The first exhibition in the 2014 Graduate School Gallery program is James Nguyen’s The Man with the Movie Camera, a series of auto-biographical works that explore the complicity of documentation in performance.
Tell us bit about your practice and your MFA project…
My focus changes depending on what I am interested in or annoyed by at the time! I was a painter and then worked with installation, but when I started to dabble in some performance and video works I thought it might be a good idea to develop this further in my MFA. I was attracted to the history of film and began to engage with the language of cinema, so I started to play with the basic techniques of cinematography to incorporate these into performance actions. The performative potential of the camera became a new and fun project.
What kind of ideas are you trying to investigate through this particular installation?
The main ideas are the integration and application of performance to the camera, and to engage with the social and political concerns of making art and making art happen. I like the directness of the camera, and its ability to document its own mechanical trace, how it introduces an whole new set of technical and human apparatus to the performance that it is actually meant to be documenting.
I also like the aesthetics of relying on the help and collective effort of others to move the focus away from The Artist. Often the activities happening around me and the input of other people makes the work much more interesting than if I was working in isolation. I also like to acknowledge the many failures of performance and documentation that inevitably occur in my work; it often requires multiple attempts and takes before I achieve an acceptable result.
What’s the process like?
Each night I add to a rolling list of “More Than One Idea A Day”. Influenced by my daily experiences and encounters, these ideas are mostly bad and unachievable. Every now and then, I review this list to see if there are any ideas that may be relevant to what I am thinking about, and if they make some sense. If it has potential, I create a workbook for the idea. I use these workbooks to flesh out the ideas, and talk to my supervisor and others about them. Once all the technical and boring parts are “thought” through, I do a quick test shot/model/sketch. From this visual sketch, I can decide to either defer/scrap the idea, or with further consultation and advice I’ll continue with it.
I then ask my friends, family and colleagues to help me with the final work, and when all the people, and weather, and technical requirements line up, we go out and make the work together.
Why did you apply for the Grad School Gallery Program this year?
It is a good opportunity (and motivator) to get work completed and to put work out there in an exhibition space. The great exhibitions of previous students, the potential for valuable feedback, and the process of curating were also important factors in my decision.
So how have you found the experience of working with a curator? Was there an effect on how you had envisioned the work and exhibition?
It has been fun and pretty straightforward experience. Fleshing out installation ideas, seeing my work from the professional perspective of the curator, reviewing and negotiating the exhibition parameters was a great learning experience. I have a pretty open and pragmatic attitude to the presentation of my work, so I’m happy as long as I have the opportunity to challenge and reconsider my work from a fresh point of view.
'The Man With The Movie Camera', 'New Contemporaries' and 'Jose dos Santos' all open in the SCA Galleries complex on Thursday 13 March from 6 - 8pm.
The shows run from March 14 - April 4, Monday - Friday, 11am - 5pm.
Images courtesy James Nguyen