Sopheap Pich on Morning Glory as Food and Artwork

3:32 | Published on March 3, 2014 | 694 Views

Artist Sopheap Pich and curator June Yap talk about the genesis and significance of his 2011 sculpture Morning Glory, discussing the ways in which it reflects both Cambodian history and his own personal experiences. Pich explains that the work’s form and title allude to the repressive regime of the Khmer Rouge, during which the readily available plant became an important source of nutrition for an often-starving populace. They also reflect on the scale of the work, which took six months to make.

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Sopheap Pich: Three years ago, I was thinking about my childhood. I was thinking about the Khmer Rouge. I was thinking about growing up at that time, at the same time, I’m thinking about, “what is the next sculpture I’m going to make?” The words “morning glory” are just so beautiful as words, right?

June Yap: Morning Glory, which is a work that he produced in 2011, very much reflects Cambodia in its development, but also very personal experiences that the artist had.

Sopheap Pich: The words “morning glory” remind us of a bitter time. The morning glory grows easily, where there’s water, and it just grows like weed, you know—you don’t even have to plant it. It’s kind of an abundant plant. The regime at that time, they don’t let you fish, they don’t let you hunt, they don’t let you take anything out of anywhere to eat, to feed yourself. What they feed you is what you eat. And what they feed you is the cheapest thing they can give you. They save all the best for whatever they need to, you know, sell it, or whatever, trade to other countries, I don’t know. I don’t understand what they did at the time. But we were starving a lot, and the morning glory was just an essential plant. The morning glory, and the banana tree are two vegetables that we used for making soup in the commune cafeteria. As a little child, you know, I used to . . . of course, everybody goes to the commune cafeteria to eat, twice a day. And it’s always the morning glory soup, or the banana tree soup. And so, I thought, “Oh, this is such a brilliant idea. I’m going to make the two plants into sculpture.” Right? I’m going to make the banana, and I’m going to make the morning glory. Of course, when you start making the morning glory, it takes longer than you ever intended, because it became so large.

June Yap: When Sopheap was producing this work, he didn’t think he was going to produce art. He was just looking at trying to reproduce the flower in as large as was physically possible.

Sopheap Pich: So, that piece took us six months. Because the way that I started was, I made the giant flower first, and then I realized, “holy cow, it’s going to be huge,” you know.

June Yap: The work itself is very long. To appreciate it, you probably need a really large space. You want to be able to walk around it. You want to be able to actually even see through it. And I think that’s one of the interesting things about this particular work, is the fact that it’s got amazing presence, but at the same time, it’s very porous. It’s almost as if it wasn’t really there.

Sopheap Pich: Morning glory plant is actually really small, yeah? It floats on the water because it’s kind of like bamboo. There’s a tube. And it’s because very light, there’s air inside. That’s why I made the flower become a kind of significant thing, because actually the flower is just kind of, like, a bystander. I really put all the energy into that, because it is a stunning shape, you know? It’s kind of like the RCA gramophone, right? It’s a very beautiful shape.

June Yap: It’s aesthetically, extremely pleasing. But yet, it has all this past to it.

Sopheap Pich: I wanted to get at something a little deeper, perhaps. You can see the emotion that goes into making it. It turns, and twists, you know? Twisting and struggling—that has to do with the history there, you know?  Really trying to express in an almost unexpressive way, right? So, I’m interested in those sort of subtle ideas, or subtle languages.