Tools and practices

Change and continuity in the Cambodian countryside

Opening reception, March 14, 2001



The idea to collect and exhibit a set of "traditional tools", gathered from the Cambodian countryside, began as the project of a group of students from the Department of Archaeology of the Royal University of Fine Arts. Over a period of months, working in collaboration with Reyum, the students traveled to the countryside and gathered the collection of tools which we display here.

Their activity could seem to replicate the actions of those who today traverse the countryside, gathering what they regard as quaint and handmade, in order to sell such objects to urban and foreign buyers. We are uncomfortable with the trajectory by which long-standing ways of survival in the countryside become sources of decoration for those who live "modern" and "developed" lives. At the same time however, we think that ways of living in the countryside provide an important resource for the future and a counterbalance to the rush to develop.

Therefore we wondered if there was a way to show the practicality and ingenuity of practices in the countryside to an audience which has largely abandoned such habits. By their very nature, exhibitions tend to show objects for visual contemplation and thus to cut out living practices and ongoing uses. While our exhibition is certainly guilty of this as well, we have tried to keep the dynamic of the tools displayed by emphasizing their use, the way they are made, and the meaning which they carry. By doing so, we hope that viewers will consider the larger social habits and ways of life embodied in the tools exhibited here.

Our exhibition is one small step in what we hope will be an ongoing process of thinking and researching. The catalogue which accompanies the exhibition expands upon the tools and themes presented here.