“I’ve been doing a lot of walking in the city, which is very hard to do,” says Albert Samreth, who feeds off his immediate environment when seeking inspiration for his next work of art.
The result of his immersion into the rapidly changing capital of Phnom Penh, absorption of the changes and pausing to note the present are all evident in his third solo show at Sa Sa Bassac, New Khmer Architecture.
“I’ve been coming and going [to Phnom Penh] for six years so a big part of the show was trying to capture the vernacular of change and giving attention to a lot of things that were noticed, and weren’t being noticed, in Phnom Penh, and what’s disappearing,” says Samreth.
Despite calling the exhibit New Khmer Architecture – something the American-born Cambodian doubted when renowned architect and founder of the movement Vann Molyvann died three days before the opening, Samreth says the show isn’t just about architecture, it’s about urbanism and the capital’s evolving landscape. “It’s finally distilling a lot of ideas I’ve had about the city,” he says.
Fusing together various art forms, New Khmer Architecture takes in a range of installations, paintings and other work. ‘One Light Year on Earth’, is a video on loop about a ghost living in the capital who is constantly on the move after her home is torn down. While ‘Materials for Archive’ is modelled on the shelves at the National Archive, where Sambeth spent a lot of time researching. Instead of holding books, it is heavy with the weight of plants he recovered before the White Building was demolished.
“I also wanted to explore how we remember, what we choose to remember and what’s getting lost,” he says, adding the seeds were sewn for this creative exploration during a 20km walk Samreth carried out on April 17 to commemorate the anniversary of the fall of Phnom Penh.
Following in his father’s footsteps, he carried out the same route as his father 42 years earlier, from Phnom Penh to beyond the notorious Killing Fields at Cheung Ek.
“I didn’t document it in any way and it wasn’t a proper piece of performance art but it definitely led to me doing the paintings I did and the exhibition,” he says. “I was walking through all the special economic zones where all the clothes are made and it was insane seeing what’s happened since the Khmer Rouge and it got me thinking about history, who writes history and what is archived.”
Spending his time mainly between LA, Phnom Penh and Mexico City, Sambeth, who attended art school, refuses to put his style into one box.
Instead, he says he “chases down coincidences”. “I don’t have a favourite medium,” he adds. “It’s like listening to music. There’s music for dancing and there’s music for having dinner party. I treat my work the same way.”