ISSUE 11 Ethics of Flourishing Onto-Epistemologies
Streaming Discourse: Phnom Penh as Currents of Dialogues

More than ten years ago, we both met at a Cambodian arts festival, Season of Cambodia, in New York City, which provided a platform for not only generations of Cambodian artists to show their works on an international stage, but also a gathering opportunity drawing Cambodian artists and other creative professionals, including architects, designers, urbanists, and academics. We were trained and have practiced in different fields; Pagna is an architect and urban researcher, and Lyno is an artist and curator. We both share a common goal in facilitating a platform for ordinary people, emerging artists, and young architects to have voices in their respective environments, cities, and societies, and we seek to explore how our skills can contribute to this goal. Additionally, we want to create a space for artists, architects, urbanists, and researchers from Southeast Asia, whereby they can connect, create dialogue, and make works with ordinary people in Phnom Penh, as well as Cambodian creative practitioners, and to investigate how their interactions address the challenges of everyday life in Phnom Penh, as well as in the region. Currents embodies these greater purposes in its artistic and philosophical perspectives and projects.

This article examines the Currents: Phnom Penh Arts and Urban Festival 2019, in order to propose an alternative way of exhibiting in Phnom Penh, by focusing on exhibition venues It explores how the festival came about and how its venues were chosen through a site-responsive approach. It addresses the distribution of the activation of events and spaces across the city, hence dispersing dialogues between the Asian and Cambodian artists and creatives, and with ordinary people, through sponsoring localized events. It also looks at how Currents sought an opportunity to contribute back to the local ecologies and infrastructures in some modest ways.

Currents, part of a more extensive program, Topography of Mirror Cities, initiated by curator Sandy Lo, was created in 2019 with the support from the Taiwanese National Culture and Arts Foundation and other local and international organizations and individuals.1 It is an art and urban festival in Phnom Penh with diverse programs, dialogues, activities, and people, including artists, architects, urbanists, researchers, vendors, students, and others. It is inspired by the geography of Phnom Penh, which is located at the confluence of the four-faced rivers (Chaktomuk River), where lives and urban structures are established and where the meaning of social relations, knowledge, our subjectivities, and the city are produced.

Phnom Penh is the capital city of Cambodia with multiple social, political, and cultural changes that shaped the urban fabric within the city, from a royal capital to a colonial city to a modern city to a killing field to a global city. These successive ruptures have provided diverse historical presents embedded within the city’s urban form, as well as its communities. Phnom Penh is limited by its administrative boundaries under specific laws and rules. But space inside the boundary is free and limitless. It becomes whatever programs we may introduce to it. This is why we want to experiment with its space by providing diverse events with different programs, people, and materials. Currents investigates the communal and public spaces that shape our social relationships with each other, our neighborhoods, and the city. More than physical flows, Currents constitutes movements of ideas, dialogues, anxieties, and desires, which are the fundaments of social practices and changes.

Currents’ 18 events took place at various venues across Phnom Penh, Google Map, 2019.

Sandy approached us with an idea for currents being one big exhibition program. However, after we examined the characteristics of Phnom Penh as being comprised of small urban spaces yet full of vibrant street life driven by its communities, small art audience and community, as well as few art spaces, rather than doing one big exhibition at one big venue, we disseminated it into many events located in many spaces with diverse communities across the city. It was thus transformed from being merely an exhibition into an urban festival. In 2019, Currents opened its first festival with 31 artists, architects, and urbanists and 5 projects and groups. The programs included exhibitions, film screenings, colloquiums, and workshops, spreading throughout 14 venues in the city. These events focused on the social mobility and urban geo-body and how they interact, produce, and reproduce existing social relations, especially concerning how the city shapes us and we shape the city.

For each venue, we considered its site and locality – history and context – and what program or artworks might best respond and/or converse with it, hence producing a new dialogue about the city we are living in. The main questions at that time were how to bring artworks, conversations, and activities to the ordinary people in Phnom Penh, rather than bringing them to the galleries and museums. This idea brought most of the Currents’ events outside the white cubes to the communal and public spaces that provide more potential and direct negotiation between art projects, spaces and the local communities. These venues included an alleyway in the urban block, a local shop at a wet market, a communal school inside a Buddhist monastery, river banks along the Chaktomuk, and other venues that constituted interactive spaces for ordinary people in the city.

