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GHOSTS arrive in Santa Monica

Santa Monica residents got a treat this month with the opening of ARENA 1 Gallery’s presentation of GHOSTS – a group exhibition curated by Michael EB Detto and  Sayon Syprasoeuth, a Lao/Cambodian artist based in California. They worked together to gather new work from six artists exploring the aftermath of catastrophes,  genocide, and/or war. The exhibit will run until March 1st at 3026 Airport Avenue in Santa Monica, California. Little Laos on the Prairie writers were able to talk with Sayon about the exhibit.


Birth of the Dragon Lady, by Sayon Syprasoeuth, 2011

Based in a historic hangar at the Santa Monica Airport ARENA 1 is an exhibition space founded by Santa Monica Art Studios directors Yossi Govrin and Sherry Frumkin. They invite internationally known and emerging curators to develop innovative and compelling exhibitions.

The framing question for the GHOSTS exhibit was: “How should we treat the Ghosts each of these leaves behind – in real life, as metaphor, as a tool? The very own substantiality each one thing in itself exhibits, its innate properties, its relation to subject, time space, and language are altogether qualities which suddenly start to dissipate when we have to deal with ghosts. It is hard even to agree on one word for them: there are specters, phantoms and wreath, genie and spirit, the apparition and many other denominations to describe a phenomenon that tends to blur the demarcation line between subject and object, past and presence, here and there.”

This is an ambitious proposition, and easily one of the most interesting we’ve seen proposed by those with ties to the Lao, Cambodian and Southeast Asian American communities this year so far. The timing is particularly interesting as we recognize the 60th anniversary of the Geneva Accords and so many other dates significant in the Southeast Asian diaspora.

Sayon talked about the start of the process. “It felt scary and I was a bit apprehensive. Because I didn’t want to be a curator/artist participating in the show. Then my co-curator gave me an article to read (The Artist as Curator by Elena Filipovic). After reading it, I felt more comfortable that she talked about the exhibition as a form. That was actually my purpose to mount the show.”

Already, they held an exhibition walkthrough and conversation with the artists. This included ethics and art, beauty, style and the challenges of an aesthetics of evil, and “the ghost in art.”

One of the featured artists involved was Aragna Ker. A native of Phnom Penh, Cambodia, Aragna Ker immigrated to Southern California in 1981 at the age of 6. He has exhibited at the United States Embassy in Cambodia, The Hammer Museum, The Pacific Asian Art Museum, Happy Lion Gallery and Sabina Lee Gallery.

Denise Scott is known for her large scale suspended egg installations, which serve as a symbol for the tomb and womb. She has extended her repertoire into drawings and photography, currently splitting her time between California and Cambodia.

Prumsodun Ok is an interdisciplinary artist whose performances contemplate René Daumal’s expression of “the avant-garde in antiquity.” His technique mines the tradition of Khmer classical dance to explore the intersection of contemporary social issues. A TED Fellow, he has performed widely at venues such as REDCAT, Highways, CounterPULSE, KUNST-STOFF arts/fest, Pieter, CSU Long Beach University Art Museum, and others.

Little Laos on the Prairie asked Sayon what his advice to emerging artists in Minnesota would be. “Stay creative (that’s such a cliche, I know). Make work that’s meaning to you. Stick with people that support you and your work. Don’t listen to people that want to discourage you or bring you down. And most of all, get rid your ego. That means no attitude of “I’m better than you” or “they are better than me, I can’t approach them,” etc.”

There are definitely plans for the show afterwards, according to Sayon. “After this exhibition, we have possibly two venues (April 2014 and April 2015) to remount the show. And we are hoping to add more artists and/or slant the show a bit to still fit the theme “ghosts.”

It would be wonderful to see the exhibit expanded. We can only imagine how the communities would react during this exhibition in April, the traditional Cambodian and Lao New Years. Given many of the Lao Minnesotans’ interest in the subject, perhaps one day we’ll see this exhibit come to the Twin Cities.

As we closed our conversation, Sayon also shared one of his personal ghost stories with us: “A guy was leaving his work late at night. He knows he’s the only person in the building. But when he got in the elevator, there was another man already standing there. He knows, he’s the only person in the building. He tried not to glance at the man. As the elevator was going down to the basement where his car was located, it seemed like hours. He finally turned to look at the man’s face. The man had no eyes. The man said to him “where are you going?” He replied, “I’m going home.” The other man said, “I have no home to go to.” This gave him the creeps, so as the door finally opens, he runs to his car and sped out of the garage and drove as fast as he could. A few blocks down the street he looked out the window and saw that same man standing on the sidewalk. He thought no man could have run that fast. He drove faster. Then all the lights on the street went off…”

~Bryan Thao Worra


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