History, Memory, and Art Production
*Screening of two films by Dong Jun and Leang Seckon*
After visiting the Tuol Sleng S21 Prison in the early afternoon, we discussed with Noy and Sopheap from Bophana Audiovisual Center about history and archiving. Later in the evening Bophana screened Leang Seckon’s film and Dong Jun’s documentary that both deal with history and memory.
Gao Shiming: In Dong Jun’s documentary Flood, what is interesting is instead of focusing on a popular contemporary issue as Sanxia, Dong Jun has chosen to focus on Sanmenxia that was all over the news 50 years ago. Time is brutal but also benevolent, benevolent because as Dong Jun has explained, the old man he had met there speaks peacefully about his painful times, we has already reconciled with the past. Perhaps the old man’s peace is more significant than his traumatic experience.
To me, behind the objective practice of documentary filmmakers, there is heavy violence in what they do. They often self-appoint themselves as representative voices for poor people who ‘have no voice.’
This brings us back to our visit to S21, to the exhibition of history, how do you present history? We had compared the presentation at S21 and Auschwitz, where the Auschwitz had adopted a more spectacular presentation with mountains of suitcases labeled with each victim’s name. These object ultimately become not only evidence of what had happened, but also objects upon which we worship. Eventually can these exhibitions, museums, and archives actually constitute out collective memory and historical consciousness? Perhaps not, because each documentator has their own ideological agenda.
*The team visiting Tuol Sleng prison*
Issues brought up by few different interlocutors:
In fact, in every world there are unspeakable histories, such as the cultural revolution, the holocaust, and the Tuol Sleng prison. How do we express these injustices in the international world? In a sense the cultural revolution has become a sin of China. In a sense these historical narratives have already been too well defined, but behind each event there are other unspeakable content that cannot be verbalized, and perhaps this is the role of the artist, to communicate what archives and documentation cannot.
Davy: When we are given a historical image, we believe that it is true. That is a problem because every image is made by subjective judgement. Perhaps it is better for the person to form an ‘image’ of history by himself.
If one year we find some images of the gas chambers, should we decide to show them? It’s the question of what we should and should not show.
Gao Shiming: It seems that photography has split history into two: history before and after photography was invented. These two histories have very different sensibilities. The prior segment is descriptive, the latter segment seems to have substantial evidence. But at the same time, we must also consider the changes in strategy of historical narrative that spans across these two histories. Have history, conscience, and historical consciousness been strengthened or weakened through these developments? History is a sense of passion and it is unsuitable to be archived.
Noy Chum & Sopheap Chea (Bophana Audiovisual Center), Lyno Vuth (SaSa Gallery), Leang Seckon (artist based in Phnom Penh), Fleur Smith (facilitator to Leang Seckon), Nguyen Nhu Huy (curator and artist based in Ho Chi Minh City), Liu Wei (artist based in Beijing), SokchanLina Lim (SaSa Gallery co-founder), Davy Chou (French-Cambodian filmmaker), Tith Kanitha (artist based in Phnom Penh), Ravuth Heng (artist based in Phnom Penh), Lydia Parusol (Metahouse Gallery), Lu Jie (Chief Curator, Long March Project), Gao Shiming (Deputy Director, Contemporary Art Institute, China Academy of Arts), Wang Jianwei (Fellow, Contemporary Art Institute, China Art Academy), Dong Jun (Professor, New Media Department, Xian Academy of Arts), Zhang Hui (Professor, Stage Arts, Central Academy of Drama Theater), Weng Zhengqi (Candidate for Masters of Art History, China Academy of Arts), Xu Zhen (Founder, MadeIn Cultural Production Company, Shanghai), Lu Xinhua (Professor, European Study Center, Tongji University), Zheng Bo (Ph.D. researcher at University of Rochester), Wang Jiahao (Critic of Architecture, Research Fellow, China Academy of Arts), Du Keke (Translator for LEAP magazine), Sheryl Cheung (Long March Project crew member), Song Yi (Long March Project crew member), Jiang Yizhou (Long March Project crew member)