Break, Bind & Rebuild



06 December 2018 - 22 December 2018
A+ Works of Art

A+ Works of Art is pleased to present Break, Bind & Rebuild, a two-person exhibition featuring works by Cambodian-born artists Amy Lee Sanford and Tith Kanitha. 

The obvious similarities between Amy Lee Sanford and Tith Kanitha — gender and nation — are perhaps their least interesting commonalities. Although both artists were born in Phnom Penh, their lived experiences are vastly different. Sanford, having fled the civil war, has spent most of her life in the US. That exodus, and all that was left behind, is a cornerstone of her practice. While Tith’s art is much more abstract in form, it too emerges from the conditions surrounding her daily life in Phnom Penh. More than country, what binds these two artists are their approaches to artistic practice: in their own ways, both are intense, creative, and largely process-based.   

Sanford’s approach is more akin to the labours of a paleontologist than a memoirist — she scans, reconstructs and sorts. Despite how emotionally charged her material is, the specific contexts and content of these emotions remain a mystery. Sanford instead chooses to focus our attention on the actions surrounding such artefacts — the verbs rather than the nouns. In remembering her father, who was killed by the Khmer Rouge, Sanford models a process of meditative remembrance that is intensely personal, and yet, through her silence, is one that becomes more universal.  

Conversely, Tith’s forms are a pleasure to take in at any distance, from the surroundings in which they emerged, to the bulbous organic shapes as a whole, all the way down to the fine spiralling tendrils, cast as shadows onto the walls. They possess a startling morphology, somewhere between fabricated and grown. Indeed, when Tith discusses her sculptures, it would be easy to mistake her language to be about herself: a need for freedom, to breath, an intense energy that murmurs through everything. 

Having explored more overtly political tactics earlier in her career, now, in peeling back the layers of the politics that surround her, Tith has found that it is first and foremost free expression that she craves. In her instinctual process of creation — meticulous hours of binding and weaving —  these abstract forms soak up and then respond to her environment. But, as with sublimation or meditation, for Tith it is first and foremost the process that is healing and liberatory, in and of itself. 

In this way, Sanford and Tith are products of, immersed in, but simultaneously freed from confining aspects of national identity. Their art can speak individually, even while deeply entangled within the muck of context. As elections come and go, and political tides shift, these artists will be there: binding together new possibilities; weaving mysterious messages into wire, in search of new verbs for advocacy and rebirth, and rebuilding new possibilities for acceptance and creation. 

Break, Bind & Rebuild

Break, Bind & Rebuild 



Amy Lee Sanford and Tith Kanitha
by Ben Valentine

Artist Tith Kanitha bulk orders 0.70 mm-thick steel wire from Japan. It arrives neatly coiled, ready to serve or support any number of industrial applications. Instead of using the wire right away, Kanitha slowly unwinds the reels from their ten-inch circles, only to tightly re-furl them around a rod less than a centimeter in diameter. Oddly enough, she refers to this whole process as “untangling”. It takes many, many hours.

Once she has prepared bundles of tightly wound spring tubes of the wire, Kanitha begins a process suggestive of weaving or knitting — traditionally female crafts. However, in place of any handed-down traditional craft or art school-trained methodology, Kanitha works purely instinctually. Coils are entwined here, unraveled slightly here, then entangled and woven into a mat there. Over the last decade, this material and her process of working has become Kanitha’s signature style. She tells me that it’s vitally important that her sculptures are not perfect, that they are free to be themselves, that she follows their lead (after following her practice for a couple of years, I’m now beginning to understand what she might mean). 

. . . . . . .

Artist Amy Lee Sanford is a student of methodologies of remembering. She treasures what she refers to as “dusty boxes”, containers which most everyone has tucked away safely somewhere. Dusty from rare use, these metaphorical or real boxes are filled with things that serve no utilitarian purpose, but from which one would never part ways. They our the artefacts of our lives: the objects and memories that show us where we come from, and who we are. These are the things that one runs into a burning house to save. They are visceral facets of our identities.

Perhaps the crown jewel of Amy’s boxes are a stack of handwritten letters: page upon heavily creased page, with precious hints filled out in blue or black ink. They are all that physically remains of her relationship to her father. She is compelled to pick through them, word by word, letter by letter — to piece them back together. Perhaps she can build something whole out of mere fragments, or is she is drawing our attention to some more fundamental rupture? 

. . . . . . .

Kanitha’s sculptures appear simultaneously fabricated and also grown. They feel ancient, as though artefacts from a long forgotten, lost civilisation — or the skeletons of primordial life. The industrial material complicates this impression, yet doesn’t erase it entirely. It is easy to forget that Kanitha made these in the thick of a turbulent post-war Cambodia; she first began working with this wire as her neighbourhood and childhood-home near Boeung Kak faced mass eviction. The forms are all rorschach tests for interpretation by the viewer. They are Kanitha’s mysteriously abstract responses to the complex contexts and conditions of her life.  

