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My family, my heart

For the opening of ’there, there’ at Greylight projects I was commissioned to create a 15-minute sonic lecture performance.

In this performance, I detail my journey into the arts, link my artistic drive with the desire to overcome the psychological ailments of my postwar lineage, and explain what a peer is to me.

Performed on: 27 August 2023, (15 min read)

Hey everyone,

My name is Sam, it’s very nice to meet you. I’m one of the participating artists here in this show, and I’ve been asked to do a short performance for tonight. So this will be a talk and will take about 10 to 15 minutes of your time.

I’d like to use this time to give context to how my works in this show came about and perhaps give some insight into what drives me as an artist. I will be reading mostly from this iPad and speaking into the microphone.

So I’ve been an artist for about eight years. I was one of those kids who weren’t allowed to go to art school, so I studied something else, media. This academic media journey took me to Australia, where I lived for a few years and worked at a startup. After those few years, I realized I still wanted to pursue art and so at 25 I enrolled into a Belgian art school, and had my eyes set on an exchange in London. Eventually I finished my degree at Central Saint Martins, largely known as a fashion school but also has a great Fine Arts department. After this degree, I spent a few years juggling a few different jobs, including youth work and DJing. Just before the pandemic I returned to the Netherlands after being abroad for about 10 years. And during the last two years of being here, I earned a Masters degree in Fine Arts in Rotterdam and so now I am a recent graduate.

What’s shown in this show are actually fragments of my graduation show which was shown in Rotterdam, and Roy came to see this show and picked what he liked for this groupshow. Behind me is a painting, painting is something I started doing at the beginning of the year. And over there is a haptic sound installation, also a work I’ve started developing earlier this year. I’ve largely actually been a performance artist, mostly involving other people and often using dance and music, but it meant that only a fragment, such as a picture or a video, would remain of the work. So I guess I’d ask you to see the works in the light of an artist who is coming to physical work just recently.

If you dip the flowers in one of the pots of water, a voice will start playing. We can try it now. You can dip all the flowers at the same time if you want. By dipping the flowers, an electric circuit will be completed, as there is a current in the water, connected to the tin, which is connected to a midi controller in the box, and a phone, and some speakers. It should make sense to you if you paid attention in science class, I didn’t, so all of this feels perhaps more magical to me then it should, and it’s funny to have this work here because apparently this room used to be a physics / science classroom.

The voices are my friends, Khaeta Chittick, Ali Sahin and Parham Rahimzadeh, each responding earnestly to the question, if you’d have children, would you tell them you love them and why? They all say yes, they would, and think there are great benefits to saying out loud that you love someone. They also say none of their parents used to say it to them growing up.

Perhaps these sound fragments reveal much of what I’m drawn to as a person and as an artist. I am drawn to gaining a deeper understanding as to what constitutes as love, parental love, guidance, what happens when there’s a lack of love, what happens when love is very rich and genuine and in abundance? When growing up, I felt like I could see the difference instantly.

When I tried to achieve some of my personal goals in my late twenties,.I saw a direct correlation between having a peaceful family home and having a healthy and peaceful innerlife. I realized, in my early twenties, that my parents were war traumatized and had undiagnosed PTSD. I could see that in the way that they found it so hard to ’let me go’, to how they responded to the world as a completely frightening place to be in, to witnessing moments like, when I came home from school one day, I’d seen my father in tears, exclaiming: I’ve lost everything, you’re all that I have left.

You’d think that would make me stay, but I didn’t. I went as far away as I could, to Australia, when I was 20, and lived there with my great aunt. It was actually only there that I started to unravel some of the stories that would give context to their parental style, and it was there where I could develop sincere compassion for their complex lives before having me. But it was also then the start of a long journey trying to understand what impact the war had on me, as a result of them being severely traumatized. I understood how the war never really left our home, even though they migrated from Cambodia to the Netherlands, and how the war really was housed in me too. Someone who has never seen the war.

