Diane Severin Nguyen: IF REVOLUTION IS A SICKNESS is the first solo museum exhibition of New York and Los Angeles-based artist Diane Severin Nguyen. The exhibition features a recent video installation, photographs, a site-specific architectural intervention, and the artist’s first public art commission in the form a billboard located in Houston’s Midtown neighborhood during the month of January 2023.
The exhibition is built around the titular video, IF REVOLUTION IS A SICKNESS, which is set in Warsaw, Poland and 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. Nguyen’s work reckons with the process of finding shared symbols and naming oneself from within another’s regime, while also positioning youth culture as a critical and crucial site of revolutionary power.
From January 2–29, 2023, Nguyen’s Not in this life (2023) will be displayed on a commercial billboard along U.S. Route 59. Presented in coordination with the artist’s exhibition at CAMH, the work is inspired by the fraught history of shrimping in Galveston Bay in the late 1970s and early 1980s, specifically in the form of violent clashes between Vietnamese immigrants and white fisherman aided by local militias and the Klu Klux Klan. Fears of scarcity, combined with rampant racism and xenophobia following the United States’ failed war in Vietnam, served to stoke tensions between economically disenfranchised communities.
Nguyen’s billboard, commissioned by CAMH, draws upon this history and the polarized political climate in which we find ourselves. Employing a popular romantic Vietnamese phrase, “hẹn kiếp sau,” which loosely translates to “we will meet in the next fate,” Nguyen’s work is equally mournful, hopeful, and humorous. With Not in this life, as with the artist’s enigmatic images and videos more generally, Nguyen explores visual culture’s central role in the construction of both self-identity and historical knowledge in relation to transnational diasporic Asian identity.
About the Artist
Diane Severin Nguyen (b. 1990, Carson, California) is an artist who works with photography and time-based media. Nguyen earned an MFA from Bard College in 2020 and a BA from Virginia Commonwealth University in 2013. Recent solo and two-person exhibitions include Between Two Solitudes, Stereo, Warsaw; Tyrant Star (online exhibition), Carnegie Museum of Art (CMOA), Pittsburgh; Reoccurring Afterlife, Empty Gallery, Hong Kong; Minor twin worlds with Brandon Ndife, Bureau, New York; and Flesh Before Body, Bad Reputation, Los Angeles; all 2019. Recent group exhibitions include Is it morning for you yet?: 58th Carnegie International, CMOA, Pittsburgh, 2022; Greater New York, MoMA PS1, New York, 2021; Made in L.A. 2020: a version, Hammer Museum and The Huntington, Los Angeles, 2020–2021; and Bodies of Water: 13th Shanghai Biennale, Power Station of Art, Shanghai, 2021.
Image caption: Diane Severin Nguyen, IF REVOLUTION IS A SICKNESS, 2021. Video installation, 4k video: color and sound, 18:53 minutes. Co-commissioned and produced by the Renaissance Society at the University of Chicago and SculptureCenter, New York. Production in Poland supported by U–jazdowski Residencies, Warsaw. Installation view at Contemporary Arts Museum Houston, 2022. Photo by Sean Fleming.
CAMH’s presentation of Diane Severin Nguyen: IF REVOLUTION IS A SICKNESS is supported in part by J. Patrick Collins.
Diane Severin Nguyen: IF REVOLUTION WAS A SICKNESS has been made possible by the patrons, benefactors and donors to CAMH’s Major Exhibition Fund: Chinhui Juhn and Eddie Allen, Sissy and Denny Kempner, MD Anderson Foundation, Rea Charitable Trust, Louisa Stude Sarofim, The Sarofim Foundation, and the Texas Commission on the Arts.
Diane Severin Nguyen’s first public art commission, which takes place in conjunction with the exhibition, is funded in part by the City of Houston via the Houston Arts Alliance.
Contemporary Arts Museum Houston is funded in part by the City of Houston through the Houston Arts Alliance.
Arts and Culture Texas Magazine is the exclusive media sponsor of CAMH’s presentation of Diane Severin Nguyen: IF REVOLUTION IS A SICKNESS.