With Homemade Napalm and K-pop Anthems, Photographer-Filmmaker Diane Severin Nguyen Is Forging a New Genre of Image

by AryanArtnews
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Diane Severin Nguyen not only takes pictures, but when she takes pictures, she becomes a kind of mad scientist. In front of the lens, she stands an ad hoc tableau, and Frankenstein assembles both natural and synthetic, exotic and quartzian materials together. For example, fish skins or ribbed plastic tubes. Or latex gloves and toenail clippings. Often they are soaked in an unnamed goo of gatorade color or activated by a sort of coarse chemistry. Napalm is my favorite trick. She found the recipe on the internet.

Still, even if I explain these materials, I’m not sure if they are in the photos. By manipulating light, depth of field, and good old crops, the artist removes indexicality from the image, as well as documentary essentials. What we see looks familiar, but not.

That is the core paradox of Nguyen’s photography, occupying an ambiguous space between abstraction and representation. They make you want words, but when you try to find them, you are always short and instead find the limits of the language. At best, you are left with adjectives about how they feel: dull, disgusting, tasty, sick.

Kill This Love (2021) Courtesy of the artist and bureau, New York. Photo: Dario Rasagni. “width =” 849 “height =” 1024 “srcset =” https://news.artnet.com/app/news-upload/2021/12/SC_Nguyen_4096-849×1024.jpeg 849w, https://news.artnet.com /app/news-upload/2021/12/SC_Nguyen_4096-249×300.jpeg 249w, https://news.artnet.com/app/news-upload/2021/12/SC_Nguyen_4096-41×50.jpeg 41w, https://news .artnet.com/app/news-upload/2021/12/SC_Nguyen_4096-1591×1920.jpeg 1591w “size =” (max-width: 849px) 100vw, 849px “/>

Diane Severin Nguyen, Kill this love (2021). Courtesy of the artist and bureau, New York. Photo: Dario Rasagni.

Her first solo exhibition was held before meeting Nguyen at the Sculpture Center in New York.If the revolution is sickWill be seen until December 13th, but I wondered if she would figure out the descriptor as well. She had a lot to say.

“It doesn’t matter what is being filmed. My composition emphasizes a moment …[Everything] It is a perpetual motion. Nothing is stable, “said the 30-year-old artist, sitting cross-legged on a bench in the central courtyard, where the sound of the exhibition’s masterpieces echoed from the inside. Of the photos (many of which are MoMAPS1 “”Greater New York“Exhibition), she explained. “It’s a double effect. It creates a moment of transformation and uses the material for the aura, not the function or symbol.”

Nguyen speaks more like a scholar than an artist, going back and forth between references to art theory, philosophy, and pop culture, often with the same sentence, just occasionally smoking an e-cigarette. She is a novel thinker. For her, music is photography, and photography is fluid. She talks about still image objects like her close friends and talks about her movie actors as props. It can be difficult to catch up.

But the artist himself has clarified her aesthetic purpose. “I think it’s all just an attempt to counter this Cartesian mind-body dualism, where we want to look better, see more, and classify,” she says. I did. [can be] Even when it comes to sympathy and “empowerment,” it has been weaponized. ”

ダイアン・セヴェリン・グエンが<i> IF REVOLUTION IS A SICKNESS </ i>I am involved in the shooting of (2021). Courtesy of the artist.  “width =” 768 “height =” 1024 “srcset =” https://news.artnet.com/app/news-upload/2021/12/P3221533-3-768×1024.jpeg 768w, https://news.artnet .com / app / news-upload / 2021/12 / P3221533-3-225×300.jpeg 225w, https://news.artnet.com/app/news-upload/2021/12/P3221533-3-38×50.jpeg 38w , https://news.artnet.com/app/news-upload/2021/12/P3221533-3-1440×1920.jpeg 1440w “size =” (max-width: 768px) 100vw, 768px “/></p>
<p class=Filmed at work by Diane Severin Nguyen If the revolution is sick (2021). Courtesy of the artist.

Nguyen hesitates to share many details about her career and personal life. The daughter of a Vietnamese refugee, she was born in 1990 in Carson, California, on the outskirts of southern Los Angeles. Her parents hardly spoke English. She grew up primarily “deprived of Western media and music.” And it certainly later contributed to her skepticism about such cultural power.

She earned a bachelor’s degree from Virginia Commonwealth University with a degree in political science and did not study art until she returned to Los Angeles around 2014. She was in her mid-20s and was doing a series of “random jobs”.

Photography has appeared in the world of Nguyen. Photography is an area of ​​interest to her, “because it gave me quicker access to express ideas.” Initially, driven by the desire to dismantle the image and reveal its subtleties, she soon realized that she continued to invest in that potential. “I found it an interesting contradiction. Art has always turned photography into this false thing, an illusion or something,” she said. “I understood that, but at the same time I continued to feel that the images could be very moving, powerful and spiritual.”