Opening of Currents took place at Hiroshima House, inside Wat Ounalom Monastery, 2019. Photo by Pay Bunarath.
Audience at the “Across the Waters” exhibition, an opening event of Currents at Hiroshima House, Wat Ounalom Monastery, 2019. Photo by Pay Bunarath.
1 Official website of Topography of Mirror Cities:

The opening of the Currents 2019 took place at Hiroshima House, inside Wat Ounalom Monastery. It was designed by Japanese architect Osamu Ishiyama2 and constructed from 1995 to 2006. Hiroshima House is a monumental building that represents the similarity of the disasters in human history between the destruction of Japan’s Hiroshima under the American atomic bomb and the Cambodian genocide under the Khmer Rouge.3 The building was designed as a ruin with unfinished works that transcend the feeling of sadness and embody the sense of the destruction of Hiroshima and Phnom Penh and their histories. The building was built by the Cambodian community and volunteers from Japan. Today, Hiroshima House is a community school with classrooms, a library, and a dormitory with unique bricks and concrete columns. The school is an education refuge for the children (including street children) from the neighborhood, where they can receive Khmer, English, and Japanese lessons, as well as take computer and art classes.

Calling back the early tradition of a Buddhist monastery as a place for education and engaging with Hiroshima House as a contemporary site of reconstruction, this venue seemed a perfectly fitting space for our opening program. The monastery also sits by the river, which is an integral waterway in our tradition of commuting and commerce. We titled the inauguration exhibition Across the Waters, presenting works by three artists from Cambodia, Laos, and Taiwan, and a dance performance by Cambodian contemporary dancer Nget Rady and his team. Each work is thoughtfully chosen for their conceptual and content connection to the water and the city. Hsu Chia-Wei (Taiwan), through a two-channel video installation with a dream-like quality, narrates a history of the Dutch trade of deerskin in Asia in the 17th century, which caused a maritime war in Cambodia. Savanhdary Vongpoothorn (Laos/Australia) weaves together strips of scripts from the Laotian telling of the Ramayana, an episode of Rama and Lakshmana’s journey along the river, in her delicate paintings, as an artistic gesture designed to piece together these broken narratives, and to reflect on her fragmented memories and history as a refugee. Sao Sreymao (Cambodia) questions the paradox of cultural practice in offering pigs for the Pig Lunar New Year, amidst the new Cambodian economic ties with a foreign government.

During the exhibition, the audience could interact with the artworks, and examine the architecture of the building, as well as meeting with the children who came to study there. In addition, through the exhibition, Currents contributes to the infrastructure of the community school. For example, at one point the school turned off the art screening video and instead projecting a dance video from YouTube, in order to train their students in a dancing class. At the end of the exhibition, one projection screen was donated to the school.

The village chief of Kim Son block introducing the RoungKon Project to the children from the neighborhood, 2019. Photo by Sa Sa Art Projects.
Local residents and visitors at the “Fade Out” + “Chicken Digs Rubbish - In Search of Praxis” exhibition located in the alleyway to former Kim Son cinema, 2019. Photo by Sa Sa Art Projects.

The other venue was a former Kim Son Cinema. It is one of the oldest Phnom Penh neighborhoods and embodies the city’s unique quality of its urban community’s street life. The exhibition was curated inside the alleyway, the former cinema’s entrance, in the urban block that was full of urban activities such as café shops, grocery shops, motor taxis, and gathering spaces where the neighbors gather and chit-chat every evening. We used a wall of an existing building on one side of the alleyway that was used by the Kim Son community, as well as other neighbors near Kim Son, as a place for showing the exhibition by the RoungKon Project, under the title Fade Out, and on another side of the alleyway was a bamboo bed which the community used as a place for gathering to show an exhibition by Project Little Dream, under the title Chicken Digs Rubbish: in Search of Praxis.

The RoungKon Project was founded by a group of young, passionate Cambodian architects and aims to promote and document all the cinemas in Cambodia from the 1960s-70s through architectural drawings, interviews, and other forms of archiving. In the exhibition, they introduced diverse and playful mediums such as archival photos and drawings of the old cinemas, film rolls and an analog VR box, so that the local community, including young and older people, could experience it through pulling, seeing, and watching. On the other side, Project Little Dream, a charity in Hong Kong that designs and builds village schools in rural Cambodia, placed their project on a bamboo bed, where the community could sit and interact with the works showing next to them.

Urban Seam” + “Street Life Studies” - this exhibition takes place in an operating garment and shoes shop by Tuol Tom Poung Market, 2019. Photo by Miguel Jerónimo.
Artworks and shop co-exist and converse at the “Urban Seam” + “Street Life Studies” exhibition, Currents 2019. Photo by Miguel Jerónimo.

