What Is My Work About?
In the 1960’s, the alternative thinker and teacher Buckminster Fuller went around the world presenting an urgent question. He was convinced that humankind had to choose between “utopia or oblivion.” In other words, we have no time to waste and our work could only lead to one or the other.In my work, I am always attempting to consciously respond to this question. My art practice is based in reality?making. This kind of approach to art is rooted in engaging with social, natural, and industrialized ecologies to produce moments of poetry. Rather than producing critical structures or creative fictions, I have been drawn to constructing minor utopias or situation?poems that could potentially allow for a more just and conscious world. My practice’s relationship with our ecological and sociological structures resembles a skateboarders approach to architecture or a surfers relationship to the ocean.
When making work, I find that the longest route is always the most efficient. Perhaps this is true of everything, but I am convinced it is especially true of making art. I think this is because the complete experience of making art can never be summarized or simulated. The logic to my art-making may be same one that informed George Brecht’s text piece Exercise (1961):
Determine the limits of an object or event.
Determine the limits more precisely.
Repeat, until further precision is impossible.
For me, Brecht’s decision to title the piece Exercise speaks to the integral idea that an art practice is a perpetual project that you are always in the midst of—something infinite so that its trajectory is as close to you as its origin. A process of taking something from the infinite to the physical, the choreography to the dance, the song to the singer—an eternal practice; an exercise.
The word, exercise is made up of two Latin roots, ex (thoroughly) and arcere (to keep in). I would like to place this next to its antonym, the word exorcism, which many of us are familiar with from Catholic ritual, and means to ‘thoroughly cast—out,’ the (usually) unwanted spirits that may haunt us.
Within the echos of the ‘exorcise’ underpinned by a subtext of spirituality, I would like to return to Brecht’s Exercise, that calls for the rather impossible task of “determining the limits of an object or event…” that one is to “Repeat, until further precision is impossible.” thus inferring a sort of prayer or meditation. And so, an exercise becomes the inversion of an exorcism and can be understood as a sort of spiritual séance. If an exorcism casts out spirits than an exercise is to welcome being invaded by spirits, to be taken by ideas. After this invasion, it is then the job of the artist to express these concepts in the physical world as a diverse assembly of actions, words, sounds, or things.
This logic of exercise expands the sites where we once may have compartmentalized sites of work and non-work. With the conscious inclusion of exercise, art-making becomes something else. It begins to encompass all that surrounds it: the immaterial, the invisible, the gestural. It is work to talk about work. It is work to think about work. It is work to think. It is work to write. It is work to read. It is work to listen. It is work to look. It is work to enter relationships. It is work to rest. Just as much as it is work to make work. However, it is not work to wait. Waiting might be the only thing that is not work.
Formally, this method of making work has produced a varied body of art that bares little formal resemblance from one piece to the next. However, they all adhere to a logic I call ‘reality-making.’ Reality-making is a dedication to producing events that do not differentiate between ‘artworld’ and ‘non—artworld.’ This has lead to many creative interventions and improbable real-world scenarios.
For the 4th Singapore Biennale, I recorded Carolyn Hopkins reading my poetry in a work titled The Voice (2013). Hopkins’ voice has been prolifically employed in telecommunication systems around the globe for a quarter of a decade. The spaces where Hopkins’ voice can be heard include any airport terminal with a incoming or USA bound flight, every stop along the New York City MTA subway system, and many other telecom or voice-automated systems. This has made her voice, one of the most listened to in the world. Her recorded voice usually announces the arrivals of planes at gates or the departures of trains and so her recognizable mid-western accent has come to conjure authority, comfort, and trust. When her voice was heard reading five different poems made up of the same hundred or so sentences that I then cut up and looped, and simultaneously broadcast across 5-channels of the entrance to the Singapore Art Museum, it asked viewers to question their relationship to knowledge, autonomy, subjectivity, and freedom.
Continuing the concerns over pedagogy, truth and knowledge that I explored with the The Voice, I created a work titled An Act of God (2014) for the 2014 Moscow International Biennale of Young Art at the Moscow Museum of Modern Art. This title refers to the legal speak describing events that exist beyond the boundaries of human intervention. The phrase was created to excuse insurance companies of financial responsibility in such instances. This piece initially involved teaching a lyrebird, known for its amazing ability to mimic sounds, to simulate a techno music rhythm. In the forests of Australia, the lyrebird mimics the sounds of its habitat, and for the past few years, ironically also uncannily reproduces the sounds of chainsaws that are destroying the birds ecosystem. Because of issues importing the specific breed from its home in Australia, I improvised and taught an African Gray Parrot the word ‘news’ in order to convey the same dissipation between mankind’s impact upon and increasingly complicated relationship with nature. Indeed, the work produced a situation where viewers could confront the problematic tendency to distance ourselves from nature by actually experiencing in the museum, the phenomena of an animal adopting human language.
A recent work I made titled Dancers On A Plane (REAL DMZ) (2014), initiated by the ArtSonje Museum in Seoul, South Korea, curated by Nicolaus Hirsch and Sunjung Kim took place on the North and South Korean border in a contested area of land known as the DMZ. I installed various types of domestic flooring and lighting to make a sculpture. The sculpture was later activated with a dance I choreographed in which local children read from a script made up of found statements from a conflict—resolution pamphlet. This installation stood in stark contrast to its bucolic background, which has been allowed to remain fallow and undeveloped because of the civil war that divided Korea into two countries.
