Sa Sa Art Project’s Pisaot artist residency, an experimental programme for Cambodian and selected foreign artists, brought to Phnom Penh by two Germany-based artists who have, in their own homelands, experienced similar histories as the Kingdom’s. Israel-born Amit Goffer and German native Vera Lossau share their art styles and their experiences as Pisaot artist residents in Phnom Penh with Eileen McCormick.
Good Times2: What’s your background in arts? How do you define your personal art styles?
Amit Goffer: I was born in Israel and now live and work in Dusseldorf/Neuss, Germany. My work involves the investigation of the complexities of physical, mental and emotional conditions of the art viewer in relation to the spaces the artist creates. I am intrigued by the narratives taken from everyday experiences, as well as social and political challenges and their meanings for different people who co-exist in this way or another. By working in various cultural forms of expression and perception, my work seeks to deal with metaphorical aspects of architecture and the spaces in which they can be manifested. I often refer to my work to conditions of intense pressure, such as situations of observing and of being observed, migration and the existence of hope.
Vera Lossau: I also live and work in Dusseldorf, Germany, though I was born in Haan. My artistic approach involves a range of sculptural techniques and materials such as diverse casting methods, paper collages, neon-lights, etc, in which I create utilising many layers and facets. I transfer cultural metaphors beyond time or space-related parameters into my very own pieces of sculpture, collages or installations. At the same time and through what seems to appear as riddle, I like to draw attention towards the emotional, individual and very human condition which I feel I am personally experiencing and facing.
Good Times2: What are your plans for your SASA residency?
Amit Goffer and Vera Lossau: So far, we did an artist’s talk and a workshop with other art enthusiasts. We will soon hold an Open Studio Day. We will present the current work/state of the fanzine project and be open for dialogue with visitors during this Open Studio day between the 12th to the 14th of September.
Good Times2: What are your workshops about?
Amit Goffer: The workshop that we did last year was on karma, identity and reconciliation. It was supported by German writer and art curator, Indraw Wussow. For now, we will just continue with our work for the Sa Sa residency programme. We will experiment on bringing together the international community and Cambodian artists and create a sort of magazine where people from all over the world can contribute a picture or drawing. We don’t really have much time but we think we can collect some images from Cambodians to add up the publication.
Good Times2: Where do you get inspiration for your project?
Amit Goffer: As an artist, I feel like I am a kind of a collector – like I see things from the past and I like to bring them back through my work. I came from Israel so I think I can understand the trauma of Cambodians. And, when I came to Germany, I learned to see things in a much broader perspective. In Germany, you have different generations reacting to war and history. Through it, I started to understand the situation as universal. I take these perspectives and try to put what current trauma is or the understanding of the past into my art. I think trauma lingers in many cultures. And bringing those kinds of deep feelings into a project is my way of proving how I see things in a Cambodian context.
Vera Lossau: When we came to Cambodia, we felt that the trauma here is similar with the energy of the holocaust and to what happened after the war. Even the way people are living here today, it’s similar yet very unique and different. For me, it’s very interesting to see what is going to happen with the project.
Good Times2: How does coming from Israel help you understand trauma?
Amit Goffer: When you come out of a life-threatening situation, everything becomes a bit more extreme. You get used to be more alert and a bit more keen when things around you change. Because I am part of the third generation, it is somehow hard for me to grasp what had happened to our history. So I had some talks about these questions of war and trauma with the second generation, and it helped me get a better understanding of the past. In Cambodia, however, people have not yet forgotten what happened to them or what they have lost during the dark times.
Good Times2: How has your unique art style been perceived or understood in a Cambodian context?
Vera Lossau: Well, I think Phnom Penh is very much alive and very different from Germany. I try to keep my mediums of art very open. It’s my goal to not have structured art, maybe it rooted in the fact that I am from Germany where everything is a bit over-structured. I work with images everyone can relate to, as simple as pens or shoes and create poetic works of art from those things. This is my approach. I like to combine the everyday simple imageries and make them into something more poetic. Because my subjects exist in the daily lives of Cambodians, I think they can relate to my art in some ways.
Good Times2: What has inspired you about every day Phnom Penh life?
Amit Goffer and Vera Lossau: We have been taking a lot of photos, like a thousand photos. I think it’s fascinating to document the changes in the urban landscape. Something that has really captured my attention is the electricity wiring around the city. It reminds me of an abstract painting.
Good Times2: Do you think the abstract real-life city art influences social dynamics or consciousness?
Vera Lossau: We went on an architectural tour, and we saw so many buildings being destroyed and rebuilt. Even more so when these structures are turned into something else, like rooms where people can sleep in. The city seems to rebuild itself and I think it creates new social dynamics because these spaces were used for very different things before and after the war.
Good Times2: A lot of contemporary art comes out of healing from trauma. However, Cambodia seems to focus more on traditional arts. What do you think about this?
Amit Goffer: When we came to Cambodia, we were both surprised to know that the contemporary art here is much more different from Germany’s. I think it’s because the traditional arts had been destroyed during the Khmer Rouge regime, people who are reviving the art today have in some sort of context that they see as contemporary art even if it is not exactly how this art is defined in other parts of the world.
Vera Lossau: I think with the internet being such a central thing in Cambodia, we will see a fast evolution of what is contemporary art.
Good Times2: What feedbacks have you received from Cambodian students you have worked with?
Vera Lossau: Most of them see the need to stay in Cambodia and build up the art culture here first. They are looking to find their own styles, like not just photography but a style that hopefully one day would be recognised as purely Cambodian style of photography. A lot of them also have interest to document the changing landscape of the city. One of the most refreshing aspects of Cambodian artists, based on what they have shared with us, is their passion and drive to bring art back to the people. And they do this not because they want to be famous. This is something I am quite tired of in Germany as many artists are only looking for fame.
Good Times2: What do you hope for art in Cambodia?
Amit Goffer: We would like to give more attention from the inside of Cambodians supporting Cambodians. We dream to see more museums that hold different works and evolving art displayed in spaces that allow for people to have an open dialogue about them, about wars, about their trauma and about the Kingdom in general.