With an exhibit blending satellite imagery, photography and quotes on urban transformations, environmental artist and educator Zen Teh seeks to raise awareness about urbanization and its consequences for people.
“Nature is seen almost solely as a resource, for practicality and development. In an ironic sense, geographically we may now travel quicker, but we also become more distant — from nature and its rhythms in life that are fundamental to our beings,” she said.
“Perhaps that also explains in some ways that common sense of displacement and disengagement we see in larger, denser cities compared to the cultures in more rural settlements.”
On November 5, Teh officially opened her exhibition, “Governing Darkness: Making Sense of Light, Urbanity and the Waters,” at the Sa Sa Art Projects Studio.
As part of a two-month artist residency, Teh investigated the transition of rural places to urban zones in Phnom Penh and the periphery. She examined the human responses to them in a researched-based art project. “I draw similarities in how we respond to urban conditions and changes to our environment beyond geographical boundaries — something that connects us on the level of human experiences and phenomenology that draw us closer together,” she said.
In an open space lined with sand, the visitor is invited to explore photographs spread on the walls and interspersed with quotes. The photographs include pictures in the dark, satellite imagery and digital images of land, cities and bodies of water. They are laid out on the wall like a collage, bringing together the different angles of Phnom Penh and its surroundings.
Instead of working with standard gallery spotlights, Teh chose everyday lights to reflect the experience of the urban population responding to environmental changes.
“My practice seeks to raise awareness — awareness of ourselves and our relationship with others and the environment. I like to draw inspirations from the ground, from the sensory experiences as a human being. From first-hand observations of our environment, how people interact and cope with the changes in our surroundings,” she explained.
The Phnom Penh-based art residency by Sa Sa art projects recently opened its doors to international guests to experiment with their own practices in the studio. The artists-in-residence are encouraged to try new media and use forms that expand their current art practices to broaden and challenge the possibilities of their art.
“I was also able to delve deeper beneath the surface of the ‘tourist’ and ‘everyday’ point of view to explore deep seated issues relating to our environment, human experiences, notions of urbanity and how we connect and share experiences as urban citizens beyond geographical constraints,” Teh noted.
“The experimental nature of the programme and the warm, passionate spirit of the SSAP team members has allowed me to explore the cultural and environmental conditions here in Cambodia and provided me space to push my practice.”
Teh added that collaborations, including with urban planner and architect Phon Bunheng, was critical for seeing through the local lens at the “entanglements of water issues, urban transformation and land form changes along the Mekong River.”
She said her work with Sa Sa Art was part of a long-term project to explore landform and water issues along the Mekong and environmental concerns more widely across the Asean region.
Teh is a Singaporean artist and educator, whose works have been showcased in Thailand, Indonesia, South Korea and China. Her current collections can be found in the Singapore Art Museum and the Art Stage Singapore.
“Governing Darkness: Making Sense of Light, Urbanity and the Waters” is open through November 26, before Sa Sa Art Projects welcomes a new artist-in-residence to Phnom Penh.