A few things I feel have helped me personally to get through the second hand ailments of childhood war trauma. Firstly,

  1. Exercising trust - trusting yourself and others, and for the world to unfold in a positive way for you - really trusting this helps close this big black hole inside, which is fuelled with distrust and fear. And
  2. love, receiving love, being courageous enough to love, loving far and wide, is a force, I believe, which has exponential growth and effect. On you, on others, on your kids, on our future.

Much like most creative outcomes and pursuits, I have no control over this so-called interest. It just comes to me, as I paint, as a conversation goes deeper, as I come across objects. I don’t want to be a broken record on purpose, always mentioning these mental concepts, but I do believe somehow all of this has wider implications, that it’s somewhat important and meaningful beyond just my personal situation.

I think my interest lies specifically in those moments where there’s an opportunity for things to be amended, but the role models aren’t there, the blueprint hasn’t been shared, it takes a village to raise a child kind of thing, but the villagers have disappeared. So when I do look for objects, it seems as though I am attracted to things, crafted by people, which try to institutionalize this mental mapping which helps us to function as a loving adult, as a placeholder for when the villagers are absent.

Lately, Theravada Buddhism as an institutional religion has helped find what mental mapping references could possibly look like, solidified in objects, speech, commandments, ideas. This installation is called Dharma Songs, for instance, referring to an American academic translation of a specific Cambodian singing style called Smot. This singing, apparently, is unique to Cambodia considering it developed at the temples, a site for education for the poor, but also a place for cultural production. And its in this blend, that this singing style can emerge, because usually, strict Buddhist doctrine would not allow it.

I love it, because it’s so captivating, both as an object and in a sonic sense. As an artist, I am inspired by its soulful aesthetic, somewhat mischievous existence, and how it’s essentially made for a greater good.

I try to focus on these things, love, theravada buddhism, smot, because I can get carried away by spending time examining what I call the explosions of pain. Sometimes I can zoom in on war atrocities, like how the Americans carpet bombed Cambodia in secret, dropping 200,000 sorties over the span of 6 years, from when my mother was born, until the Khmer Rouge took over. I can zoom in on the fact of when the Thai government would stop water tanks from entering the refugee camp my parents were in and my brother was born in, as a way to signal Cambodians to flee the refugee camps and give up their journey to the third country. I told my partner the other day how cruel it was growing up to see my father devastated at home, from having a degree in engineering but not being able to have work because of Dutch racism. We try not to let it affect us, but there’s only so much one can do. My father was jobless for 5 years, wanted to take matters of life in his own hands, tried to become a farmer in Cambodia at age 55, and died at 60 during the pandemic, leaving my illiterate mother behind, and it took us 3 months to get her back in the Netherlands, because of tightened corona restrictions. I try and not let it get me carried away.

What helps me the most is the common understanding among my peers. Sometimes my peers can be 67 years old, such as my father-in-law whose dad is Moluccan, and who had his nose shot off as a KNIL soldier. Oftentimes my peers are African, Central and West Asian, African American, boy, girl, non binary, anyone! Anyone who is willing to understand the close proximity between oppression, privilege, pain, life, love and happiness. Anyone who does not have the arrogance to take their position in life for granted, someone who is not completely under the spell that what they have is theirs, and that others should simply earn it. Anyone who can notice and pinpoint the difference between someone shrugging and saying “this has nothing to do with me”, with someone who understands they can’t do anything about the past, but still acknowledges a painful, complex, truthful past, and imagines along with me, a possibility of future that seems brighter, more connected, more loving and more free.

I would like to end this talk by acknowledging that being in a show as an artist in the West requires a form of explicit individualism. As art shows operate as such I would like to point out that I stand here in front of you with the energy of everyone who has ever loved me, and I see you all are standing in front me, seemingly backed by the same wisdom, kindness and compassion instilled in you by others. What I am trying to say is, I did not do any of this alone. And on that note, I would like to end this talk by playing a voice note by Maya Angelou, speaking her heart about something I resonate with so much:

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