Time, Space, Voice: Phnom Penh’s White Building

A symposium presented by SA SA BASSAC and Sa Sa Art Projects: 9-10 January 2015 | the first in a series of sekhasala meetings to investigate the White Building | hosted by Bophana Audiovisual Resource Center, Phnom Penh, Cambodia | convened by Erin Gleeson, Roger Nelson, Pen Sereypagna, and Vuth Lyno

9 January: 12.30pm – 5.30pm
10 January: 9.30am – 1.00pm

Where: Bophana Center
64, Street 200, Okhnia Men, Phnom Penh

This symposium examines Phnom Penh’s White Building as a privileged nexus of time, space and voice; a microcosm of Cambodia and its capital city; and an icon of post-independence and pre-war modernism refigured in a post-war and contemporary context.

Leading local and international researchers and practitioners address the deep time of the White Building’s layered histories; the dense space of the White Building’s architectural forms as these have mutated over time; and the multiple voices that seek to shape and speak of the White Building, both from within and from the outside.

Histories and experiences including of urban space, politics, law, art and geography will be considered. Various methodologies including the architectural, artistic and activist are proposed; the symposium provides a unique context in which these may discursively engage with the specificity of this environment, this moment, and this community.

Built in 1963 as part of an ambitious precinct for the arts, culture and civil service designed by Cambodian architect Lu Ban Hap and overseen by the acclaimed architect and urban planner Vann Molyvann, the White Building (originally named Bassac Municipal Apartments) is an icon of Cambodian modernist architecture and Cambodian contemporary culture. Presently home to over 2,500 people, the White Building is at once notorious for its dilapidated exterior and reputation as a site of illegal activities and home of the urban poor, and celebrated as a neighbourhood that is thriving despite its economic deprivations: unusually tight-knit and self-sufficient, and enriched by a large and long-term community of artists of various kinds.

Time, Space,Voice: Phnom Penh’s White Building is convened at a critical, even urgent moment for the White Building. Local and transnational governments and corporate interests have announced their intention to demolish the site. This threat is resisted on both heritage and humanitarian grounds: it would needlessly destroy an acclaimed architectural masterpiece and symbol of cultural achievement, and it would be yet another in a series of often violent forced evictions that unjustly target low-income city-dwellers.

Time, Space, Voice: Phnom Penh’s White Building is timed to coincide with architect and urbanist Pen Sereypagna’s research residency in the White Building (hosted by Sa Sa Art Projects and supported by Parsons The New School For Design). As well as responding to the threat to the White Building’s future, this symposium is convened to present a confluence of exciting new research on the White Building’s past and present, placing a diversity of approaches in dialogue with one another and with communities in the neighbourhood and city.

This symposium is the first of a series of sekhasala meetings to investigate the White Building. Based primarily in local perspectives and addressing primarily local audiences, this symposium will present a wealth of valuable new research that will serve as a basis for future discussions and research.

Speakers: Pen Sereypagna (architect and urbanist, Phnom Penh); Vuth Lyno (artist and curator, Phnom Penh); Martin Potter (artist and media activist, Melbourne); Bill Greaves (architect and researcher, Toronto); Hun Sarath (Professor at Royal University of Fine Arts and White Building’s resident, Phnom Penh); White Building Collective (artists and media activists, Phnom Penh); students of architecture at the Royal University of Fine Arts and Norton University, Phnom Penh; students of architecture at Parsons The New School For Design, New York City; Kourn Lyna (Empowering Youth in Cambodia, Phnom Penh); Hang Vong (Sahmakum Teang Tnaut, Phnom Penh)

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