In one of my latest works titled First Kiss (2014), I created large sculptures out of polystrene that were then assembled into a structure much like the sandstone ruins of Angkor Wat in Siem Reap, Cambodia. I had visitors of the exhibition inscribe onto them the dates of their first kiss. While polystyrene is usually a single use material — it evokes mail packaging, temporary cups, the inherently dosposable — the material compound itself takes thousands of years to decompose. I found this paradox of material decomposition and the culture of single-use compelling. In a similar way, the ruins, which their composition refers to, lose their initial function and lead completely separate lives as tourist attractions after have been abandoned by an ancient civilization. The inscription of the date of a first kiss becomes both monumental and forgettable all at once. The historical events that paralleled those various dates of visitors’ first kisses also carried deep personal and cultural histories with them. For instance, my first kiss took place the same year as the attacks of September 11.
Another artwork I made titled If It Weren’t For Bad Luck, I’d Have No Luck At All (2013) multiplied a ubiquitous doormat by three times its usual size. Rather than the word “WELCOME” that is usually emblazoned upon doormats, I carved out the words “PURE LUCK.” This work references my own biography. My parents met in a labor camp during the Khmer Rouge lead Cambodian genocide, a terrible stain in history and traumatic period of time my parents survived to eventually move to the United States. While both parents lost most of their family members to the genocide, had it not been for this atrocity, it is likely that my parents would have never met. In this work, I grapple with the systems of power that not only inform, but contain, our individual narratives. My birth relied on the destructive as much as it does the creative: in this, my very being reflects the intersection of the historical and the personal, the conflation of the horrific and the romantic. My art practice tries to do the same.
These works display a diverse practice not because of the desire to be a multidisciplinary artist, but because the work is a transposition of the infinitely complex world we inhabit. It is the result of a conscious and constant exercise that acknowledges the strange gift of being here, now, and knowing that now is always all we have. It is the result of practicing openness, sensitivity, and being present for messages that are being broadcast to us. It is the result of working. Working always as an artist. Because everything else I’ve tried could never be enough. Always working—and to the best of my ability, never waiting.
b. 1987 Long Beach, California, USA
Bachelor of Fine Arts (AA), Fine Arts, 2012 California Institute of th Arts Valencia, CA, USA
Associate in Science for Transfer (AA-T), Anthropology, 2008 Pasadena College, Pasadena, CA, USA
Coursework in Anthropology and Postcolonial Studies, 2007 Oxford Brookes University, Oxford, United Kingdom
“Xilitla,” SA SA BASSAC, solo exhibition, Phnom Penh, Cambodia, 10 October — 29 November, 2014
“The Real DMZ Project,” ArtSonje Museum, group exhibition, Cheorwon-gun, Gangwon-do, South Korea, 31 August — 27 September, 2014
“A Time For Dreams,” the 4th Moscow International Biennale for Young Art, Moscow Museum of Modern Art, Moscow, Russia, Curated by David Elliot, 25 June — 8 September, 2014
“Albert Samreth & Gor Soudan,” Yamamoto Gendai, two person exhibition, Tokyo, Japan, 12 — 26 July, 2014
“Veils,” The Underground Museum, group exhibition, Los Angeles, California, 5 April — 22 May, 2014
“No New Friends,” Sunday, group exhibition, Los Angeles, California, 12 — 19 February, 2014
“Solo For Love Song,” Family Bookstore, solo presentation and publication launch, Los Angeles, California, 15 January — 3 February, 2014
“If The World Changed,” the 4th Singapore Biennale 2013, Singapore Art Museum, Singapore, 26 October 2013 — 16 February 2014
“The Joy of Fear,” The ImpermanentCollection, group exhibition, Los Angeles, California, 6 April — 18 May, 2013
“…Know Know,” SA SA BASSAC, solo exhibition, PhnomPenh, Cambodia, 9 March — May 2013
“The Joy of Fear,” The Impermanent Collection, group exhibition, Los Angeles, California, 6 April — 18 May, 2013
“Bring Your Own Beamer,” TRANSMISSION, Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA), group exhibition, Los Angeles, California, 5 May, 2012
“Non-Profit, Self-Titled, Solo-Projects,” California Institute of the Arts (CalArts), thesis exhibition, Valencia, California, 9 — 14 April, 2012
“Profiles in Community,” Phantom Galleries, Group exhibition, Long Beach, CA, 12 February — 2 March, 2011
Brian Curtin, “Albert Samreth,” Frieze Magazine,September 2013 – Issue 157
Alberto Cuadros, “Albert Samreth’s “…Know, Know”” atSA SA BASSAC, Cambodia, SFAQ International Arts & Culture, May 2013
Viviana Mejía, “Places of Art: Cambodian Artists in the Biennale,” ARTICLE Magazine, December 2013
Yohann Koshy, “Albert Samreth’s Immortal Jellyfish,” Vice.com, August 2014