Artist Diane Severin Nguyen found inspiration in K-pop and Poland

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“Sometimes, to turn your pain or your story into something readable for others, you have to adhere to a diet,” explains artist Diane Severin Nguyen. “You have to join a group to give your story symbolic value. “

Group identity is at the heart of Nguyen’s new video art piece, “If Revolution Is a Sickness,” on display alongside a photographic installation at the SculptureCenter in Long Island City. At the beginning of September, during a press preview, the artist viewed the film from start to finish in a group in the upper exhibition space. Afterwards, people approached her with their reactions; some were moved, some felt sad and others were crying.

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The nuance of a similar but individual experience within a larger group is at the heart of the video. Nguyen traveled to Poland last summer to film the project, shortly after the country’s lockdown order was lifted. The play explores the politics of identity through a young Vietnamese child in Poland who immerses himself in a K-pop dance group. Working closely with a Vietnamese choreographer who often works in Korea, Nguyen chose local teenage Polish dancers to perform an original choreography.

Diane Severin Nguyen: “If revolution is a disease,” installation view, SculptureCenter, New York, 2021. - Credit: Courtesy of Charles Benton

Diane Severin Nguyen: “If Revolution Is a Sickness”, installation view, SculptureCenter, New York, 2021. – Credit: Courtesy of Charles Benton

Courtesy of Charles Benton

Encore de <em>“If the revolution is a disease. </em> - Credit: courtesy Courtesy

Nguyen was drawn to the divisive tension within Vietnamese diasporic groups in Europe, lines often invisible to those outside the group. Several years ago, while in Berlin, she noticed two distinct Vietnamese communities in Germany, defined primarily by whether they were from northern or southern Vietnam. These differences were influenced in large part by the alliances made during the Cold War. In Poland, she noticed a large Vietnamese population compared to the rest of Europe.

During the pandemic, Nguyen also became more interested in K-pop, both as a fan and as an artist. She noticed that there was an Eastern European aesthetic in many K-pop music videos. And then she discovered the world of Polish K-pop dance cover videos.

“It was a bit of an obsessive thing,” she says. “I take photographic images, and therefore I always think of the space in which the image is formed,” she adds. “In K-pop, everything is so dense in images. Even the dance is extremely schematic and colorful in the way it mixes everything up. And I find that kind of movement, of combining all of these disparate things and almost alienating them from their original source, is a very photographic way of thinking and looking at the world.

The militaristic aspect of the genre – the perfectly synchronized dance routines – also made him think of the division between North Korea and South Korea. From seemingly disparate inspirations, his video piece emerged.

The title of the exhibition, “The Revolution is a Disease,” is both the title of one of his earlier photographs and a chapter in a book debating whether revolution is a rational or an irrational act.

Nguyen remains ambivalent. Although she criticizes groups and the efforts to represent a group, she recognizes their importance and is interested in exploring this contradiction.

“As an artist I’m probably more critical of the group space,” she says. “I am wary of symbolic power. And I don’t like the way capitalism cooperates every space of difference and doesn’t allow negativity to exist, ”says Nguyen. “I think the movie is about bringing back some of that negativity, even though it shows the process of assimilation.”

“If Revolution Is a Sickness” is on view until December 13, 2021.

Diane Severin Nguyen: “If revolution is a disease,” installation view, SculptureCenter, New York, 2021. - Credit: Courtesy of Charles Benton

Diane Severin Nguyen: “If Revolution Is a Sickness”, installation view, SculptureCenter, New York, 2021. – Credit: Courtesy of Charles Benton

Courtesy of Charles Benton

Diane Severin Nguyen, “As if it was the last,” 2021. LightJet C-print, steel frame.  30 x 24 inches (76.20 x 60.96 cm).  Courtesy of the Artist and the Bureau, New York.  - Credit: Courtesy of Dario Lasagni

Diane Severin Nguyen, “As If It Was Your Last”, 2021. C LightJet print, steel frame. 30 x 24 inches (76.20 x 60.96 cm). Courtesy of the Artist and the Bureau, New York. – Credit: Courtesy of Dario Lasagni

Courtesy of Dario Lasagni

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