Reloading A-N-T-O-P-I-A with Carlo Santoro

This Saturday 27 at 7 pm at Seekers Spirit House the intrepid traveller will find a multi-faceted event entitled A-N-T-O-P-I-A/PAPERS, put together by Metaestetica Lab, a mixed media participatory installation and performance including the Kampot Playboys, DJs, painters, video, sculpture, Old Uncle Tom Cobly and all.  Kumnooh sat down with the proposer of the event, Carlo Santoro, as the rain poured down, to try to get a handle on all that’s going on. 

You are describing this as a reload, but a reload of what precisely?  “The first version of A-N-T-O-P-I-A was put together for the European Film Festival in February 2023 – one single installation work.  It’s not an exhibition, it’s an installation one single product created by artists from many different disciplines – painting, sculpture, architecture, printing, video and performance. 

“Originally it was a one-night-only at Perch – 100 square metres, 15 artists, five videos, movies, DJs, sculpture – all on the 35th floor.  We mounted in one day and dismantled the day after, with the hope that we would set up again shortly after.  A few days later Seekers Spirits agreed to host the installation – one third of it, just 30 square metres, we lost the video and DJ component – so it was mostly the ready-mades, sculptures and painting.” 

A-N-T-O-P-I-A the first time around at Perch. Photos: supplied

Given a broad theme of the marginalised spaces of a rapidly changing and expanding Phnom Penh, the artists were, and have been again, given a chance to play; the audience then react to what has been assembled as they see fit.  Installations like ours meet audience expectations in the context of a film festival.  Two months later, when we repurposed the installation at Seekers for the Warehouse Rave party, attendees were going to dance, and I doubt they really looked forward to an installation of readymades picked up on the street and rusty metal works arranged in the corner of the dance floor, so they considered it part of the space.  People enjoyed the music, but they also wandered around inside the space until the early hours of the morning, which made for an unusual time to relate to the objects we proposed. For us the key component is the public, the participation – it’s a social interaction.  The typical idea of Metaestetica is that it is not the physical outer that produces the aesthetics but rather the social system, the relationship between the work produced by the artist and the viewing audience.” 

So how have artists responded to this general call?  “As said, the main part of the installation consists of rusty metal sculpture with animals and plants morphing through it by Gregory Gosselin, paintings by Theo Valllier, representing the everyday conditions of the typical Phnom Penh city centre, the objects collected from the streets that are in active transformation.  To give you an idea, today one of the city’s major transformations is about to take place along the old railway line in Russei Keo, north of the Japanese Bridge, where the road is currently being widened. People living on the edge of the road are reoccupying the road as they build it, then moving on to the next marginal area.  This is everyday life for the specific conditions of the city.  We tried to buy some of the abandoned/found objects in these spaces – for example an apparently abandoned bed, sitting there, kids playing on it.  It took two or three days, they found the owner, sold for $30.  And so on for many other objects.” 

And you mentioned readymades, as proposed by Marcel Duchamp?  “Right, they are also hidden in the installation. I actually tried to find an exact copy of the Duchamp bicycle wheel.  I went to SuperDuper to buy four cans of Campbell’s tomato soup and placed them in the space, with the receipt, to acknowledge Andy Warhol.  And we got a tyre for Rauschenberg’s Monogram but we missed the goat, so got at least the goat skin, imported for us by Diego Wilkins.  Of course, it wasn’t much noticed during the rave party: okay, there’s tins of soup.  No one even questioned it. Someone laid down on our 30$ bed to smoke a cigarette for half an hour. They didn’t look surprised at all.  Slowly people started to take in the installation, read things, walk around inside, explore the situation and adapt to it. The whole thing might look really surprising from an outside perspective, for them it was quite familiar” 

A-N-T-O-P-I-A the second time around at Seekers as the rave party rages and flags. Photos: supplied

What about the performance side?  “There’s a room where you have a concert and DJs on one side, an installation on the other side, with video projections as well, raising the idea of locality, for locations which have been deprived of the idea of being a locality in the sense of an existing place.  Appearing and disappearing.  And then we do the same with music.

ANTOPIA is also a retrospective, looking back at art and movements in the 1960s.   Sao Sopheak and Nick E Meta will be DJing with old vinyl records to introduce the Kampot Playboys, who represent a continuation of the Golden Era story – a story of appearing and disappearing.” 

But wait there’s more.  “On the 27th we will try to increase the size – rather than being a side event.   Theo Vallier and Jean-Pascal Vittori will again be doing live silkscreen printing with a machine they invented.  There is also a repeat performance by Vannak Khun called The Two Brothers, two masked brothers coming from the countryside to try to explore these unfamiliar objects.  We have paintings and printings originally created by street artist Theo Vallier.  Pisey Kosal’s video portion places a student standing in a road, the image fading from colour to and white – tfading people, as he said.  Miguel Jeronimo is bringing artificial intelligence reinterpretations of Phnom Penh – the pictures are generating glitches and split in seconds, so the images appear dystopian but then they snap and go away, then generate another one, another one.  A sequence, a collage.  Another A-N-T-O-P-I-A dismantled condition.”

And the PAPERS part to the title, for this reload, what’s that about?  “Print art, paper collage, mixed media but mainly using paper as the medium.  We have three contemporary Cambodian painters representing three generations – Sous Soudavy, Chhim Sothy anad Chhan Dina – with a tribute to Srey Bandaul, celebrated as a pioneer of the art movement in Battambang province.   Don’t think of something curated by single person – it’s co-curated by the collection of people that come together under the banner of Metaestetica Lab, a collective of artists and non-artists.” 

The porous notion of the proposed theme allows the audience to experience it through their own context, take meanings from it as they will.  Make it up yourself.  “After all, another of the possible definitions is instead of an-topia it’s ant-opia, the playground of the ants, which links back to the metal sculpture that includes human beings, domestic animals, the not-urban and the not-natural.  People can get inside and thus participate within the place and become the new occupant.”

Plenty to explore as the music plays this Saturday, May 27 at Seekers Spirit House from 7 pm. 


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