rock paper salt : the art work of christine nguyen

These works speak of great bionetworks that exist outside the ecosphere of human discord. Multilayered recyclable structures, hovering villages, spiny geologic minerals, thrashing primordial microbes, imaginary plants and a broad spectrum of jellylike apparitions are sprinkled like stardust throughout mysterious ethers, which appear to stretch from beyond earth’s permeable atmosphere to below its surface.

I have a thing for deer. And water. Seascapes. Other-worlds. Thus, encountering Christine Nguyen’s work – in which there are many depictions of the idyllic-natural-exotic innocence of creatures (recognizable & not), as well as many breathtaking visions of outerspace-like yet seemingly-underwater bioscapes – I was of course immediately riveted, enthralled, my imagination both ignited and gently, mysteriously touched.

L.A.-based artist Christine Nguyen makes art that is photo-based, but also employs the growing of organic matter – salt crystals, borax, algae – combined with work on mylar turned into photonegatives, through which she transmits light and manipulates color, onto photosensitive paper, to create her otherworldly impressions. Christine Nguyen is Vietnamese, but she does not claim cultural identity as a driving force in or behind her work. & she does not need to – for the work apparently speaks/signs/illuminates soundly enough on its own. This work is not concerned just with identity or even so much with the events of human history. Instead, there is a far more beautiful (and perhaps revelatory) notion of “systems” being explored here.

There is one historical element Christine Nguyen will allow as influential to her vision: and that is the years spent in the company of her father, who was a commercial fisherman, helping and witnessing him extract countless objects of natural wonder from beneath the water.

I might venture here to wonder, however, if there may be something about the sea that is innately woven into our ‘stories’ as Vietnamese, that permeates or somehow roots our geographical as well as cultural-historical identity. We know (in legend) that the Vietnamese people were born of the father’s desire/need and loyalty to be with the sea, that (in legend) we were borne of the half of the 100 children split off from the mother (who remained in the mountains), we were of the half who followed the father – whether it be to lowlands or sea, the urge was to move south, to go seaward – and from out of that shrouded prehistoric-mythic tale of origin do the first of the Viet peoples emerge, to name themselves as being who we still battle to claim we are: “the Viet of the South.”

But then arises this question too: Or is there simply something fundamental, even primordial, about being human that connects us, lures us, to the mystery and absolution of the sea as origin, as ideal, as source?

I cannot say I have answers to these questions or that I’m even qualified to say I know why Christine Nguyen’s art “works” as it does on the viewer. Only that it is evident something important is here being envisioned and cultivated; the fact that these visions spring through the hands, eyes, mind of a young Vietnamese-American woman is – I believe – a still as-of-yet undeciphered piece of the whole, larger scheme we are just beginning, perhaps, to glimpse.

(What of boats & landings on rock
crystal beds in future/other universes
have we not yet fully pondered?)

– dao strom


– Images here are taken from the catalog for Christine Nguyen’s solo exhibition, Rock Paper Salt, at the Huntington Beach Art Center (Jul 10-Sept 4, 2010); and from images of her work displayed on the Alicia Blue Gallery website.

– Excerpts taken from “Love Life of a Salt Crystal” by John Souza, published in the catalog for Christine’s solo exhibition, Rock Paper Salt.

– Visit Christine’s website here:

Her galaxy of all-encompassing vistas, meandering waterways beneath oceans, swarms of color that look like pools of light all come from her early experiences and from the memory of those experiences. The delicate life forms and strange miniscule sea creatures, that at times seem alien and abstracted when viewing her work, are part of that memory but also part of Nguyen’s mature comprehension and appreciation of idiosyncratic characters and idealized locales. A blurb of color that first emerges as a community of fish underwater may gradually morph into a beautifully configured pattern. A cross-stitch of light on photo paper is not simply an intersection, but a portal to another condition floating between circumstances — a threshold, which stands between one earth and another or the end of one idea and the start of a new one that is still connected to ancient seas and space.

– from “Love Life of a Salt Crystal,” John Souza



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  1. I am suddenly and thoroughly in love. Some of her work will be appearing soon (May 14) at Nucleus Gallery for their Illustrated Type exhibit, you lucky SoCal’ers. Kick me into orbit, this is beautiful.


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