Thad Higa and Tammy Nguyen “O”


poster for Thad Higa and Tammy Nguyen  “O”

This event has ended.

O, is an address, an utterance emerging from the body, passing the threshold of the throat and mouth then thrust out into the open. It’s a circle, the return of what has been presented as finished, done or stuck in the past, back into the present and the material world – it records the previously unrecorded or inserts it back into the archive. The work in this exhibition participates in the update of the collective archive - a living organism made of intimate stories and macro-narratives that power dynamics usually shape. It examines the past, official and unofficial histories, myths, and personal stories which accumulate and seep into the present through the physicality of the exhibited work.

Tammy Nguyen exhibits four artist books that interact with the howling, echoing sound of the letter “O” and further the exploration of themes that Nguyen already engages with in her latest book, Phong Nha, the Making of an American Smile (Ugly Duckling Press, 2020). Plato’s Allegory of the Cave, a manmade island called Forest City in the Strait of Malacca, as well as cave formations in Phong Nha (Vietnam), and the Vietnam War are part of the narrative. The artist books, entitled “Four Ways Through a Cave” are also based on two pieces of music: the old South Vietnamese national anthem, for which the father of Nguyen’s dentist was a lyricist, and a country song reminiscent of a tune sung by the porter that Nguyen followed into a cave formation in Phong Nha. The artist positions these two songs as opposing forces; the books feature drawings from the score of both songs and incorporates sculptural elements, contrasting textures, cutouts from American Vietnam War comics, and hidden illuminated sections that only appear when a page is turned.

The exhibition also includes a series of Nguyen’s paintings on paper, stretched over wood panels. They allude to Plato’s Divided Line and the threshold between the visible and the intelligible, and reflect on the sound of the letter “O” in the aftermath of war and trauma. Nguyen uses the circle and fragments of circles in the composition, often through the representation of natural environments including swarms of bats and butterflies. A circular painting, entirely made of metal leaf, refers both to close-up images of the sun taken by ESA/NASA’s Solar Orbiter in the Spring of 2020 and to the representation of Truth in the Allegory of the Cave.

Thad Higa’s 13ft-long scrolls unfold from the ceiling, materializing trails of decomposing and recomposed words. Obsessively typed on an enormous typewriter where any error is difficult to conceal, the scrolls embrace the mutations induced by any mistake, creating little scars or starting new patterns on the surface of the scroll’s skin. Repetition and variations on a theme are prime features of this work, creating evolving patterns of meaning as well as concrete, visible patterns. They blur the borders between speech and object, and reflect on what the act of reading can encompass.

Higa also brings artist books to the exhibition. This Land is My Land is a large format book that unfolds in ever surprising ways. It subverts language taken from white supremacist speech, highlighting the insecurity built up from centuries of lies. Collages superimpose images of grass, shopping malls, graveyards and parking lots. Symbols are created then disassembled, revealing the dangerous malleability of racist speech and imagery. Higa’s tiny zines, a series of books no larger than 2.5 by 1.5 inches, complete the exhibition. They question the effects of scale: does the scaled down version of an object create a feeling of intimacy for the reader, or do the zines become absurd objects because of their size? Does this physical smallness diminish the greater ideas explored in the texts, such as identity, racism, the American Dream? A portable library containing some of these “tiny zines” is exhibited and the public is welcome to open and unfold the books, absorb their content, and fold them back to return them to their place in the library.

Thad Higa (b. 1989) is a Honolulu based book artist, writer, concrete poet, and graphic designer interested in the synergy of written and visual language, and cardboard boxes. His work investigates identity shaping through the currents of mass information, disinformation, and advertisements. His work also addresses the life of words devoid human beings, the machinations of words behind and besides words, and is attempting to turn the act of opening and reading books and boxes into the next modern dance: a hand/finger dance.

Born in San Francisco, Tammy Nguyen received a BFA from Cooper Union in 2007. The year following, she received a Fulbright scholarship to study lacquer painting in Vietnam, where she remained and worked with a ceramics company for three years thereafter. Nguyen received an MFA from Yale in 2013 and was awarded the Van Lier Fellowship at Wave Hill in 2014. She has exhibited at the Rubin Museum, The Factory Contemporary Arts Centre in Vietnam, and the Bronx Museum, among others. Her work is included in the collections of Yale University, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, MIT Library, the Seattle Art Museum, the Walker Art Center Library, and the Museum of Modern Art Library. Nguyen is the founder of Passenger Pigeon Press, an independent press that joins the work of scientists, journalists, creative writers, and artists to create politically nuanced and cross-disciplinary projects.



from March 06, 2021 to April 11, 2021

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