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String theory: Art’s meaning left to float

Panharith Ean and fellow architecture student Greg Jimmie are fascinated by the idea of ephemeral art. Photo supplied
Panharith Ean and fellow architecture student Greg Jimmie are fascinated by the idea of ephemeral art. Photo supplied

String theory: Art’s meaning left to float

There’s something in the air at 1961 Coworking and Art Space. Opening tonight, Something Floating is an installation created by two architecture students that sets out to explore space, story and dialogue, and bring the viewer across the threshold into a sort of authorship of the work. 

Panharith Ean and Greg Jimmie met at Wentworth Institute of Technology in Boston, where they found shared curiosities about the role of architecture in storytelling and the transient, situational nature of installation art.

Growing out of a project they did together during their undergraduate course, Something Floating has taken them four months to create, before boxing it up and bringing it to Cambodia. 

In their piece, 1,250 laser-cut letters hanging on 1,250 transparent strings are organised to form part of the conversation recounted in the Antoine de Saint Expury novel The Little Prince between the eponymous hero and the geographer. That conversation explores the value of permanent geographical features – mountains, oceans, deserts – against the relative unimportance of a fleeting flower, condemned for its impermanence. 

The architect-artists take this to another level though, as even the seemingly solid installation is itself open to interpretation by the viewer; its very meaning floats in the air between the work and the viewer. 

“Both the permanent and ephemeral are real, they just have a different category of values,” said Ean while setting up the work this week. “It’s like the difference between fiction and non-fiction. They are both valuable, though they give different types of information. 

“The ephemeral and fleeting work is like a live performance, you can’t take it home with you. Its significance depends very much on the idea of you being present”.

Playing with that idea, the work invites viewers to take up different positions and poses, and depending on this, their mood and perhaps the principles that are most important to them, different words reveal themselves from among the medley of letters. Viewers virtually write their own version of what they see.  

“This was our ambition. We want people who come to see it to take authorship and write it their own way; to create their own kind of story,” said Ean. 

The 23-year-old is back in Cambodia to visit family and friends before returning to the US to start his master’s this August. 

Loven Ramos, co-owner of 1961, enjoys this melding of fine art and architectural precepts, and sees no real distinction between the two. “They have merged,” he said. “Architecture is an artistic expression and has much more relevance now, it’s like creating a huge sculpture.”

Ean, 23, agrees. “Art and architecture are merging,” he said. “Architecture is art with function. It’s not such a black and white distinction. There is a middle ground, an interconnectedness between the two.”

Something Floating opens at 7pm at 1961 tonight, and runs until June 8.

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