Every photographic image by Diane Severin Nguyen (1990, Carson, USA) evokes a strange sensation in the viewer. Nguyen creates complex images that confound interpretation using unusual, flesh-like materials, sensual lighting, and vivid colours. Her detailed photos have something eerie about them, as if the unexpected could occur at any moment.
In her photographic work, Nguyen uses both organic and synthetic materials, such as latex, hair, and liquids, though none are recognizable as such. The materials are often intentionally captured in states of transformation: at the precise moment when a physical tension arises. In the work Daily affirmations (2021), it looks as though part of an (animal) skin is being pulled on with a chain, piercing a hole in the skin. Nguyen manipulates the lighting by using prosthetic light sources, such as battery-powered LED lights or the flashlight of an iPhone. She uses unique hand-made steel frames with a rainbow effect to frame her photos, giving an extra dimension to the manipulated lighting.
Nguyen speaks of the ‘wounds’ and ‘ruptures’ she seeks to document in her work. The materials she uses in her staged compositions are often very delicate, capturing the moment when the construction breaks, tears, or collapses. By creating unusual sculptures from found organic and artificial materials, Nguyen detaches these materials from their usual function. She describes the medium of photography as a ‘liquid language’, breaking with its existing hierarchies and meanings.
Nguyen’s artistic work is not limited to photography; she also makes films. The short film Tyrant star (2019) is set in contemporary Vietnam, in the suburbs of Ho Chi Minh City. Her camera captures detailed images of body parts, landscapes, and interiors in a fragmentary film style that suggests how past traumatic events can continue to affect the present.
With their intense colouration and close-up detail, Nguyen’s film images closely resemble her photographic work. Her intriguing images demand the viewer to look at photography differently, not seeking recognition or understanding precisely what is being depicted. ‘Meaning, like a word itself, can only be found in contrast to what it is not,’ says Nguyen. Her images evoke a bodily response independent of any meaning we may try to attach to them.
Diane Severin Nguyen (1990, Carson) lives and works in Los Angeles and New York. She gained a BA in Politicology at the Virginia Commonwealth University (2013) and a MFA at the Milton Avery Graduate School of the Arts, Bard College, New York (2020). Her work has been shown nationally and internationally, including at the Hammer Museum, Los Angeles; at the 13th Shanghai Biennale (2020), Shanghai; in the SculptureCenter, New York; at the 57th New York Film Festival, New York (2019); and at the International Film Festival Rotterdam (2020).
Works from the Huis Marseille collection will be on display in one of the large galleries, supplemented with several loans from public and private collections: the Collection of FRAC Alsace, Collection Koeser, Cologne, Private collection, Antwerp, Belgium.