While on the subject of place, development, loss and preservation…

APT9 Artist Highlight: Vuth Lyno

Social transformation, community relationships and urban development in Cambodia are central themes in Vuth Lyno’s work. His APT9 contribution, House – Spirit, is a beautiful and poignant sculptural construction that references Phnom Penh’s iconic White Building, a vibrant residential hub for artists, musicians and craftspeople, that stood in the heart of the city until its demolition by a foreign developer in 2017.

House – Spirit, 2018, detail

Built in 1963, the White Building was comprised of 468 residencies, and was an example of affordable modern urban living during a time of optimism in Cambodian history. However, in April of 1975, following the surrender of the city to the Khmer Rouge, almost all of the 2.5 million residents of Phnom Penh were evacuated, including those living in the White Building.

The reopening of the city in 1979 saw the return of groups that had been dispersed for years, and following their resettlement, communities were slowly rebuilt. Some of the surviving artists reclaimed their homes in the White Building, but they were soon joined by newcomers from around the country. The building attracted a wide group of creatives, growing families and various ethnicities as well as businesses, restaurants, and hubs for learning and socialising. The White Building became a symbol of community renewal and restoration following the era of the Khmer Rouge, and the building itself and the people dwelling within it became the subjects for many local artists.

Vuth Lyno had been working closely with the community and forged strong relationships with the residents of the White Building.  In the lead up to the demolition of the building, and as people vacated their homes, Vuth collected the spirit houses that occupied their dwellings. Some of them were offered to him upon departure, and others – abandoned – he took*.  Spirit houses are domestic temples or shrines that are worshipped to appease the spirits. They range from the highly ornate and decorative to simple structures made of bamboo, referencing different regional styles and religious influences. The White Building was home to a diverse array of spirit houses, some even revealing combinations of mixed ancestries that coexisted in the building and the merging of animist and Buddhist beliefs.

Spirit houses displaying ornamental details and offerings to the spirits
Spirit houses vary in size, decoration, material and style
Small golden cups, presented to the spirits

Suggestive of one of the modular residential sections of the White Building, House – Spirit is a tower comprised of more than 80 spirit houses that, together, represent the diverse community of the White Building. For Vuth, they also symbolise the collective memory of the building, and express his deep connection with a community that had built friendships, shared stories and fought for survival. The work also preserves the memory of one of Cambodia’s best-known communities built on diversity, relationships and resilience.

House – Spirit, 2018
Installation view (left) and detail (right)
Spirit houses, steel, door and window frames / Dimensions variable
Courtesy: The artist and Sa Sa Projects / Proposed for the Queensland Art Gallery Collection

House – Spirit will be on display on the ground floor of GOMA until April 28, 2019.

*Generally, spirit houses belong to a particular home, and thus, upon relocating to a new dwelling, new ones would be acquired.

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