Sunday, August 30, 2009

Phnom Penh Shows herself in the “Our City” Project

BY BUTH REAKSMEY KONGKEA

Phnom Penh is a city that is rapidly developing; entertainment, culture (traditional as well modern) and architecture are becoming more and more visible and accessible in our capital. In the twenties the city was renowned for its beauty and tranquility, and nicknamed: “the pearl of the East”. The civil war and the troubled period after damaged the architecture and development and put a hold on all cultural activities, but recently initiatives have been popping up to restore Phnom Penh to its former beauty and make it once more the cultural hot spot of Cambodia.

The Java Arts/Java Café & Gallery in collaboration with the French Cultural Center (FCC), Meta House, Khmer Architecture Tours and Mith Samlanh has organized an exhibition that will combine architecture, film, photography, sculpture and dance in order to show the rapid changes of the urban environment in Phnom Penh. The project is initiated by Dana Langlois, General Manager of the Java Arts/Java Café and Gallery, a French company operating in Cambodia that is aiming to provide a platform for the art community t through various mediums such film, photography, sculpture and dance. Dana Langlois has been living in Phnom Penh for 11 years.

“This is the second year that we organized Our City project in Phnom Penh to provide the opportunity for Cambodia’s art communities in designing their architectures, films, photography, sculptures and dances for responses to the rapid changes of the Phnom Penh City and its urban environments,” she told reporters at a press conference on August 25.

Dana said that Our City project started out as a very small event in 2008, with all activities around architecture, involving Java Arts /Java Café and Gallery, the French Cultural Center, Meta House, Khmer Architecture Tours and Mith Samlanh. In 2009 the same participants in addition to Khmer Arts Ensemble have joined together to create more exciting and bigger events and to further challenge the art and architecture community to consider what it means to be a resident or citizen of Phnom Penh.

“I think that this is also a good opportunity and for all people in Phnom Penh a to response to these changes using arts as media to discuss how they want to interact with their city,” Dana said. “I want to see how the Phnom Penh’s residents can become artists or architects in designing and developing their city in the future.”

She continued to say that during the month of September 2009, each of the participating organizations will host an event that reflects this scheme. In addition to exhibitions and film festivals, two lectures/ conferences will be held on the 24th of September 2009, and a competition that will award the best design of an “Imaginary Part of the Arts.”
She added that Our City project will continue to build on the momentum of these exciting events and to inspire more community-interactive projects for the future, with plans to engage local universities.

Kong Vollak, an architect who has been working and designing over ten years in Cambodia, was happy that this event is organized. He himself is going to display images of billboards of developments project on the 2nd of September 2009 at the Java Arts /Java Café and Gallery office in Phnom Penh. “My artworks will present both old and new building and architectural constructions that I have seen in Phnom Penh. I hope that through this display of the artwork it will reflect the rapid growths and development of architectural constructions in Phnom Penh City. It is also my goal to promote the construction of other new buildings and architectural constructions in Cambodia in future,” he said.

Romain Gagnot, architect and coordinator of the Heritage Mission of the French Embassy in Cambodia, said that the idea behind the heritage mission results from a simple observation. He said that outside the Angkor region, Cambodia’s historical and architectural heritage, Angkorian or non-Angkorian, is neglected. Because it is not acknowledged, this urban and religious heritage is fast disappearing, despite the existence of a national law on the protection of the cultural heritage in 1996.

He said that his team is mad up of five architects and an archaeologist. The mission carries out: inventories, surveys and analysis of urban and religious heritage, based on previous works, implementation of emergency conservations measures, follow-up works on restoration sites, and communication and awareness-raising actions.

Relating with Our City project, Romain said that to promote the new architectural constructions in Cambodia, he will propose two activities: a guide tour and a conference in Phnom Penh on September 30 at FCC in Phnom Penh. He described that each of his activities is based on a historical and an architectural approach and an architectural approach of the city. Phnom Penh offers an outstanding architectural heritage, of great value, that is important to understand in order to know how to deal with it today.

“Our activities are linked and complete each other. The first one is a guide tour in the old French district located above the railway station esplanade. The visit will start with a presentation of the historical and architectural development of Phnom Penh City became a capital 150 years ago,” he said. “We will then follow the northern path of the city in search of the last hidden testimonies of Phnom Penh history, one overrun by rapid changes of the city development. The history and the architecture of each building will be explained through links between past and present.”

He added that the second activity is a conference organized with the French Cultural Center on September 30: “Phnom Penh 150 years of architectures”. While the previous visit would have introduced the colonial period, limited to the French district, this conference will present and analyze the construction of the whole city.

According to Dana Langlois, Kong Vollak’s artworks will schedule on the 2nd
of September at the Java Arts /Java Café and Gallery; Sacred Dance/Sacred Space will be on the 5th of September at the Khmer Arts Ensemble; Architectural Visit will be on the 12th of September at the Old Friend district near Wat Phnom; Khmer Architectural Tours will be on the 13th of September along the Bassac River Front; Architecture Film Festival will be on the 25th and the 26th of September at the Meta House; Le Fumambule ( Man on wire) will be on the 1st-15th and the 25th of September at the FCC; Artists as architects will be on the 23rd of September at the FCC; Imaginary Park of the Arts will be on the 24th of September at the FCC; the Conference and launch of public art installation will be on the 26th of September at the FCC; and the Conference: Phnom Penh-150 years of Urban Architecture will be on the 30th of September at the FCC. /////

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