lu nguyen


“Pietà” 2012, loop


I first encountered Lu Nguyen in one of her video installations. A dark room is being lit up by an iconic image. A biblical theme often found in art history. Mary nurses in her lap Jesus, her head inclined towards him, his bruised body having just been removed from the cross. The image looks completely familiar, we know this classical gesture of pieta (in this case from Michelangelo).

From the beginning, though, something seems disturbing. The image has a glow; it is very colourful, with a surreal appeal. This large photograph, one could think, suddenly uncovers some revelations. Inconspicuously in the background, in the depths of a barren landscape, on the horizon smoke starts to come from a chimney. Nearly unnoticeably, there appears a very slight movement in the ensemble of figures. Immediately, the movements become still again, back to the static image. These small movements are enough of a hint for the viewer to know he is dealing with a digital, a filmic room. Expectations for video situations arise, any moment the figures will get up and start speaking. “Action, please!”

Instead, the image has returned to being still and fixed. Only the silence and waiting help us along, now we realize that one of the figures is the artist itself. The image takes my hand and starts to talk. Suddenly, everything that I thought I knew before, dissolves: The art historical statement, the woman/man image, the classification of the artistic medium.

This is Nguyens language as an artist. She interrogates and challenges the value of art historical themes, such as familiar valuations of female/male roles in the history of art. Her video installations, in which she appears herself, in disguise, in different roles, hit the spectator very directly, both emotionally and intellectually. They are serious, with subtle traces of humour, criticism and playfulness. They seem private, yet speak out publicly. They appear at once tranquil and aggressive. They intrude into the “fortress” of art history, but also into the stability of our visual memory. This slight rattling in Nguyen’s images is also shaking our fixed ideas, our received knowledge.

Ele Hermel