Exit Strategies

Art Life , Exhibitions Sep 14, 2015 No Comments

From Rebecca Gallo

Exit Strategies is the first major solo exhibition for James Nguyen, a young Vietnamese-Australian artist. His work is personal – he explores his childhood, and videos include his parents and brother – but there is an attempt to universalise the experience, particularly by locating it within the socioeconomic context of Nguyen’s upbringing. All of our childhoods, and our memories of them, are significantly shaped by what our parents were doing at the time. Nguyen’s happened to be living on-site in a struggling textiles factory in Sydney’s western suburbs.

James Nguyen

There is a sense of childhood ingenuity and resourcefulness in Nguyen’s work. Swathes of tarpaulin and a jersey-like fabric are used to construct screens that either divide space, act as screens for projection, or both. An uncomfortably narrow dead-ended hallway contains several monitors where Nguyen acts out strange rituals: licking the back of a knife, turning a bag inside out, traversing an urban waterway using flimsy outdoor chairs as awkward prostheses. There is a sense of ritual, danger, boredom and making do in these odd and striking scenes. In other videos, Nguyen’s parents revisit sites from the artist’s childhood, playing as their sons would have on swings, bikes and trolleys. This role-reversal adds another layer of strangeness to the revisiting of childhood memories, weaving a loose narrative in which concepts of child/parent, memory/imagination and director/directed are interchangeable.

Until October 10
4A Centre for Contemporary Asian Art, Haymarket
Pic: James Nguyen: Exit Strategies, 2015, installation view. 4A Centre for Contemporary Asian Art. Commissioned by 4A Centre for Contemporary Asian Art. Courtesy the artist and Document Photography.

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Rebecca Gallo

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