“’Performance is Contemporary:’ Performance and its Documentation in Visual Art in Cambodia” is the title of an essay published in Udaya, Journal of Khmer Studies, no. 12 (2014). This is a special issue of the journal focused on modern and contemporary arts and aesthetics in Cambodia, co-edited by Ashley Thompson and Pamela N. Corey. The full issue (as well as all back issues of Udaya, Journal of Khmer Studies) can be viewed online here; access is free but users must register for a login. My essay can also be downloaded here.
Below is an abstract for my essay:
This essay is a study of performance and performativity in visual art in contemporary Cambodia. I argue that, while stage performances often draw on existing traditions of performance, and rapidly codify new conventions, performance in visual art is largely uninterested in existing traditions of performance, and instead relies on systems of codification from visual art, especially photography. In close readings of performance works by Khvay Samnang, Lim Sokchanlina, Amy Lee Sanford, and Anida Yoeu Ali, I argue that documentation is central to the performance practices of visual artists, and that live and mediatized performances are mutually dependent and inter-animating. I suggest four key, overlapping reasons for the centrality of documentation to performances by visual artists. These are: firstly, that artists in Cambodia are chiefly exposed to international performances through documentation rather than in live form; secondly, that documentation renders performance legible as visual art in the contemporary Cambodian context; thirdly, that photo- and video-documenting is an automatic and everyday activity in urban Cambodia for those with access to the technology; and finally, that the format of some performances is actually shaped by the apparatuses used to record their documentation. I conclude by proposing that any meaningful understanding of contemporaneity in the Cambodian context must encompass performance in all its forms.