Distant Geography looks at the work of Cambodian Diaspora artist Chath pierSath, bringing together his collages and writings, exploring language and his unique visual vocabulary as forms of storytelling, history-making and investigation of self. Autobiographical, and often intimate, writings are found on the backs of collages layered with magazine and newspaper cutouts, paintings and drawings. In many of the writings, pierSath talks to his family, to Cambodia, to warmongers and their victims as if writing them a letter or a diary entry, which is part of the construction of a more complex image. Like his collages, the words are written, re-written, painted over and layered with prose and imagery, creating works that exist at the intersection of literature and painting.
In the “reading room” an installation the artist’s trilogy is displayed. The trilogy, a work in progress, is a series of books titled: Book of Love, Book of Names and Book of Numbers which are formatted as diaries and filled with collages, paintings and writings. The trilogy of books have been reproduced to be handled and viewed by the public, while selected images have been enlarged for wall display. The trilogy is part of pierSath’s on-going process of recounting and attempting to account for losses during the war and the years of personal upheaval that followed. In the Book of Names and the Book of Numbers, he identifies victims of war and applies his artistic methodology that re-claims, re-orders and re-writes history. In the Book of Love, he explores the emotional violence of intimate relationships with same boldness and process.
The act of displaying such private forms of writing like letters and diaries, is a provocative gesture in a country where emotions are often hidden or carefully coded in daily interactions. pierSath’s process of collage and assembly has been described as performance, a reorganizing of chaos. Like many collage artists before him, the meaning of the work is not in the individual marks but in the larger work that is created by the combination of the materials, the content and how they relate to each other. It is an act of re-ordering and in this context one of assertion that the individual is valid and important.