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

  • Hong Kong firm done buying Coke Cambodia

    Swire Coca-Cola Ltd, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Hong Kong-listed Swire Pacific Ltd, on November 25 announced that it had completed the acquisition of The Coca-Cola Co’s bottling business in Cambodia, as part of its ambitions to expand into the Southeast Asian market. Swire Coca-Cola affirmed

  • Cambodia's Bokator now officially in World Heritage List

    UNESCO has officially inscribed Cambodia’s “Kun Lbokator”, commonly known as Bokator, on the World Heritage List, according to Minister of Culture and Fine Arts Phoeurng Sackona in her brief report to Prime Minister Hun Sen on the night of November 29. Her report, which was

  • NagaWorld union leader arrested at airport after Australia trip

    Chhim Sithar, head of the Labour Rights Supported Union of Khmer Employees at NagaWorld integrated casino resort, was arrested on November 26 at Phnom Penh International Airport and placed in pre-trial detention after returning from a 12-day trip to Australia. Phnom Penh Municipal Court Investigating Judge

  • Sub-Decree approves $30M for mine clearance

    The Cambodian government established the ‘Mine-Free Cambodia 2025 Foundation’, and released an initial budget of $30 million. Based on the progress of the foundation in 2023, 2024 and 2025, more funds will be added from the national budget and other sources. In a sub-decree signed by Prime Minister Hun Sen

  • Two senior GDP officials defect to CPP

    Two senior officials of the Grassroots Democratic Party (GDP) have asked to join the Cambodian People’s Party (CPP), after apparently failing to forge a political alliance in the run-up to the 2023 general election. Yang Saing Koma, chairman of the GDP board, and Lek Sothear,

  • Cambodia's poverty cut in half from 2009 to 2019: World Bank report

    A report published by the World Bank on November 28 states that Cambodia’s national poverty rate fell by almost half between 2009 and 2019, but the Covid-19 pandemic recently reversed some of the poverty reduction progress. Cambodia’s poverty rate dropped from 33.8 to 17.8 per cent over the 10