2012 Diffusion: Unanchored Narratives

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Diffusion was opened by William Yang @ NG Art Gallery 6 November 2012. For more info: http://www.ngart.com.au/exhibition_gallery_87_mainguyenlong.html

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Mai Nguyen-Long’s Diffusion:Objects is an intense reflection on the artist’s collection of spiritual and religious figures. Each object is studied multiple times, with the style ranging from a restrained, almost classical, sobriety to an expressive mode, where associative connections are transposed onto the represented object. The artist encounters each object with intellectual inquisitiveness, as well as trepidation, as though recognising the magnetism of the icons but at the same time wanting to deconstruct their authority.  The drawings also suggest historical and cultural relationships between the objects. The bodhisattva, for example, is shown in its Vietnamese iteration, and in its Chinese form as Guan Yin. Nguyen-Long explores Guan Yin’s polymorphic qualities, representing the differently figured and gendered manifestations of that deity, as well as playfully drawing an iconographic parallel between Guan Yin and the Virgin Mary. By emphasising the transformations and interconnections of the deity figures, Nguyen-Long’s drawings contest ideas of cultural purity and moral absolutism.

Diffusion: Unanchored Narratives is a series of smaller drawings, which are “internalized and more immediate responses” to the themes of the exhibition. In these images, the artist’s alter-ego undergoes a journey through the subconscious, represented at times as a physical journey by sea.  An undercurrent of anxiety is manifested in these drawings in an outpouring of agitated and disturbing forms, some of which parody the visual qualities of the larger drawings. Thus, a sense of profound ambivalence toward the authority of the religious icons is coupled with the suggestion of physical and cultural movement, and the related traumas of displacement. Together, these two series of drawings blur the public realm of culture with the private realm of the psyche, and ultimately suggest the historical contingency of belonging and belief.

Phoebe Scott – Art Historian September 2012

DIFFUSION_16sept2012final_Unabbreviated version by Phoebe Scott

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