Since the beginning I heard about the project Survivart and the main question “What makes for you a better life?, suddenly I had a funny idea thinking quickly about my house. I believe that besides eating, human needs a house to stay.
I started to think: “Oh lets move my house”. But after really considering that I would lose my living space and art studio, I thought I can’t use my house for this project.
This project is the first time for me to work with the community. I felt in the beginning not so comfortable to work with the community, thou. How to work with them I had no experiences at all. As I worked with Lydia Parusol and with the at that time HBF director Katrin Seidel, we debated how to create this project without dismantling my house and how to integrate the community with my idea. I was not sure that my question “What makes for you a better life” or even the timing was right to asked my community. Resulted from this discussion, I found the idea of the “people’s strange living”.
I like to explain my area and community: We are living since several years and some for decades in the lakeside area in Northern Phnom Penh. The lakeside was for years an area for cheap tourism/ backpackers, restaurants, boutiques and souvenirs shops. The community housing consisted of traditional Khmer wooden houses and some concrete houses; nearly all only one to two floors high. Small alleys separated the neighboring houses and gave the whole area a secretive atmosphere. Most of the families lived close by the Beoung Kak Lake, which was also the fishing ground for many. Since nearly two years developments planers started to fill in the lake which is actually crucial for the water resources and raining seasons in Phnom Penh. Because the company wants to develop the lakeside to a luxurious housing and leisure area, many families are threatened to move away or some families already left because there are afraid or felt threatened by the company.
When I remembered the old Khmer movie “Tep So Da Chan”, I thought how people are living in a strange way too. Even it is a strange living, it is their right to live in that way.
I came up with a simple question to work with a group of small families – five families in fact – to include objects/ideas from and about their houses. This process happened through my and their ideas in how to merge the “houses” together. I was and I am still impressed how they use old and broken daily-life objects in a such sustainable way. The idea of not to throw even broken things away is very appealing for me.
I decided to invite my neighborhood that they are able to see the exhibition with them in their own area. Usually they never go out and see especially exhibitions in galleries. Everything is possible for me. It depends how much you understand your situation and your life, and living in an adapted way.
I was so excited to see how my community reacted when I started to work with them. Even my friends came from outside. What made me really happy that my neighborhood came to me with the words” “Hey, what are you doing? This is called an exhibition? What will you show in your house?”. But the most important comment I got was: “What for strange things the girl is doing?” Because you have to understand that normally my community is not interested in art. And for me I was seeking for the strangeness of their living, and they gave me back the best compliment they could give in saying that I am doing strange things.
– Kanitha Tith
July 29, 2011