Songs of Singularity

Songs of Singularity

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Tues – Sat, and by appointment, 15 Apr – 03 June 2023 , 10 am – 05 pm
Galerie Quynh
118 Nguyễn Văn Thủ, Đa Kao Ward, D.1, HCMC

From the organizer:

Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam – Galerie Quynh is pleased to present Songs of Singularity – an exhibition of new work by Brussels-based artist Trong Gia Nguyen. For his third solo exhibition at the gallery, Nguyen will exhibit four distinct, but connected bodies of work that foreground ideas of conservation, accessibility, reproduction, and attribution of artworks.

The old philosophical experiment query “If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?” has been transposed in Nguyen’s latest show into something more akin to “does a person truly exist when all material evidence of their existence has vanished?” or, as stated by the artist, “There is a tenuous relationship with the past if no objects survived that past apart from you.”

In 2021, a flood in New York destroyed the majority of the artist’s works and personal archives. Songs of Singularity starts from this ground zero of loss and questions Nguyen’s own basic notion of how we “make things” in order to preserve the personal archive. Rather than trying to close this gap, the artist chose instead to widen it, erasing history versus recovering it.

One enters the gallery through an architectural skeleton framing iron window grates that depart from their traditional geometry into the fractured, cracked glass of mobile phones. The transparent window is now the black mirror of mediated existence into which we peek, peer, and give in to darker instincts while submitting to the Matrix.

On the calmer mezzanine level, a single work replicates a wooden kitchen island. One of its long sides is walled o by a see-through infinity mirror that repeats a traditional concrete tile pattern inside the cabinet. Island activates modesty in the service of potency, whereby a single tile and pattern can replicate and monumentalize itself, on and on. Importantly, the alchemy of these tiles has been altered by mixing in energized powdered crystals with the paint pigments. Crystals were chosen in relation to both the tile’s color palette and their inherent healing characteristics: Malachite is used to ward o danger and fight illness; Carnelian restores vitality and motivation and stimulates creativity and courage; Moonstone is associated with passion, balance, and luck; and Tiger’s Eye is used to ground and cast o negativity. By charging and amplifying the domestic space, Nguyen looks at how modularity begets monumentalism at sites that have been relegated to a lesser status.

For Perpetual Paintings, the artist has sourced all manner of objects from Google’s online 3D Warehouse. Nguyen assembles new arrangements of the still life, or nature morte – literally “dead nature” in French. Items that were once tangible appear familiar yet detached, distant, and free of spatial or material limitations. In this evolving process of disappearing, the hand of the artist was next in line. A screenshot was taken of one chosen vantage point, and the painting was outsourced to a local atelier to be painted, even going so far as to have Nguyen’s own name signed on the canvas by someone else. These irreverent “anti-works” hurl toward a “private singularity”. One can see approximations and traces of the past, such as his father’s Renault Dauphine in which 14 members of the family crammed into on the day of reunification, racing against time. As companies like Open AI have made it easier to produce images and texts, and as artists respond by making more and more “stu”, Nguyen seeks refuge where his own physicality is obviated in the process. Yet his still lifes seem to exist even more actively in the digital realm.

While it is common for many established artists to work “hands-free” with assistants who produce the actual labor and output, what distinguishes Nguyen’s methodology is that he treats these paintings as one would a photograph, or even a duplicitous NFT. The notion of “rarity” is scrutinized. The original digital file of each still life is re-uploaded into the public 3D warehouse, where others can view the painting from infinite angles, in full resolution. Thus Nguyen, or someone else, can easily outsource or download the same painting over and over and over, just like a photograph except with limitless variations if so desired.

In the last gallery, in service of the sublime, Nguyen’s installation of câu đối panels similarly exits into a dematerialized, more poetic sphere. Traditionally used in pagodas, on altars, and outside homes, carved wooden couplets belong to a genre of Vietnamese prose literature written in Vietnamese Nôm characters, where two opposing, parallel sentences express its author’s sentiments in honor of certain events or occasions in daily life. Nguyen takes liberties with the rules, and has composed a number of whimsical, suggestive phrases that have travelled various roads of translation to Nôm, the ancient ideographic vernacular script of the Vietnamese language that for centuries fell in out of favor with the shifting dynasties. Today very few scholars are capable of reading it. Instead of the gilded writing, Nguyen’s câu đối panels are painted monochromatically the same color as the walls behind them, which also drips into a third text in English.

