
“We don’t know the names of the architects or artisans who built the temples,” said Gleeson, “but we know the name Vann Molyvann, and we also trace the development of contemporary visual art with names of artists.”
Vann Molyvann began creating new building designs in the early 1950s.
“Molyvann would act as both architect and artist. He made the light work to set off the building. He picked out the tile and chose the paint colours.”
Now, there are so many different people involved that, many times, art is something that is put in after the building is done and the tenants realise all of the walls are blank and there’s nothing to draw the eye.
Although all of the works that Gleeson will be showing are by foreign artists, she hopes that there will be many Cambodian artists and architects in attendance. She added that the arts movement is being redeveloped here but still needs all the encouragement people can give it.
One example of this movement is artist Kong Vollack’s Pillar, currently on display at Java Cafe and Gallery.
The piece is over three metres tall and is formed using approximately 128 small pictures to create a three-dimensional pillar that is meant to be viewed from all sides.
Kong Vollack has summed up Pillar this way: “This work of art has been created to reflect the current boom in architectural constructions in Phnom Penh as well as all over the world.”
Artistes et Architectes begins at 7pm tonight at the French Cultural Centre. Admission is free.