Khvay Samnang

"Samnang cow taxi moves sand" 2014


Political Acts: Pioneers of Performance Art in Southeast Asia

Arts centre Victoria

Curator of "Political Acts: Pioneers of Performance Art in Southeast Asia", Dr Steven Tonkin, writes in the exhibition catalogue, Samnang "is one of the leading Cambodian artists to have come to international attention over the last decade".

Tonkin say the artist "critiques the unstoppable momentum of urban development around Phnom Penh, such as the forced eviction of 4000 villagers from their ramshackle huts... now infilled to make it ripe for luxury property developments and apartment blocks". In the video I viewed in the exhibition, "Samnang cow taxi moves sand" he is making "humble attempts to reverse the process" by shovelling by hand, collecting, small amounts of sand that he finds in the streets. I really love the simplicity of this. Rather than trying to stop the unstoppable, the fast paced, growth of the city, he is acting out an unwillingness to enter its domain - by moving slowly, using his hands to collect sand, inefficiently, futile but for the poetic and symbolic grace of the action.

I wonder if it was watching his video, that started me off with collecting leaves, which has emerged in to the installation "Leave(s)" I have also documented here. For me, it was a recognition, being amidst the RMIT buildings, in the middle of renovations, the school split in up by large roads that the place I had been meeting my friend to sit and eat lunch, was laid by astro turf or fake grass of some kind. Trees, protrude through this plastic grass in such a way as to seem futile attempts to retain a semblance of nature, of that which we need to live, amidst a forging of energy towards making fabricated environments of the "new" and "better".

Watching Samnan speak in this short Youtube interview, "[SBTV] Interview with artist Khvay Samnang" I am moved. Just as he his moved. I am reading, receiving, sharing his empathy for those who are affected by the changes being made to lakes, they are filling in lakes, to make way for a new city. People are being forcibly displaced. Houses are being removed to make way.. as he says "to build supermarkets and high-class buildings for the rich". The people being moved on, "could not afford to buy a new house". He was particularly moved by seeing footage of a lake being filled in even though there was still one family's house there, a family who didn't want to sell. He was concerned that they would be killed if they didn't escape/leave. So he felt to use his body to share his message about "what is happening in my community and city.

He went to several lakes to do his performance as he found out that they are filling in many lakes. People asked him why he was swimming in the dirty water and offered him clean water to clean his body. The images of him pouring sand from a bucket over his head, whilst standing in these lakes, is powerful. Simple and beautiful. And takes courage. (Images below from this video/artwork).

He says "I get the chance to connect and interact with the people".

I also enjoy that aspect of my artmaking - the Art adventure tours - whist a completely different work and context... being in the world and interacting with it and people, is important.



Kvay Samnang Screen shot from Video: [SBTV] Interview with artist Khvay Samnang


Exhibition: (Video artwork) "Political Acts: Pioneers of Performance Art in Southeast Asia" Arts centre Victoria

Exhibition catalogue: From above exhibition. Introduction by Dr Steven Tonkin page 8-9

Video: Youtube:

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