All the works train an eye to not the inevitability of mortality, but disappearance. There is an assumption that what is lost can ultimately be found, with a proper spell book. The câu đối works in the show, for example, represent a language that is practically lost in contemporary Vietnamese culture and scholarship. The words endure, even if they are cryptically a translation of Shakespeare, via Old English and contemporary Vietnamese. The hand-painted text on the walls that bridge the couplet panels act as a wave of the wand, summoning the living in spite of the dead. To the artist they are nothing but pure poetry, of that insistence from any pen that “I am here” and “I endure”. I am my own scales of justice and I have a sense of humor about it.

About Trong Gia Nguyen

Trong Gia Nguyen (born 1971, Saigon, Vietnam) is a multi-disciplinary artist known internationally for his diverse body of works that often examines structures of power in their myriad forms, making attempt to scrutinize the soft foundation upon which contemporary life plays out, often behind the façade of fairness, sincerity, tradition, and civility. Regularly employing humor while at other times engaging sober reflection, Nguyen’s work elevates the condition of doubt as it reveals and disrupts the undercarriage of our most trusted spaces – domestic, cultural, political, and economical. Nguyen’s work includes everything from iPhone applications (Metaphysical GPS) to installation, film, painting, sculpture, performances, and web-based projects.

Nguyen received his MFA in Painting at the University of South Florida, and has exhibited widely over two decades in the US and abroad, with recent solo shows including In Perpetuity, La Patinoire Royale/Galerie Valerie Bach, Brussels, Belgium (2022); The Last State, Richard Koh Projects, Bangkok, Thailand (2018); My Myopia, Cornell Museum of Fine Arts, Orlando, FL, USA (2018); and Dogg Days, Jacki Headley University Art Gallery, Chico, CA, USA (2018). Notable group exhibitions include Where the Sea Remembers, The Mistake Room, Los Angeles, CA, USA; There’ll Never Be a Door. You are Inside: Works from the Teixeira de Freitas Collection, curated by Luiza Teixeira de Freitas, Santander Art Gallery, Madrid, Spain; Gun Shy, Artspace1616, Sacramento, CA, USA; 2017 California Pacific Triennial: Building As Ever, Orange County Museum of Art, Newport Beach, CA, USA; The Book Lovers, Museum of Contemporary Art, Antwerp, Belgium; ART STAYS 2012, 10th Festival of Contemporary Art, Ptuj, Slovenia; Telefone Sem Fio: Word-Things of Augusto de Campos Revisited, EFA Project Space, New York, NY, USA; The Sixth Borough, curated by No Longer Empty, Governors Island, New York, NY, USA; Satellites in the Night, Freies Museum Berlin, Berlin, Germany; Power to the Brand, curated by Bosko Boskovic, Museum of Contemporary Art of Republic Srpska, Banja Luka, Republic Srpska; Once Upon a Time, curated by Chen Tamir and Jean Barberis, ISE Foundation, New York, NY, USA; Sequences Real Time Festival, Dwarf Gallery, Reykjavik, Iceland; 9th Havana Biennial, Fortress of the Three Kings, Havana, Cuba; Float, Socrates Sculpture Park, Long Island City, NY, USA; and Waterways, a collateral project of the 2005 Istanbul Biennial, curated by Renee Vara, Istanbul, Turkey.

Nguyen has received awards and residencies from the Museum of Arts & Design (New York), Artist-in-Residence in the Everglades, LegalArt Miami, Foundation for Contemporary Arts, Lower Manhattan Cultural Council, Harvestworks Digital Media Center, Bronx Museum of the Arts, and Pu n Foundation, among others.

About Galerie Quynh

Recognized as Vietnam’s leading contemporary art gallery, Galerie Quynh has been promoting contemporary art practice in the country for over two decades. The gallery is known internationally for its consistently focused programming and educational initiatives. Working with a select group of emerging, mid-career and established Vietnamese artists, the gallery also exhibits the work of distinguished artists from around the world.

In keeping with its mission to develop a sustainable ecosystem for the arts in Vietnam, the gallery collaborates with artists, curators, museums and art spaces locally and internationally to organize talks and lectures as well as to produce publications in English and Vietnamese. In May 2014 the gallery founded the not-for-profit educational initiative Sao Ladirected by artists Tung Mai and Nguyen Kim To Lan. Sao La has since evolved into an independent artist collective spearheaded by To Lan and Dalat-based artist Nguyen Duc Dat. In summer 2020 with support from the Goethe-Institut, the gallery launched the not-for-profit CáRô, an educational initiative that provides art education for students aged 13 – 18 who show demonstrative interest in the arts.

In December 2017 the gallery moved to Dakao, District 1. Spread over four floors totaling 600 m2, the gallery is able to produce more ambitious programming and play an even more vital role in the cultural community in Vietnam.

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