Primary Voice and Street Life Studies are two projects dealing with urban life in the city. Primary Voice is an interdisciplinary design project that gives a voice and bears witness to radical urban transformations in the garment industry through documentation and communication. Street Life Studies runs in partnership between UNSW Sydney and RUFA Phnom Penh and provides a platform for Australian and Cambodian architecture students to research, analyze, and find solutions for Phnom Penh’s residents in their everyday lives. Under the title Urban Seam: the Making of a Cambodian City, Primary Voice introduced a research project about garment production in Cambodia through photography, interviews, and interactive tools that provoked awareness of the issues of labor in Cambodia’s garment industry.

Alongside Primary Voice, Street Life Studies showed a street life survey and design by the students from UNSW and RUFA’s architecture students, so as to stimulate the imagination of urban street life in Phnom Penh city, under the title Street Life Studies: Observations of the People and Places of Our Cities. These two exhibitions were shown inside a local shoe shop near Tuol Tom Poung market. The shop sold garments and shoes made in the local factories in Cambodia. People who came to buy shoes could enjoy the Currents’ exhibitions, and people who came to see the exhibition could interact with the shop owner about her difficulty living in the city.

Over time, the shop owner became more oriented to the exhibition and got very excited about it, hence taking up a role like an exhibition guide, showing her customers details about the exhibition. This is an indication of building an understanding and interest in the festival and materials by people like the shop owner, who was new to the art and design event. At the end of the show the shop owner asked to keep the exhibiting photos on the wall to decorate her shop.

Soundscape mapping drawing from a participant at the “Imaging Cityscape” workshop, Currents 2019. Photo by Miguel Jerónimo.
Artist Sao Sreymao and her soundscape mapping drawing at the “Imaging Cityscape” workshop, Currents 2019. Photo by Miguel Jerónimo.

Any place in the city is an image of memories: an image recording a palimpsest of recollections of triumph and sorrow, boom and bust, the heroic and the mundane. As part of the city, we walk through it observing its present landscape and reflecting on the past, until these images are boldly printed into our memories. Noted by the eye of vision and by the soul of memory, a city’s streets, structures, and buildings contain great discourses on history. These discourses set up a spatial order, the images that capture the manner in which the transitory present is perceived. A city’s decomposed images become a way of seeing, knowing, remembering, and representing the city. Representational forms of the city become aestheticised commodities representing a livable city, turning urban artifacts into events that people remember, and reflecting different stages of social and political rhetoric. To explore the city, architects and artists make drawings of lines, paintings of colors, and engage in the filming of movements visualizing their feelings, memories, landscapes, architectures, and lives. These are ways among others to form a place containing memories, visualize the qualities of life, and experience the surrounding environment. Learning from those methods, we both co-facilitated a workshop, Imaging Cityscape, in order to enliven our memories of the city through text, image and sound. Participants improvisationally developed their own drawing languages, thereby mapping and conceptualizing their textual, visual, and sonic memories of the city. The workshop was undertaken inside Kon Len Khnom, an independent space for art and architectural students to meet, create and share their works.

Artwork by Tan Vatey at New Fields exhibition, Currents 2019. Photo by Sa Sa Art Prokjects.
Site-responsive work by Eng Rithchandaneth at New Fields exhibition, Currents 2019. Photo by Sa Sa Art Prokjects.

Presenting exhibitions throughout Phnom Penh city, we cannot deny the ongoing violence done to the cityscape and its history and ecology under the name of urban development. While natural lakes have been continuously filled up, older villas and houses are being knocked down for new capitalistic driven high-rises. The New Fields exhibition temporarily transforms a Khmer house in a burgeoning neighborhood of Phnom Penh’s Tonle Bassac district via new works by artists Eng Rithchandaneth (Cambodia), Nipan Oranniwesna (Thailand) and Tan Vatey (Cambodia). Tonle Bassac was demarcated as part of the Khmer quarter by the French colonial administration, and was later largely developed into a district of modernist villas (like those in Boeung Keng Kang district) during the post-independence period. Known for its spacious, gardened, and low-rise buildings, the district has become a very feasible inner urban neighborhood for lucrative “development” under the current regime. Over the last few decades, the area has witnessed a dramatic transformation, with new high-rise apartments and buildings mushrooming; however, with the price of urban history being erased and poor communities removed.

