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Picking up the pieces

By: Roger Nelson Posted: March-08-2012 in
Photo Credit - Chean Long
Roger Nelson

Full Circle is an unusual artwork: a durational performance piece which will challenge and transfix both artist and audience. For six consecutive days, Amy Lee Sanford will sit amid a circle of 40 Kompong Chhang clay pots. Slowly and deliberately, she will break one pot by dropping it on the floor. She will then gather the pieces and meticulously glue the pot back together, binding the fragments with string and returning the remade pot to the circle. Over six days, all 40 pots will be broken and remade in this way.

“I create art in order to observe, examine and transform the lasting effects of war, including trauma, loss, displacement and guilt,” Sanford explains. The repetitive process of breaking and remaking the pots, mesmerising in itself, is also richly allegorical of ways in which Sanford – like countless Cambodians – has had to reconstruct her understandings of her life and family.

Raised in the US by her Swedish-American adopted mother, she was the only Asian in her neighbourhood. “My father wrote frequent letters to my mother and me, but after April 17 1975, the letters stopped coming... After many months, and ultimately years of silence from his end, my mother made the painful deduction that he had been murdered by the Khmer Rouge, especially since my father was a known intellectual and educator. I grew up with the belief that all of my family had been killed during the Khmer Rouge era, and that I was the only surviving member of my bloodline. After only 13 years of life with my (adopted) mother, she died suddenly when I was 15. That loss

the first time in 30 years, to meet my uncle and cousins. The three- week whirlwind visit was exciting, exhilarating, and exhausting.” Full Circle is not the first of Sanford’s works to address the cycles of trauma in both her personal biography and the nation’s history,but it is the first in this radical format. Although new to Cambodia, performance art is an increasingly important medium internationally, especially durational works that illuminate the passing of time and the interaction between artist and audience. Compelling and innovative Khmer artists such as Khvay Samnang (in 2011’s Untitled series set around Boeung Kak Lake) and Anida Yoeu Ali (featured in The Advisor issue 12) have in recent works demonstrated the powerful relevance of the medium in the Cambodian context, yet Sanford’s piece is unique in its length and in that it is presented as an autonomous artwork in itself, not only as something to be documented.

Java Arts Director/Founder Dana Langlois (Producer of Full Circle) says that “the power of performance art is that it is often born of intuition and reaction—this immediacy, I believe, allows artists to actively respond to the rapidly changing environment, whether it is social, political or personal.” Sanford agrees: “I feel one’s life history inextricably affects one’s artwork.” Full Circle is set
to movingly affect its audience, too.

WHO: Durational performance artist Amy Lee Sanford
WHAT: Full Circle
WHERE: Meta House, 37 Sothearos Blvd
WHEN: March 13 to March 18
WHY: She’s putting the pieces back together her own way.


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This article was 1st published in The Advisor - All back issues are available as downloads here

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