Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Exhibit sends a message in a bottle



Exhibit sends a message in a bottle

Artist Phe Sophon works on a piece for his exhibition, Waterworks, at the Asia Foundation’s Community Art Gallery.
Artist Phe Sophon works on a piece for his exhibition, Waterworks, at the Asia Foundation’s Community Art Gallery. Eliah Lillis

Exhibit sends a message in a bottle

In an exhibition opening tonight at the Asia Foundation’s Community Art Gallery, artist Phe Sophon uses waste – specifically plastic bottles – to both explore the human impact on the environment and to interrogate the meaning of life.

“When I went to other countries like Japan, I noticed the beauty of the cities and that urged me to think back to Cambodia, and what do we have [in Phnom Penh] compared to those other countries and cities? So I came up with the idea of using what Phnom Penh has the most – plastic bottles,” Sophon says.

Many of Sophon’s works are suspended in mid-air, interspersed with giant elliptical shapes, all crafted from plastic. With funding from the Asia Foundation, Sophon created the sculptures over a period of three months, using 5,000-6,000 plastic bottles in total.

In line with the Community Art Gallery’s aim as a space to showcase visual interpretations of residents’ ideas and visions of a liveable Phnom Penh, the exhibition seeks to raise awareness about the rapidly growing problem of solid waste and poor waste management, in particular the mounting heaps of plastic bottles in Phnom Penh.

Artist Phe Sophon at the Asia Foundation's Community Art Gallery.
Artist Phe Sophon at the Asia Foundation's Community Art Gallery. Eliah Lillis

Other than being mindful about the environment, he also hopes to make a larger statement about the purpose and consequences of our actions, by bringing his audience through a three-stage thinking process: participation, intelligence, and memory or death.

When the exhibition is viewed from a certain angle next to the main entrance, the sculptures align to to form “Phnom Penh” in Khmer. However, the word is intentionally left incomplete and can only be filled in by a participant physically standing next to the sculptures.

Hanging over the main entrance to the gallery is a sculpture formed in the shape of the symbol of Buddha, called Chhorpon, which by extension represents intelligence.

And one pointed sculpture called Jethei, or stupa, is meant to represent a temple or grave, as seen at Wat Phnom. To him, Wat Phnom is a symbol of the capital, with every modern development stemming from this central point. But he sees Jethei as a symbol of death, memory and loss.

“Everything, everyone, no matter how good he or she or it is, no matter how beautiful he or she is, no matter how modern he or she or it is, will be lost, dead, left as memories,” he said. “[Seeing] this causes people to think – what are they living for? What memory or legacy should they leave for the next generation of people?”

It is also a subtle reference to the enormous clock found next to the Jethei at Wat Phnom, considered the most accurate clock in Cambodia. To Sophon, that represents the ongoing process of people’s lives, and is a reminder that time does not stop for anyone, no matter who they are.

“In all aspects in life, people are different. But they all eat three meals a day to survive, to keep themselves alive. But why are you living? That is the question I want people to answer … No matter how rich, no matter what you buy, no matter how much money you have, you still end up dead … Maybe people are living for participation, for intelligence, or just for death.”

Phe Sophon’s newest solo exhibition, Waterworks, opens at 6pm tonight at The Asia Foundation’s Community Art Gallery, and runs through June 28.

MOST VIEWED

  • Phnom Penh placed in two-week lockdown

    The government has decided to place Phnom Penh in lockdown for two weeks, effective April 14 midnight through April 28, as Cambodia continues to grapple with the ongoing community outbreak of Covid-19, which has seen no sign of subsiding. According to a directive signed by Prime Minister

  • Cambodia on the verge of national tragedy, WHO warns

    The World Health Organisation (WHO) in Cambodia warned that the country had reached another critical point amid a sudden, huge surge in community transmission cases and deaths. “We stand on the brink of a national tragedy because of Covid-19. Despite our best efforts, we are

  • Hun Sen: Stay where you are, or else

    Prime Minister Hun Sen warned that the two-week lockdown of Phnom Penh and adjacent Kandal provincial town Takmao could be extended if people are not cooperative by staying home. “Now let me make this clear: stay in your home, village, and district and remain where

  • Businesses in capital told to get travel permit amid lockdown through One Window Service

    The Phnom Penh Municipal Administration has issued guidelines on how to get travel permission for priority groups during the lockdown of Phnom Penh, directing private institutions to apply through the municipality's One Window Service and limit their staff to a mere two per cent. In

  • Vaccination open to foreigners in Cambodia

    The Ministry of Health on April 8 issued an announcement on Covid-19 vaccination for foreigners residing and working in Cambodia, directing the Ministry of Labour and Vocational Training and local authorities to register them. Health minister Mam Bun Heng, who is also head of the inter-ministerial

  • Ministry names types of business permitted amid lockdown

    The Ministry of Labour and Vocational Training singled out 11 types of business that are permitted to operate during the lockdown of Phnom Penh and Takmao town, which run through April 28. Those include (1) food-processing enterprises and slaughterhouses; (2) providers of public services such as firefighting, utility and