When Kanitha talks about her sculptures, it would be easy to mistake her language to be about herself: a need for freedom, to breath, an intense energy that murmurs through everything. Having explored more overtly feminist tactics earlier in her career, now, in peeling back the layers of the politics that surround her, Kanitha has found that it is first and foremost free expression that she craves. In her process of creation, these abstract forms soak up and then respond to her environment. But, as with sublimation or meditation, for Kanitha it is the process of creation that is healing and liberatory, in and of itself. She is simply following her instinct.

. . . . . . .

Amy’s approach to her family history is more akin to the labours of a paleontologist than a memoirist; she scans, photographs, enlarges, and sorts. Despite how emotionally charged these objects are, her feelings about them all remain a mystery to us. Amy instead chooses to focus our attention on the actions surrounding such artifacts — the verbs rather than the nouns. What Amy models is a process of focused remembrance that is strikingly personal, and yet, in her silence, one that becomes more universal.  In doing so,  Amy enacts an intensive meditative process of confronting her past, while adopting — or at least aspiring to — an ideal of non-attachment. Amy’s relationship to memory and suffering, as evidenced throughout her performative practice, is strongly reminiscent of Buddha’s most fundamental teaching, namely, that life is a repeating cycle of suffering caused by our grasping ego.

. . . . . . .

Kanitha’s forms are a pleasure to take in at any distance, from the surrounding in which they emerge, to the bulbous organic shapes as a whole, all the way down to the fine spiraling tendrils, cast as shadows on the walls. They can be considered within her place and time, or simply as forms before us, either way, they are remarkable. Kanitha is a product of, immersed in, but simultaneously freed from the confining aspects of national identity. Her art can speak as itself, even while deeply entangled within the muck of context. As political tides shift, and elections come and go, Kanitha is there: untangling, coiling, and binding; weaving mysterious messages into wire in search of new verbs for advocacy and rebirth. 

. . . . . . .

Amy takes a loaded and emotionally entangled object that is perhaps a deep source of pain or longing, and takes it apart, confronting it fully. She does not pursue the past to change it, but to find acceptance. And as compelling and personal as her own story is, through her emphasis on verbs, we, the audience, are drawn to reflect on what might be dragging each of us down, in our own dusty boxes, and what actions we can do, to air them out.   

Break, Bind & Rebuild

06 December 2018 - 22 December 2018
A+ Works of Art

A+ Works of Art is pleased to present Break, Bind & Rebuild, a two-person exhibition featuring works by Cambodian-born artists Amy Lee Sanford and Tith Kanitha. 

The obvious similarities between Amy Lee Sanford and Tith Kanitha — gender and nation — are perhaps their least interesting commonalities. Although both artists were born in Phnom Penh, their lived experiences are vastly different. Sanford, having fled the civil war, has spent most of her life in the US. That exodus, and all that was left behind, is a cornerstone of her practice. While Tith’s art is much more abstract in form, it too emerges from the conditions surrounding her daily life in Phnom Penh. More than country, what binds these two artists are their approaches to artistic practice: in their own ways, both are intense, creative, and largely process-based.   

Sanford’s approach is more akin to the labours of a paleontologist than a memoirist — she scans, reconstructs and sorts. Despite how emotionally charged her material is, the specific contexts and content of these emotions remain a mystery. Sanford instead chooses to focus our attention on the actions surrounding such artefacts — the verbs rather than the nouns. In remembering her father, who was killed by the Khmer Rouge, Sanford models a process of meditative remembrance that is intensely personal, and yet, through her silence, is one that becomes more universal.  

Conversely, Tith’s forms are a pleasure to take in at any distance, from the surroundings in which they emerged, to the bulbous organic shapes as a whole, all the way down to the fine spiralling tendrils, cast as shadows onto the walls. They possess a startling morphology, somewhere between fabricated and grown. Indeed, when Tith discusses her sculptures, it would be easy to mistake her language to be about herself: a need for freedom, to breath, an intense energy that murmurs through everything. 

Having explored more overtly political tactics earlier in her career, now, in peeling back the layers of the politics that surround her, Tith has found that it is first and foremost free expression that she craves. In her instinctual process of creation — meticulous hours of binding and weaving —  these abstract forms soak up and then respond to her environment. But, as with sublimation or meditation, for Tith it is first and foremost the process that is healing and liberatory, in and of itself. 

In this way, Sanford and Tith are products of, immersed in, but simultaneously freed from confining aspects of national identity. Their art can speak individually, even while deeply entangled within the muck of context. As elections come and go, and political tides shift, these artists will be there: binding together new possibilities; weaving mysterious messages into wire, in search of new verbs for advocacy and rebirth, and rebuilding new possibilities for acceptance and creation. 

Break, Bind & Rebuild