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Open Studios Visit: Trong Gia Nguyen « MAD Blog
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Open Studios Visit: Trong Gia Nguyen

MAD’s Open Studios are an educational space that fosters dialogue between artists, designers, and museum visitors. It’s a space for museum visitors to encounter artists at work, to talk with them about their processes, materials, and concepts. Every day, the Open Studios hosts artists and designers as they produce their work in a public environment. The Open Studios also supports the development of original works through special projects and residencies.

Can you tell us a bit about your art practice?

I do a little bit of everything! I majored in painting and sculpture, so a lot of the things I do nowadays utilize both of those disciplines, but I overlap them a lot. A lot of what I do uses conventional things in very unconventional ways, such as: instead of using paintbrushes to paint, I use cake decorating tools and implements to paint. There’s a couple examples of that in here, like the ‘DIE’ cake and also the spaghetti piece. This one is on an old gospel record, I think of it like a thought bubble, like the record’s emoting. This is actually a fragment of a much larger piece where I remade Leonardo da Vinci’s Last Supper painting as a giant sculptural table intersected with the notion of a DJ battle where, instead of disciples I replaced them with scientists, represented by old record players.

Do I detect a religious theme here?

I grew up Roman Catholic, so I do reference a lot of those stories. But, for me, what’s more important is a collective mythology. A lot of the things I create kind of touch upon that tradition, but at the same time they touch on other things I grew up with, from Star Wars to the legend of King Arthur. All these, chosen characters, if you want to call them that, from King Arthur to Jesus Christ, to Luke Skywalker, to Darth Vader, they’re all part of the same mythology for me, and interchangeable, actually. I’m just interested in where all those things network and crisscross, as a meeting point that we all can use as a common point for discussion or whatever else, as something that we can all relate to.

Could you tell me about these?

Continuing the religious here theme I guess…they are what I call Portable Confessionals. I bought a pallet-full of these brown paper bags that are used in grocery stores, for another project, and one day I just looked at them and thought of this. I remember confessional booths really well, as a child, and I did a quick image search on Google and found this particular pattern. I’m getting interesting responses from all the visitors that come in here, people referencing the Islamic cutouts and patterns in the Doris Duke show downstairs, to someone, saying: “what are you making, radiator covers?” [Laughs]. I realized that this pattern, in the end, is very commonplace actually, it’s at the home depot or wherever and obviously some churches bought it somewhere to make a confessional, and some carpenter or house builder has used it as a radiator cover. So I love actually all those influences and interpretations of the pattern. But for this, I wanted to make something that was very interactive and playfully so. These bags are intended to hang at head height, on a wall, with the pattern cutouts facing one another, and gallery-goers are invited to stick their heads in and yell at the world, whisper to one another, confess their sins, spit at one another, go to sleep, whatever. We live in a world with a lot of serious political stuff happening, and I’m one of those people who, even if it’s on the periphery, I can’t help but just think about it, and it drives me crazy a lot of time, so I try to process it in way that has some little more levity to it.  They make cool Halloween costumes too, probably.

Yeah, you’d be a radiator or a priest…

 Yeah, blow off steam…

Good one! Okay, can we talk about the hats?

 Yeah, I’ve been making them for several years now, I just make them whenever I can and the idea is, eventually, to have them in this almost like a Lids store presentation- I want hundreds of them on the wall. All the branding on them references galleries, defunct galleries and galleries that still exist, in New York and all over the world. I’m interested in things which kind of overlap low culture and high culture, which collapses or confuses those things. And, you know, I grew up in Florida, near Daytona Beach, a poor white area, and I wanted to merge the elite art world, what we presume to be the elitist culture of the art world, with it’s white-trash cousin, the trucker hat.

And when I was doing research for this project, I remember going online to look at all the logos that each gallery has, and, I guess not to my surprise, a lot of it was really uninteresting, you would have these really super boring fonts, all formal but in a very uninteresting way, and so, for this project I decided to just re-do them in any which way. It’s very fun, I’m playing around a lot with the color of the text, the fonts themselves. There are hats where I utilize the real logos but for the most part I just spontaneously play with them as much as possible and whatever comes out comes out. And I make them all one of a kind hats, to elevate them into the rarified art world so; they’re all one offs of trucker hats. And wearable!

Have you gotten any reactions from the gallerists?

I haven’t really shown them much. I have sold a couple and given a couple to random people in the art world, and inevitably I see them, somebody wearing them somewhere, or somebody emails me a photo with someone wearing one. So I know that conceptually they’re doing their trick.

Looking at your work here in the Open Studio, it seems like there’s something about everything. Is there anything you’re not interested in, in the world?

That’s a hard question… [laughs]. I love being bombarded by things, you know. I work as a curator too, and I love going online to artist spaces websites and going on their artist portfolios and looking through hundreds and hundreds of artists in one evening. I don’t mind overload of information. I think I do that in my own work too, I take in as much as I can and let it sort itself out somehow, eventually. And, if that means one project or if that means fifty projects at once that’s fine. I have a lot of projects that take a long time to complete, projects that have been going on for years. I’m very patient with a lot of my ideas.  We live in a day and age where there is complete overload of information and I can’t say that I’m necessarily a proponent of it but I think I just naturally feel comfortable in it.

Well, I could talk to you forever about everything, but I’ll let you get back to work. Thanks Trong!



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