statement

After a quiet period of almost two years, Meas Sokhorn exhibits a new series of paintings. Working on a background of alarming-red, Meas depicts figures on motorbikes, in cars and walking along the roads of Phnom Penh. The figures are not grounded to any fixed perspective and seem to be detached from the background—creating a loose and chaotic composition. It gives the impression that one could shake the canvas and the characters would float around and settle in new positions. But the artistic narrative unfolds in the details.

In the corner of one canvas are the words in English “LANE OWNER,” while horns emerge from the faces of pedestrians, a steering wheel and policeman caps. In another, a Chivas logo covers the road that cars drive over. The passengers carry bottles of alcohol and firearms. While another painting refers to the political rallies of the Cambodian General election of 2013.

Although the literal representation is largely traffic and alcohol, a secondary and subversive theme of class conflict and exploitation of power pervades the body of work.  When discussing these themes with Meas, he refers to the congested roads of Phnom Penh as a “moving slum.”  A metaphor that refers to the seeming lack of order and infrastructure despite the fact that there are rules and laws in place to govern the interactions.  He says that the whole system is broken and no one is taking responsibility.

When asked why, as an artist, do you present this theme in your work, Meas replied that he has observed and been subjected to this growing problem and felt compelled to respond, “This is all I can do—I have my brush.”  The stop-sign red background of the paintings serve as a warning of danger. A warning that he hopes will stimulate conversation and hopefully serve as a call to action.

ARTIST STATEMENT

Although broadcast by local television channels, traffic issues (accidents, congestions, non-compliance with traffic lights, etc.), still trend against the order and the objective of the traffic system, especially in the collapsing Phnom Penh city.

Like a TV screen, those smooth streets are undergoing harsh abuse and a plague that causes the streets to fall ill unknowingly: burnt by disorganized parking lots, worn by violating speeds, holed by impact; broken by traditional ceremonies outside the site; bumped by the number of the police, diverted by endless repairs; traffic light intersections congested with beggars; darkened by modern cars, blurred by billboards of alcohol; cracked by overloaded trucks, etc.

Those streets can be compared to never-combed hair, curly and tangled, matted, smelly, dandruffy, prematurely hoary, falling and fragile on the same head; and countless remain, fall, and regrow all the same.

The total abuse of countless people is a series of crimes as if war was waged within the city without weapons, tanks without cannons (vehicles) that leave the rule followers with headaches, stuffiness, suffocation, and abused beyond the limit of fright and past mania unknowingly (completely fallen).

Is there any drug to cure and get rid of this illness?

about the artist

Sokhorn Meas

Sokhorn Meas

Meas Sokhorn is a Cambodian sculptor and performance artist unafraid to take risks. Refusing to take anything at face value, his process thrives off what he perceives to be unfulfilled potential and unknown possibilities to present critical ideas of transformation and progress,

Since 2006, Khorn has almost exclusively been working with found materials such as barbed wire, plastic wire, chopsticks, and kindling, and recognisable objects to compose installation pieces. His practice has increasingly involved re-working or adapting a material or object to transform its form or overall aesthetic. Whether in terms of how they are used or perceived, these items become interrogated versions or interpretations of what they were. The objects are offered the possibility of becoming something else, and with the viewer are gifted a new kind of conceptual freedom.

Khorn’s earlier sculptural works strongly referenced the fundamental elements of nature and the human body. He initially used rattan and bamboo to create sweeping, curved sculptures, which showcased his training in interior design by exuding a balanced, calming quality. In ‘Exhale’, a sculpture made from wire and an indigenous reed, he continued to play with familiar forms.  Part of Khorn’s second solo show, this piece which suspended from the gallery ceiling, was named as the winner of the Signature Art Prize by the Singapore Art Museum in 2008.  An ode to the billowing grace, freedom and smoothness of smoke as it leaves the body, the sculpture conjured sensual ideas of impermanence and metamorphosis. He found resonance in these ideas with his experiences of fleeting, intimate encounters which have lingered long in his memory.

His contrast to these sculptures, in 2010 he began to use sculpture and installation to explore the physicality and challenge the conventions of traditional gallery spaces. During his residency in America, he constructed ‘Self-portrait’, an abstract, flowing piece built from around 7,000 chopsticks, which sprawled across the gallery.  In the same year, he exhibited the ironically titled installation ‘Contemporary Art Museum’. This site-specific imagined space, made from a web of red waxy string attached to the gallery walls and an old kitchen door, commented on the lack of museums in Cambodia for contemporary artists to exhibit their work.

Khorn’s work has increasingly referenced social issues he sees to be threatening the history and identity of his homeland. His first performance piece titled ‘Trash Fix’ used his bicycle as a rubbish-removal service. Aside from commenting on environmental concerns, similarly to his collaborative project ‘Hawkers Song’ which considered disappearing characteristics of Phnom Penh, ‘Trash Fix’ adopted ‘disposability’ as a metaphor for the broader existence of apathy within society. An aural video piece, ‘Hawker’s Song’ was a tribute to the profession and cultural heritage which he sees as literally and symbolically being drowned out by persistent construction and change.

The impact of modernity on traditional practices is a theme that drives his latest series of sculptural works. Titled ‘Pore’, which refers to the production of sweat during physical labour, the works acknowledge the declining ability of craftsmanship to provide a sustainable livelihood due to a reduction in demand and motivation. Some references are obvious: a wood-planner or a chisel, whilst others acknowledge the lifestyle that surrounds them-a cooking pot for example. Transformed by the use of metal wire around them, these sculptures at once acknowledge the trapped situation of these professions caused by a modernity which seeks and values fast and cheap products, and offers new hope for the tool by reactivating them in a different form. He is highlighting the imperative nature of people who have these long-preserved skills to react, adapt, and take ownership in order to survive.

His work, whether sculptural or performance, is largely underpinned by a process that disrupts and challenges the status quo: aesthetically, formally, or increasingly in his latest works socially. With the focus on society and problems he perceives, comes a growing sense of frustration at the inaction or lack of engagement from those affected. By highlighting these concerns and providing impetus for change, Khorn's process and final pieces are not defined as being his versions of a complete solution.  Indeed, just as his sculptures are often completed by the viewer's interpretation and interaction, his process is more of an active mediator reforming bonds between disconnected people and realities.