Four blue rings with a fleshy strip connecting them

Diane Severin Nguyen

To produce her photo and film works, Diane Severin Nguyen makes amalgam sculptures from found materials, both natural and synthetic. She captures these ephemeral constructions at close range, enlarging minute tensions. Nguyen uses transient prosthetic light sources—the glow of sunset, an iPhone flash, battery-powered LEDs, fire—so that the camera intervenes just before these temporary arrangements, as well as their lighting, change. The results pinpoint an ineffable moment in time, when subject and matter linger in a state of transformation, growth, or decay, suggesting a body rendered unstable.

The seven photographs on view in the galleries consider how we have codeveloped with the ubiquitous presence of photography and its evolving technology in our everyday. Nguyen considers the political ramifications of images and their resonance, especially in the rapidly changing climate in which she made the work (i.e., the early stages of the global pandemic and social-distancing orders). She often employs gloves in her images, and they are found here, albeit not easily recognizable, submerged in liquid and revealing just the contours of fingers. Gloves are of particular interest to her as they represent the mediation of touch and perhaps even empathy, regimes of care but also fear of contact, wetness, and the thin layers of skin that separate vulnerable interiors from the world. In this body of work Nguyen actively punctures, pierces, and allows leaks of her materials as she captures them. In addition to her still images, the artist has designed an architectural intervention: a large red glowing window seen through a latex curtain.

In Made in L.A. 2020: a version, the artist’s work is present in two institutions, across Los Angeles. See Diane Severin Nguyen's work on view at The Huntington.

Diane Severin Nguyen was born in 1990 in Carson, California. Nguyen received her BA from Virginia Commonwealth University and her MFA from the Milton Avery Graduate School of the Arts at Bard College. Nguyen works with found objects and organic matter to craft the images in her photographs and video works, transforming substances found in quotidian domestic spaces to evoke the body rendered unstable. Her materials are often plant-based, coagulating, metallic, and wet. She focuses on matter in states of transformation: the moment that is decisively caught—frozen—and describes intentionally capturing an in-betweenness that can be expressed as physical tension or irresolute states. She uses transient prosthetic lighting—the glow of sunset, an iPhone flash, battery-powered LEDs, fire—so that the camera intervenes moments before these temporary arrangements and their lighting change. The results are gut-wrenching, uncanny compositions: they evoke something unseeable, such as the “architecture of emotions,” but also very real bodily functions. Nguyen is interested in the journalistic moment of photography. Of course, the journalistic takes on a highly specific meaning within photography; it is inseparable from the violent history of capturing “source material.” Recent solo and two-person exhibitions include Minor twin worlds with Brandon Ndife, Bureau, New York; Dead Slow with Julien Monnerie, curated by Shivers Only, Exo Exo, Paris; Flesh before Body, Bad Reputation, Los Angeles; and Reoccurring Afterlife, Empty Gallery, Hong Kong (all 2019). Her recent video work Tyrant Star (2019) was presented at the New York Film Festival in October 2019.