Artist narrative

Svay Sareth's exhibition Tuesday is both a personal story of adventure and a poignant metaphor for Cambodia as it reflects on its recent past in a highly transitional period.

Inspired by aspects of the famous 1719 Daniel Defoe novel of Robinson Crusoe - a fictional autobiography of a shipwrecked man on the "Island of Despair" - Sareth's works speak to themes running through the story such as the ambivalence of colonial and other forms of mastery, and the importance of self-awareness and perseverance in the process of adventure or survival.

In 2009, with no prior experience in boat-building and a refusal to consult any instructions, Sareth single-handedly handcrafted a traditional curved-frame boat of wood and resin for four months. Like Crusoe who named his "savage" companion "Friday" after the day he found him, Sareth named his boat "Tuesday" after the day he finished building it. Unsure if his boat would sink or float, the artist pushed the 200kg for 27 kilometers for 11 consecutive hours. The documentary video Adieu/Goodbye documents this performance from the artist's studio through rural and urban Normandy, France, until he reaches the sea. As we see Tuesday successfully float, we immediately sense the precarious situation as the artist paddles alone further into the sea.

The other artworks in this exhibition continue to recreate, at times ironically, the artist's adventure at sea and on land. The highly detailed paintings Dragon and Fighting reference the symbolic value of fish. The koi fish, adopted from Chinese to Cambodian culture over the centuries, is an icon of wealth and power; its scales and whiskers resemble the most auspicious creature - the dragon. Although beta fish are native to Cambodian and regional rice paddies, we know them only in captivity and gaming, fighting aggressively with their own species until death. The metal and pigment sculpture Fisherman shows a subsistence farmer waiting with patience; will he be lucky or unlucky? We discover the installation Treasure, though just beneath the valuable surfaces are discarded objects rediscovered and adorned by the artist for their ability to stir memories from his past with his father and others. Finally, the paintings The Ground and Foot Under Foot reflect the dizzying and contradictory experiences of arriving back to the artist’s homeland, Cambodia.

Artist bio

Svay Sareth was born in 1970 in Battambang, Cambodia. A member of the small and historic group of children who studied art in the Site 2 refugee camps with Véronique Decrop, Svay went on to co-found Phare Phonlue Selepak, a private art school in Battambang that continues to thrive today. In 2002, the artist continued his studies in France, and earned the Diplôme National Supérieur d'Études des Arts Plastiques in 2009.

Svay's artist practice is a way to tell his story while continuously processing its impact. In unique ways, his works can also be seen as acts of solidarity with the refugee and the survivor, who must take risks and persevere through consequences with hope. In the artist's words, "The heart is marked forever by the atrocities of the war. The mind - the seat of the body's creative power - is a force of alchemy able to transform the difficulty, the fear, the suffering, the discouragement, into energy and creative freedom. And the body, finally, is used for resistance."

SVAY Sareth
03 March - 05 May 2011

Hôtel de la Paix > Arts Lounge > Tuesday