ダイアン・セヴェリン・グエン、<i>Like the last</ i>(2021). Courtesy of the artist and bureau, New York. Photo: Dario Rasagni.  “width =” 857 “height =” 1024 “srcset =” https://news.artnet.com/app/news-upload/2021/12/SC_Nguyen_4099-857×1024.jpeg 857w, https://news.artnet.com /app/news-upload/2021/12/SC_Nguyen_4099-251×300.jpeg 251w, https://news.artnet.com/app/news-upload/2021/12/SC_Nguyen_4099-42×50.jpeg 42w “size =” (max -width: 857px) 100vw, 857px “/></p>
<p class=Diane Severin Nguyen, As if it was your last (2021). Courtesy of the artist and bureau, New York. Photo: Dario Rasagni.

In 2018, she enrolled in a graduate school at Bard College, where she began taking the above pictures. She was thinking about colonization, communism, and the role of cameras in strengthening the structure of power throughout the 20th century. “In my mind, I always make a theory about how images correspond to different economic and political systems.”

To explain this, she provided a historical anecdote. In communist North Vietnam in the 1960s, photographers smuggled into low-quality cameras from abroad, often with only a handful of film rolls at a time. Because they use very few frames, they carefully staged the photo before putting their finger on the shutter, in search of perfection. The photographs were promotional, the workforce was praised, and the women wielded guns, but unlike commercial photographs, they were also technically sophisticated. They were far from the other images we know from this era, taken by photojournalist who recorded the war. She pointed out that the photographs were more naturalistic, but also driven by political ideology.

Nguyen began to identify the latter picture as an American capitalist gimmick. “In documentary images, it’s important to take as many pictures as you like and choose a story later,” she explained. “There is an editing process available with material wealth and access.”

If the two approaches of documentary and staging exist as poles on the axis, her own image can be tapped in the middle of the muddy. “For me, it’s about combining these two spaces to show how they support each other,” she continued.

"Diane Severin Nguyen: If the revolution is sick," Installation View, SculptureCenter, New York, 2021. Photo: Charles Benton.

Installation View, Diane Severingen: If the Revolution is Sick, SculptureCenter, New York, 2021. Photo: Charles Benton.

In her bard’s dissertation, Nguyen moved to digital video and began incorporating elements that her stills clearly resisted, such as familiar people, recognizable locations, and plots. “The emotional soap opera in my photographs comes from both the desire and the failure to express everything that surrounds them,” she said. “My filmmaking approach outlines this process. I analyze the symbolic system in which the photographs are formed, but I may refuse to speak directly.”

That is especially true of her latest movie, If the revolution is sick (2021), the focus of her exhibition at the Sculpture Center. Projected onto a screen on stage, bordered by silk curtains, surrounded by scarlet carpets reminiscent of both the movie premiere and the Soviet flag. It follows a young Vietnamese girl named Veronica heading to modern Poland with Cold War and concrete, with traces of the Cold War everywhere after being washed away on the distant coast. There she joins an up-and-coming K-pop group (which turns out to be a big genre in Eastern countries), whose members grab newcomers through strange rituals.

After all, the protagonist finds liberation through dance and at the same time finds identity through assimilation. The movie itself is, in a sense, so. What began as a mysterious work of art (a solemn piano etude is played when the narration speaks of reminiscences about the revolution by left-wing thinkers like Hannah Arendt and Ulrike Mainhoff) is when it transforms. Find a more accessible frequency to, essentially a K-pop music video, sounding like a candy, but lyrically set to a song that can be read like a Marxian manifest. “Fight the future with passion and a red heart / join the workers and farmers and march,” Veronica sings.

ダイアン・セヴェリン・グエン、<i>If the revolution is sick</ i>(2021). Courtesy of the artist and bureau, New York.  “width =” 1024 “height =” 576 “srcset =” https://news.artnet.com/app/news-upload/2021/12/SC_Nguyen_Still021-1024×576.jpeg 1024w, https://news.artnet.com /app/news-upload/2021/12/SC_Nguyen_Still021-300×169.jpeg 300w, https://news.artnet.com/app/news-upload/2021/12/SC_Nguyen_Still021-50×28.jpeg 50w “size =” (max -width: 1024px) 100vw, 1024px “/></p>
<p class=Diane Severin Nguyen, If the revolution is sick (2021). Courtesy of the artist and bureau, New York.

Nguyen’s photographs captivate viewers by sneaking into slippery spaces between recognizable genres, but the film incorporates soap opera and filmmaking practices and relies on the charisma of talented actors and dancers. , How. It is a movement that represents an important evolution in the artist’s own practice. While her stills freeze the unstable moments in the movie, she presses play again to allow the subject to move in that marginal area.

“The characters in the film mostly create scenarios and compositions that convey the most complex scenarios they create with photographs,” said Sohrab Mohebbi, curator of the Sculpture Center who commissioned the film.

I remember the conversation with Nguyen during the production If the revolution is sick, Mohebbi points out repetitive questions that are also central to the final product. “One of the questions I asked her when she was working on a movie was,” Diane, is this a kind of propaganda? ” I don’t think so, but at this point it’s not an idealism, but it’s still interesting to think about how to create a revolutionary image. “

I didn’t ask Nguyen this question, but the last song in her movie is “If the Revolution is Sick” and Veronica is in the bridge “I want to get sick, I want to get sick!” I will provide the answer.

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