Recycling Everyday Materials

Opening reception, January 19, 2007



This exhibition shows examples of how people in Cambodia make new use of everyday materials. By transforming available resources such as empty plastic and metal containers, second-hand fabric, engines, and rubber tires, new tools and objects are crafted for use in daily life. The purpose of the exhibition is to describe and understand the process of generating the ideas more than to make a fetish of the objects themselves, thus emphasizing the ingenuity and resourcefulness within a living culture.

The tools and objects displayed here are inspired by a contemporary life that continually introduces new materials and technologies into a changing economy. The reuse of materials has become so commonplace that the practice becomes unnoticed. During our research and documentation, we were inspired by the multiple layers of creativity and innovation that exist behind common practices such as repairing a flat tire or shredding fruit.

We can witness the loss of basic dexterity, craft and problem solving in developed countries where goods are mass-produced and basic activities such as repairing a lamp is being done by a specialized company or is simply thrown away. As Cambodia continues to develop, the everyday practices that require dexterity and ingenuity of people will change. One can presume that with the further development of manufactured goods, practices will continue to stray from their origins until they disappear.

This transition can be seen here. Hand-made forms produced with natural resources are being gradually replaced by manufactured and synthetic forms. Production using specialized manual techniques is expedited by contemporary materials. Some practices shown here retain a labor intensive process while recycling materials, such as in the lost wax casting and forging techniques used to transform ammunition into bells and blades, or quilting with synthetic garment factory scraps. Other practices are simplified, such as using a plastic bottle instead of weaving a trap to catch shrimp.

By mounting this exhibition we are aware that we are de-contextualizing these objects. From the perspective of the people who live every day with these objects it is quite awkward to see them exposed and given the status of a "museum" object. From the perspective of a foreign visitor, these objects might appear exotic. 

We hope to avoid these narrow experiences and instead provoke visitors to question and reflect on why and how these practices evolve.

Curatorial conception: Ly Daravuth
Researcher: Som Prapey

Research and Documentation project: “Tools and Practices: change and continuity”
Conception: Ingrid Muan and Ly Daravuth
Researchers: Som Prapey (2002-present), Heng Chanthol (2002-2005),
Thon Longheng (2001-2002),Chourn Bunnath and Hem Kannitha (2000-2001)

With the support of:
The Albert Kunstadter Family Foundation - The Rockefeller Foundation – The Prince Claus Fund