Vatey intervenes in the house’s front yard by installing a garden filled with tree trunks paired with baby plants sprouting from the soil through the clay tiles. The trunks are parts of a milk fruit tree from her grandmother’s house, where she used to play around during her childhood, but it was recently cut down for house renovation. The artist looks for people to adopt the baby plants after the exhibition. Daneth turns the ground floor of the house into an immersive installation made of grass seeds. The green grass seems struggling to grow amidst the grotesque landscape, which appears to be invading through the floor and up the walls. The artist is concerned with the growing, parasitic nature of “development” in Cambodia, brought about through land concession projects motivated by private local and foreign investors. Upstairs is a poetic installation of text made of carved wood by Nipan. The scattered text placed on the wooden floor is extracted from the Hungarian film, The Turin Horse, by Béla Tarr, in which the artist found resonance with the dilemma and entrapment of Burmese migrant workers living in Bangkok: “The storm continues to rage outside… as it rages unbridled over the barren land.” New Fields presents works that challenge the audience toward confrontation and reflection on our relationship with the environment that we inhabit or stay in as guests. It also seeks for actions of care, since the audience can adopt plants from the exhibition.

Beloved dance performance by Prumsodun Ok & NATARASA on the riverbank with Phnom Penh city as backdrop. Photo by Miguel Jeronimo.
Audience sitting on the sand-covered ground watching Prumsodun Ok & NATARASA’s dance performance, Currents 2019. Photo by Miguel Jeronimo.

We concluded Currents with an idea of rebirth, hence inviting Prumsodun Ok & NATARASA, a gay dance company, whose work sits on an intersection of elevating Khmer classical and contemporary dance and supporting Cambodian LGBTs. The company premiered their new dance titled Beloved, an Angkorian tale of the consummation ritual between the Khmer King and the Naga, in order to bring rain, prosperity, and vitality to the pre-dominantly agricultural land of the Kingdom. The performance was presented as a “special offering” of new dance and music, and an experience of Khmer conceptions of art as a spiritual technology taking on contemporary life. With very little budget available, Prum, the leader of the company, wisely decided to present the dance in its purest form, with as little technology as possible. Using the night cityscape as a backdrop, the dance was staged on a sand-covered riverbank next to a Buddhist temple on the other side of the city. Using simply a wood fire as lighting, the dance heightens the sense of the four basic elements: fire, earth, air, and water. Nowhere else could be more fitting than presenting the sacred dance of renewal and vitality at the intersection of Phnom Penh’s four rivers, as the city remains a generative background.

Currents is a festival based on how art and design can instigate dreams, imaginations, and dialogues, which can become a social practice. Art can be anywhere, in any space, and occur at any time. Rather than showing art in an art white cube, Currents employs different spaces and times with different programs, facilitating different dialogues with different communities of the city residents. With the lack of local art infrastructure and facilities, we worked together with residents to transform those shared and communal spaces into places for interaction, learning and cultural experience. Currents engages with each site responsively, according to its local history and context. It seeks opportunities to make meaningful connections between art and site, while building on the existing ones through making creative use of the limited resources and ecology of those sites.


1 Official website of Topography of Mirror Cities:




Pen Sereypagna is the director of New Khmer-Architecture and the Vann Molyvann Project, an international team of architects and architectural students working to document the work of Vann Molyvann. Pagna has practiced design in various companies, such as Phnom Penh’s Archetype, New York’s Steven Harris Architects and Honolulu’s SHADE Group. His researches on Phnom Penh’s urban form and Cambodian modernist architecture have been the subject of several exhibitions and presentations in Cambodia, Taiwan, Australia, the United States, and selected venues in Southeast Asia. He has contributed essays to scholarly journals, architectural magazines and books, including Docomomo International, a+u and ARCH+. Pagna is currently a Ph.D. candidate in Architecture and Urbanism at the University of Hong Kong, and was a participating scholar in Site and Space in Southeast Asia, funded by the Getty Foundation. He is also the co-author of Genealogy of Bassac (UR Terreform, 2021), which received the 2019 Graham publication award.

Vuth Lyno (b. 1982, Phnom Penh) is an artist, curator, and educator interested in space, cultural history, and knowledge production. His artworks often engage with micro and overlooked histories, notions of community, place-making, and the production of social relations. He works across various media, including photography, video, sculpture, light, and sound, often constructing architectural or spatial bodies as situations for interaction. He believes in the potency of collectivity, storytelling, and the agency of cultural objects as potential pathways to reimagine our sociality. Lyno is also a member of the Stiev Selapak collective, which founded and co-runs Sa Sa Art Projects, a long-term initiative committed to the development of the contemporary visual arts landscape in Cambodia. Together with the collective, he teaches, initiates, and and innovates art programs, facilitating a growing and critically conscious community. Lyno holds a Master of Arts in History from the State University of New York, Binghamton, New York, and a Master of International Development from RMIT University, Melbourne.

