NOTE ON NAMES
“Mai Nguyen-Long” previously / also known as: Mai Long / Long Mei / Mai Nguyen Long / Mai JMNXL / JMNXL / Justine Long / maixx
2009: changed artist name from Mai Long to Mai Nguyen-Long as a statement of reclaiming her Vietnamese heritage following the Pho Dog Blackout.
Born in Tasmania to a Vietnamese father and an Australian mother, who is a respected scholar on Vietnamese ceramics and art history, Mai Nguyen-Long spent her childhood and teens living in Papua New Guinea and The Philippines. Temporarily returning to Australia in 1989, Mai received her Bachelor of Arts / Asian Studies from the Australian National University (1991) with a Postgraduate Diploma in Museum Studies from the University of Sydney (1993). Further adding to her rich and layered background, she studied Mandarin Language at the Beijing Language Institute throughout 1992, witnessing an extremely pivotal period as China’s contemporary art scene was emerging. In 1994 she spent a year in Vietnam where she studied Vietnamese language at Vietnam National University and Art History and Life Drawing at the esteemed Hanoi University of Fine Arts, Vietnam, again returning to Australia where she completed her Master of Arts in Visual Art from Queensland College of the Arts, Griffith University in 1997.
It is an amazing lineage of experiences that have had a huge impact on Mai’s art making and search for identity within her work. While her first exhibitions were held in Manila and Hanoi, her career really gained currency with her first Australian solo at Bellas Gallery, Queensland (1996-98). Working in oil on canvas, her imagery could be described as ‘metaphysical landscapes’ morphing across time and physical space with a kind of organic disconnectedness. While Mai had briefly flirted with installation and mixed media with her exhibitions at The Australia Centre Gallery Manila, titled Transit Lounge (Arrivals-Departures) (1996), and E Chong: A Bilingual Installation with Incorrect Translations at Hanoi University of Fine Arts (1996), painting dominated her practice for the next ten years.
Moving to Sydney and showing with the Ray Hughes Gallery, Mai’s imagery changed dramatically. These paintings were more consciously figurative within surreal settings that overlaid stereotypical Australian culture with Asian icons such as koi and waterscapes as their unifying element.
It was a commission for Casula Powerhouse in 2006, for their touring exhibition I Love Pho, however, that set the next chapter and direction in the work. Mai returned to installation and the 3-dimensional form using the dog as a metaphor for cultural exploration and her Australian-Vietnamese identity. Pho Dog, comprised of 12 mongrel dog forms crafted from papier-mache sporting colourfully decorated – and culturally alert – skins and displayed on a reflective acrylic mirror grid. Drawn to the medium for its deceptive innocence, and to salute Southeast Asian folk crafts, it also tapped into contemporary concerns of recycling and reuse.
However, it was the ‘skins’ of Mai’s Pho Dogs that garnered most attention, whipping up a media frenzy as the piece was censored from the exhibition due to sensitivities within sectors of the Australian-Vietnamese community. Three years later this cultural fracture was laid to rest in the performance / installation piece, The Burning of Godog performed for the opening of the celebrated exhibition Nam Bang! curated by Dr Boitran Huynh-Beattie for Casula Powerhouse (2009).
While the dog has become a cultural trigger for Mai – and for those reading her work – equally it explores narratives that are extremely personal and self-reflective. These ideas have been played out in Mai’s exhibitions Aqua Mutt: an Installation with Dag Girl at Victoria’s Incinerator Arts Complex (2007), Godog & the Ascension of Dag Girl (2008) and True Blue Doggie Morph (2010) with NG Gallery, and most recently in Drift for Wollongong Art Gallery’s Generations exhibition (2011).
Parallel to this practice, and a pivotal component to these later exhibitions, Mai has shown her drawings – visual and textual hybrids that float on the page with great dexterity and intensity. Mai’s compulsion for story-telling – despite its abstraction – has become core to her practice. This has been drawn out most recently in a collaboration with the artist / performer William Yang Stories East and West (2010) presented at Performance 4A and Belvoir Theatre, Sydney; and a collaborative project with Indonesian artist FX Harsono and professional curatorium on the project In Memory of a Name for the Sydney Festival project Edge of Elsewhere, presented at 4A Centre for Contemporary Asian Art (2012).
In 2014 Mai was commissioned by Wollongong Art Gallery to present a major solo show in Gallery 1. The project was curated by international arts writer and curator Gina Fairley and bridged over 15 years of Mai’s practise. Beyogmos synthesized Mai’s intensely personal navigations, remaining alert to a context of the complex and intertwined histories of post 1975 Vietnam and the Vietnamese Diasporas, and aware of more universal experiences. The exhibition was an exploration of place, memory and beyond as Mai questioned constructs of identity, ambitiously drawing on a range of mediums (painting, drawing, light box, object-based installation, sculpture, new media) and the irreconcilable tension across layered and fractured realities. Following this, in 2015 Mai’s charcoal animation Beyogmos was re-exhibited, this time installed with Layered Transitions, at Mosman Art Gallery’s contemporary art space The Cube.
In the studio, despite a parallel strand of Mai’s work continuing to explore organic and less figurative forms (Spirit Map series), a Vomit Girl series appeared in her end of 2014 Neat Severances commercial solo show and the series continues today. The compulsively vomiting figure is articulating an inarticulate, unspecified sense of spiritual illness in society, and the artist’s own spiritual sickness and sense of loss, sadness, conflicted loyalties, anger, confusion, and powerlessness to act, speak about, or identify un/certain points of injustice. Unpacking this mute space is her next/current long-haul project.
Late 2014 Mai returned to Hanoi for a 2 month self-conducted residency and late 2015 returned again, this time for 3 months with support from CICF Copyright Agency. The visit included a 5 week residency in the ceramics village of Bat Trang and a 10 day residency in Muong Studio Hoa Binh supported by ACCA Viet. She is currently (2018-) on the Board of Vietnam Centre Australia.
Mai Nguyen-Long has been represented by Bellas Gallery (Brisbane), Ray Hughes Gallery (Sydney), and NG Art Gallery (Sydney), and is currently independent. Her work is held in the collections of Artbank, the Australian Embassy in Hanoi, Queensland University of Technology, Brisbane City Hall Art Gallery, Casula Powerhouse Sydney, Wollongong Art Gallery, as well as Private and Corporate Collections in Australia and abroad.
(text update 22 Feb 2016)
Copyright All material on this site is copyright of Mai Nguyen-Long unless otherwise stated. All other images/photographs are the property of their respective author/s and may not be used without permission.