The reason why artist Khchao Touch named her exhibition “Hygiene” is puzzling at first.
Her sculptures of undulating fluid forms do not suggest images of cleansed hands or scrubbed dishes. Instead, the meaning of “Hygiene” lies in the materials used to create those sculptures, such as sheets of tissue paper discarded after wiping down glasses and utensils in Cambodian restaurants.
This tissue paper Khchao Touch twists and fashions into papier-mache sculptures, coloring them with oil paint in tones ranging from ethereal to vibrant.
The 26-year-old artist set three goals with this series of artworks in “Hygiene,” on show through May 18 at the French Culture Center in Phnom Penh.
“I want people to care about their environment, and not to throw garbage all over,” she said of the habit of tossing rubbish on the ground. Once people get used to keeping their living space clean, she said, people will better care for their bodies. And finally, she said, “I want my work to make people happy.”
Her sculptures exude a certain joy. In one piece, two people emerge in relief from a two-dimensional canvas as if they were about to take flight, their bodies sculpted in peaceful blue-greys and greens on a muted ochre background.
Her multi-layered vases—in pure blue or nacre—as well as abstract sculptures suspended from the ceiling seem to endlessly reshape themselves in floating movements.
At the request of the center, Khchao Touch has also staged her workspace in the exhibition, complete with paint tubes on the floor and sketches pinned to the walls, as it is in her family home in Battambang town.
Her family has always encouraged her in her work, she said. But during the four months it took her to produce the sculptures for this exhibition, Khchao Touch’s brother and sisters nearly lost patience with her as her work area nearly spread through the whole house—the floor became sticky from glue and bits of tissue could be found everywhere.
“It was dirty,” she said of the making of “Hygiene,” “but they did not say to stop.”
Khchao Touch studied for five year at the art school of the NGO Phare Ponleu Selpak on the outskirts of Battambang town before becoming one of the school’s teachers in 2003. She stopped teaching last year to concentrate on her own artwork.
“I don’t know if I can make it” as an artist, she said of her new path outside the classroom. “But I have to try.”