Issue 11 Ethics of Flourishing Onto-Epistemologies
Introduction / Ethics of Flourishing Onto-Epistemologies Sandy Hsiu-chih Lo
A Chronicle of “the Open World” and the Chiang Rai Biennale 2023 Sorayut Aiem-UeaYut
The Exhibition Is Not Enough: Evolving Trends in Indonesian Art Biennials Ayos Purwoaji
Streaming Discourse: Phnom Penh as Currents of Dialogues Pen Sereypagna and Vuth Lyno

Issue 10 Exhibition Amnesia
Introduction / Exhibition Amnesia, or, the Apparatus of Speculative Curating Hongjohn Lin
How to Build an Exhibition Archive - A Preliminary Proposal from a Generative Studies Perspective Lin Chi-Ming
Reformulating the Architecture of Exhibitions Miya Yoshida
Orality and Its Amnesia in the Mist of Metalanguage Tai-Sung Chen

Issue 9 Curating Against Forgetting
Editorial / Transgressing Epistemic Boundaries Zian Chen
Icon and Network: Solidarity’s Mediums and a Materialist Internationalism Ho Rui An
Settlers and the Unhomely: The Cinematic Visions of Infrastructure in Eastern Taiwan Zian Chen and Chi-Yu Wu
Memories of Underdevelopment: Revisiting Curatorial Methods and the Asian Context Wan-Yin Chen

Issue 8 Reformatting Documenta with lumbung Formula: documenta fifteen
Editorial / Reformatting documenta with lumbung Formula: documenta fifteen Sandy Hsiu-chih Lo
Harvesting and a Single Story of Lumbung Putra Hidayatullah
The Politics in the Ramayana / Ramakien in documenta fifteen: Decoding the Power of the Thai Ruling Class Jiandyin
Malaise of Commons: on the Quality of the Relationships in documenta fifteen Hsiang-Pin Wu

Issue 7 The Heterogeneous South
Editorial / The Heterogeneous South Hongjohn Lin
The South - An art of asking and listening Manray Hsu
Uncharted Territory: The Roots of Curatorial Practices in Eastern Indonesia Ayos Purwoaji
South Fever: The South as a Method in Taiwan Contemporary Curating Pei-Yi Lu

Issue 6 The Beginning of Curating
Editorial / The Beginning of Curating Sandy Hsiu-chih Lo
Are Curators Really Needed? Bùi Kim Đĩnh
The Documents 15 and the Concept of Lumbung ruangrupa
The Three Axes of Curating: Ethics, Politics, and Aesthetics Sandy Hsiu-chih Lo

Issue 5 Curatorial Episteme
Editorial / Curatorial Episteme Hongjohn Lin
Epistemic Encounters Henk Slager
The Curatorial Thing Hongjohn Lin
Ethics of Curating Meng-Shi Chen

Issue 4 Curatorial Consciousness in the Times of Post-Nationalism
Editorial / Curatorial Consciousness in the Times of Post-Nationalism Manray Hsu
When Kacalisian Culture Meets the Vertical City: Contemporary Art from Greater Sandimen Manray Hsu
Pathways and Challenges: Art History in the Context of Global Contemporary Art Jau-Lan Guo
Curating Commemoration: Conditions of Political Choreography, a Performance Exhibition in Retrospect Sophie Goltz

Issue 3 Curating Performativity
Editorial / Curating Performativity I-wen Chang
Choreographing Exhibitions: Performative Curatorgraphy in Taiwan I-wen Chang
Living and Working Together in the Now Normal: Visual Arts and Co. at Bangkok Art and Culture Centre Pawit Mahasarinand
The Curatorial as A Praxis of Disobedience Miya Yoshida

Issue 2 Curators' Living Rooms
Editorial / Curators' Living Rooms Sandy Hsiu-chih Lo
Extended Living Room: Space and Conversation ruangrupa(Ade Darmawan, Mirwan Andan)
Freeing the Weights of the Habitual Raqs Media Collective
Curating Topography Sandy Hsiu-chih Lo

Issue 1 Curatography
Editorial / One Step Forward, Two Steps Backward Hongjohn Lin
What is Curatography? Hongjohn Lin
Les fleurs américaines Yoann Gourmel, Elodie Royer
There are No Blank Slates Eileen Legaspi Ramirez
Issue 11 Ethics of Flourishing Onto-Epistemologies

Issue 10 Exhibition Amnesia

Issue 9 Curating Against Forgetting

Issue 8 Reformatting documenta with lumbung Formula: documenta fifteen

Issue 7 The Heterogeneous South

Issue 6 The Beginning of Curating

Issue 5 Curatorial Episteme

Issue 4 Curatorial Consciousness in the Times of Post-Nationalism

Issue 3 Curating Performativity

Issue 2 Curators' Living Rooms

Issue 1 Curatography