Friday, March 20, 2009

Christine Nguyen's Dark Radiance

While visiting ART LA in January, I became fascinated by a piece of work that seemed to be a photographic negative print of some sort of enigmatic process that could have been occurring at either a subcellular or cosmic level. It was dark yet radiant, organic yet artificial, evocative yet impenetrable. The artist who created this paragon of contradictions was Christine Nguyen, a 31-year-old California native who currently has an exhibition called "Dark Matter of Fact" at Angels Gate Cultural Center in San Pedro which runs until April 11th.

"Halite Cloud"

My friends and I decided to make the expedition down to San Pedro to see the opening of the exhibit a few weeks ago, and it turned out to be one of the most glorious afternoons of my life. If you haven't explored the coastal parks of Pedro on a beautiful Saturday afternoon, give yourself a treat this weekend.

We were all awed by Christine's work, which exhibits mysterious resonances, syncopations and profundities while evoking myriad associations – fantastical subaquatic ecosystems, invisible spectral energies, radioactive images of subcellular chemistry, x-rays of unearthly objects, phosphorescent denizens of the crushing ocean depths, the unknown reaches of outer space.

"Ocean Within an Ocean"

As though sketching in the dark with a neon pencil, Christine creates both abstract compositions and fantastical narratives involving airborne boats, flying islands, crystalline cities and luminous forests. "My work draws upon the imagery of science, but it is not limited to technologies of the present," she wrote. "It imagines that the depths of the ocean reach into outer space, that through an organic prism, vision can fluctuate between the micro- and macroscopic. I have been developing a personal cosmology in which commonalities among species, forms, and environment become visible and expressive, suggesting past narratives and possible futures."

"Embracing the Invisible"

Christine's work begins with a rather naïve drawing on several layers of semitransparent mylar in pencil and pen, with thin washes of acrylic, ink and watercolor, sometimes enhanced with a spatter of spray paint or an array of glitter. Often she will finish a drawing by causing bubbly salt encrustations to form on its surface, which create fascinating effects in the photographic phase of the process which follows.

"Flying Boats"

Christine explained, "My recent work has been 'photo-based,' in that it combines drawing and photographic processes. 'Negatives' are drawn on layers of mylar, which are projected onto light-sensitive paper. The paper is developed in a color processor, creating a camera-less photographic image. In addition to watercolor and ink, I use materials such as salt water, seaweed, coral, minerals, and crystals to manipulate the 'negative' and the print. The total process is similar to that of making a photogram."

"Nebulonic Rings"

Christine's work is inspired and informed by the green utopia envisioned in the 1975 novel Ecotopia, as well as visionary architect Buckminster Fuller's hopeful concern for the future of "Spaceship Earth" and its passengers, and the ideas of 1960s avant-garde architectural group Archigram, which playfully envisoned futurist technocratic concepts like the Walking City, the Instant City and the Living Pod.

"Sailing to the Kelp Forest"

"I start by drawing intuitively, allowing short personal narratives to develop," Christine described. "Then I visualize the formation, sound and movement of the creatures, as well as the environment. I envision this world to fluctuate between the macro and micro. The pictorial images simultaneously reference outer space and cellular structures. The drawings act like maps, but are boundless. I find myself discovering more about this world as I create its various systems, some of which include transportation, communication and transformation. All waste materials are a source of energy or food for others, creating a self-sustaining ecotopia. And like all things that evolve, death and decay exist side-by-side with procreation and birth."

"Emergence of the Kelp Deers"

"I am interested in the biological and social interactions between these imaginary beings," she added. "They are constantly traveling, sharing information, distributing various resources and constructing cities in an almost ritualistic manner. I question how they relate to one another and what their main 'duties' of existence are. How do they contribute and exist in this recycled world, where everything is interconnected? Compelled to investigate this world's ecosystem and social beings, I find this to be a lifetime project."

"Migration Over the Woods and its Strange Powers"

One particularly impressive element of Christine's work is that she has devised a method for displaying it at an imposing size. Her 2006 installation at the Hammer Museum was so large that she required scaffolding to erect it. The current exhibit has a similar (though somewhat less enormous) installation, which you'll just have to go see for yourself.

"Leaves are Falling"

My fantasy is that someday I will have the resources – and enough wall space – to have one of these crazy subaqueous installations in my own home.

Christine Nguyen's exhibit at Angels Gate Cultural Center, "Dark Matter of Fact," runs through April 11th.


Friday, March 13, 2009

Kelly Vivanco's "Strange Happenings"

Next Friday, March 20th, the fabulous Kelly Vivanco will be showing with Juri Ueda and Rudy Fig in an exhibit entitled "Strange Happenings" at Rotofugi in Chicago. There will be pensive waifs exploring a surreal twilight forest, resourceful birds and intrepid rodents making their way through an otherworldly storybook swamp, and best of all, there will be inspiration, wonder and mystery. Also be sure to mark your calendars for the solo show Kelly has coming up on June 13th at Thinkspace and an in-depth interview here at Erratic Phenomena, just before that show.


