Diane Severin Nguyen Art Basel | Statements Booth N3 September 21 - 26 2021

Bureau is pleased to present a solo presentation of the work of Diane Severin Nguyen for Art Basel Statements. The booth features new photographic works installed outside the video screening room of Tyrant Star, 2019, the artist’s first major video work. Nguyen debuts her second video work If Revolution is a Sickness, 2021, this fall at the SculptureCenter, New York, which is a co-commission with the Renaissance Society in Chicago, where the work will be shown, in Spring 2022. 

Nguyen’s photographic images reveal intimate views of unfamiliar, alienated materials, doused in sensuous light and vivid color. Her complex imagery is achieved by staging materials in her studio, focusing on matter in states of transformation. She speaks of the ‘wounds’ and ‘ruptures’ she creates for the camera. Flesh-like objects are cut, pierced and burned. A baroque quality of light is sculpted through consumer grade LEDs and her iPhone flash; very little is altered in post-production. Nguyen writes, “most of my constructions are incredibly delicate or tenuous, and the camera intervenes moments before their collapse.” The amorphous subject is captured decisively by her camera, and in that instantaneous action of seizure, her work also acknowledges photography’s partnership with violence, inherent in the medium. 

Set in current day Vietnam, Nguyen’s video work Tyrant Star features scenes of rich, sometimes trash-inundated jungles and intimate interior spaces. Shot from separate static camera angles, each gorgeously saturated image gently ripples and swells. The opening shot shows a swollen plastic bag, filled with undulating jelly stars, cradled amongst tropical foliage, breathing. The slow, punctuated rhythm of this strange yet ordinary object’s breath establishes the tone for the entire work. Every static shot of the video is a perfectly engrossing tableaux: heaving, dripping, twitching; as if the tenuous constructions from her studio photography were coming to life on screen.

Tyrant Star is composed of three chapters, each one shockingly cogent and visually stunning. Nguyen writes, “the ‘star’ transmutes from symbol, to icon, to flesh; from authoritarian state star, to pop star, to abjected bodies which suffer the star”. In the first part, we see no human figures but feel their physical presence in the close-up details of a lush but degraded landscape. Over these discomfiting scenes, a melancholy dialogue is spoken in Vietnamese by a man and a woman. The text for this sequence is adapted from traditional Vietnamese folk poetry. Their dramatized voices reminisce a star-crossed history, telling a story of broken love which longs for re-unification but accepts the traumas which keep them separated. This yearning is complicated by the second chapter, where a teenage girl appears alone in her bedroom, singing a synth- pop version of Simon and Garfunkel’s 60’s protest song, The Sound of Silence. As she projects her own image through a webcam, we feel her isolation and expression of individuality in stark contrast to the intertwined couple of the previous chapter. In the final sequence, we enter into the urban space of an orphanage, where Nguyen zeroes in on the arms and legs of struggling and faceless children. Here, the slightest limbic convulsions re-emphasize the artist’s attention to the bodily and material inheritance of violence.

Diane Severin Nguyen (b. 1990 Carson, CA; lives and works between Los Angeles and New York) received her BA from Virginia Commonwealth University and an MFA from the Milton Avery Graduate School of the Arts at Bard College. Her work was included in Made in L.A. 2020: a version, Hammer Museum and The Huntington, Los Angeles, 2020-2021; and Bodies of Water: 13th Shanghai Biennale, Power Station of Art, Shanghai, China, 2021. Solo and two-person exhibitions include IF REVOLUTION IS A SICKNESS, SculptureCenter, New York, 2021; Between Two Solitudes, Stereo, Warsaw, 2021; Tyrant Star (online), Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh, 2020; Minor twin worlds, with Brandon Ndife, Bureau, New York, 2019; Reoccurring Afterlife, Empty Gallery, Hong Kong, 2019; Flesh Before Body, Bad Reputation, Los Angeles, 2019. Her 2019 video Tyrant Star has been screened at Yebisu Festival, Tokyo, 2020; IFFR Rotterdam, Netherlands, 2020; and the 57th New York Film Festival, New York, 2019. Her work is in the collections of the Hammer Museum, Carnegie Museum of Art, and The Escalette Collection of Art at Chapman University.

Nguyen’s current solo exhibition, IF REVOLUTION IS A SICKNESS, SculptureCenter, New York, will travel to The Renaissance Society, Chicago, in 2022. Forthcoming group exhibitions include Metabolic Rift, Berlin Atonal, Berlin, Germany, 2021; and Greater New York, MoMA PS1, New York, 2021.