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.
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.
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."
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.