Diane Severin Nguyen: IF REVOLUTION IS A SICKNESS
The Renaissance Society
IF REVOLUTION IS A SICKNESS marks Diane Severin Nguyen’s first one-person museum exhibition. The show, co-organized with SculptureCenter, New York, presents a newly-commissioned 19-minute video of the same title and four photographs in a total installation resembling a grand theater and its backstage.
Set in Warsaw, Poland, the film loosely follows the character of an orphaned Vietnamese child who grows up to be absorbed into a South Korean pop-inspired dance group. Widely popular within a Polish youth subculture, K-pop is used by the artist as a vernacular material to trace a relationship between Eastern Europe and Asia with roots in Cold War allegiances. Spilling over from first-person narrative into near-abstraction and pop music video, Nguyen traverses the complicated beauty and multivalent forms of propaganda that underpin cultural (and self) image making.
Nguyen found—realized—her film’s protagonist on Instagram by searching for a combination of a common Polish name for girls with her own Vietnamese surname. Weronika Nguyen thus becomes an emblem, or even a muse, embodying the complex diasporic history between Poland and Vietnam. Of the significant Vietnamese diaspora currently living in Poland, they are divided by Northerners who migrated before the fall of the Iron Curtain, and Southerners who came in the aftermath of the Vietnam War. Weronika’s character is both alienated and subsumed; her conflicted desires speak to the contradictions of finding shared symbols and naming oneself from within another’s regime.
Projected into the pomp of a red and yellow stage, Nguyen’s video probes the paradoxes inherent to the artist’s distinctive approach to making photographs. Installed in a backstage-like corridor through which the viewer first enters the space, the photographs offer an amorphous passage into the show itself, probing the question: Can true self-realization take place within the unifying spaces of narrative and representation? Central to both Nguyen’s moving image and photographic work is the question of how the self takes form (both assimilating and rebelling) in relationship to media, and mediums, with which we represent ourselves.