As you might recall, I'm pretty enthusiastic about Kelly's work, and fortunately we've had a chance to discuss it from time to time over the last two years. A couple of months ago, Kelly and I got to talking about this and that, and she said a few amazing things that, with her permission, I thought I'd share with the world.

Kelly Vivanco: I don't offer too much commentary on my work. The things people come up with are totally different than what I would come up with, and faceted to match their personalities and hopes and experiences – like unlocking a billion alternate universes with one image, a fractalized experience. That's kind of how I see it, like dropping ink in a glass of water and all the tendrils blossom out... and if you say, "This is what it means," the tendrils all suck in to the static drop and it stays motionless. Religion does that. So do books that give interpretations of dreams. I guess everything does, even our interpretation of who we are. Maybe that is the feeling we have when we are little, that wonder feeling. The world is enormous and magical. Then we grow up and see mundane explanations for the magical experiences, and everything gets boxed up and shelved.

Erratic Phenomena: Yes, that's kind of why I buy art – when I see a painting that brings back that magical feeling for me, that wonder.

KV: We still have it! I wonder what it is like to be someone who doesn't enjoy fiction or someone who cannot empathize or imagine. I guess some people are more concerned about what or who. I like the hows and whys – not too big on whens.


KV: People tell me my work is priced too low – I guess in comparison to other artists at my 'level' or whatever. I tell them I would rather have it go, sell, move, and keep the flow going than to kill off anyone's intention of starting a collection. I also don't mind keeping my prices lowish because I would rather have people collect it because they love it rather than as a 'stock.' If I couldn't keep up with demand, I would raise them, I suppose. I guess I do as I would like to see, maybe as I would like to be able to collect.

EP: Ordinary people can buy your work, which isn't the case with most artists who are at your level. Ordinary people like me.

KV: You love art. I like that you get excited about art and save up for what you love. It means so much more to have affection for expression than to treat art as a commodity. The only original pieces I have are from people I have traded with, though I did buy a Sandra Equihua and an Andrew Hem.

EP: I don't know why someone would buy a painting that doesn't move them, but lots of people do.

"Grass Whistle"

KV: The first piece I had at Thinkspace was for the "Square Foot" show curated by Blaine Fontana, whom I had met at his show at Distinction earlier in the year. He bought one of my pieces from my studio and asked me to be in the show later on. I'm really thankful that he saw something in my work that he wanted to see more of. He is a really nice guy and his wife Eugenie is very cool, too.

EP: I love it when I hear of artists buying other artists' work... and I always think what they buy sheds light on the artist a bit. Do you know of any other artists who own your work?

KV: It is a bit surreal to have someone you have heard of, know their work and such, owning one of your pieces. Oh, I traded with Jock Sturges, he's a photographer.

EP: Wow, Jock Sturges is great! I was kind of a photography person before I discovered your work at Thinkspace, so I know about him.

KV: He contacted me and said, "'Stumbled' on your site and the more I looked the more I liked. I wonder if you know my work and, if you do, if you might consider a trade and/or collaboration? Jock Sturges." And I was doubletaking.

EP: I love that! How flattering.

KV: Seriously. So I said "Hi Jock, I do know your work, that is, if you are the photographer Jock Sturges, and not an insurance adjuster from Duluth. I would be honored to trade or collaborate. What did you have in mind? ~ Kelly." It went from there. He said some really amazing things about my work. It was great to get his perspective and hear why he connected with it. Let me paste a bit of what he wrote.
"I didn't think to take the time, by the way, to tell you how much I admire your painting. I see a bit of Egon Schiele, a very little bit of John Currin, a bit of Dalí, and then some manga as well. You handle paint beautifully and have an engaging tendency to invoke metaphor in your grounds. Your subjects are often beautiful but not in any facile way, in spite of their large eyes. They are complex and self-possessed. This last sentence probably has everything to do with why I like the work so, as these are attributes I both look for and encourage in the people whom I photograph. There are so many painters devoid of purpose these days. They paint well enough technically, but they have no core of fascination/obsession driving them, and finally their work is only clever. I admire animals that are clever, but rarely artists."
EP: Wow. I just got shivers. He's really articulate.

KV: Yes, I feel like I write at a kindergarten level compared to him. So to hear that from him, I was just thrilled.

EP: I've tried to express that last part of what he's saying a bunch of times, but never that well. I also feel like a bit of a jerk when I say it, because what do I know? But he's right.

It's been great talking with you. Thanks, Kelly!

Kelly Vivanco's "Strange Happenings" will open at Rotofugi in Chicago on Friday, March 20th.