“Our City” is proof that a building can inspire a month-long artistic event.
Beginning Sept 1, the project focuses on architecture and urban planning in Phnom Penh through film screenings, art exhibitions, conferences, tours and a design competition.
“It’s a good opportunity for the city’s residents and citizens to respond to the changes and use art as a medium to discuss their city,” said organizer Dana Langlois, owner of JavaArts. “It was created as a platform to give a voice to artists, architects, the community.”
She added the project should generate discussion and awareness but the opinions from “Our City” would not be determined by the organizers.
“We have no real agenda, it is developed by the community,” Ms Langlois said.
“Inside/Outside,” a three-part exhibit that opens at the beginning of September at Java Cafe, will blend the notion of interiors and exteriors. Ms Langlois said one component is a gallery exhibit of images from property developers. The second portion is a collection of images from the inside of buildings, including homes, which will grace 25 tuk-tuks.
An art instillation by Kong Vollak completes the exhibit. Mr Vollak said he has made a 3-meter tall tower composed of 120 pieces that he has created.
“The changes in Phnom Penh are good and bad,” he said.
While the development of the city has negatively impacted the environment and the traffic situation, Mr Vollak said the city has progressed greatly and more employment is available now.
In its second year, “Our City” has incorporated new elements such as “Imaginary Park of the Arts,” a design competition presided over by vanguard Cambodian architect Vann Molyvann. Architect Ek Rithy of EK Design Group, Inc will serve as a competition judge. Mr Rithy said modern Cambodian architecture is hard to define because it is so young.
“For me personally, it is a combination of culture, technology, materials available and clients’ needs,” he said.
Another new element for “Our City” this year is an open rehearsal of “Ream Eyso and Moni Mekhala,” a traditional rain dance, by Khmer Arts Ensemble in the group’s temple-like theater located in Takhmau town in Kandal province.
Artistic Director Sophiline Cheam Shapiro said the space was created by former Minister of Culture Chheng Phon in 1999 and is also a center for Buddhist meditation, which adds to its spiritual value.
“It’s a sacred dance in a sacred space,” said Executive Director John Shapiro.
He added, now many new buildings and homes borrow temple and religious iconography but take them out of context and deprive them of their meaning.
The pair said the event will explore the relationship between architecture, aesthetics and spirituality.
“Our City” will also feature tours of some of Phnom Penh’s oldest buildings. Khmer Architecture Tours will lead a group through the Bassac River Front while sharing the area’s past, present and possible future. Heritage Mission will also lead a tour through the old French district located on the north side of the city.
Romain Gagnot, an architect and coordinator of the Heritage Mission, said the city’s heritage in the form of its buildings has been openly neglected even though the country has a great architectural history that needs to be understood in order to know how to live with the buildings today.