One World | Nghia Dang

[passion]: pursuit of desire ; unfiltered emotions.

The body of work that I have developed during my time at A. Farm revolves around the deconstruction of the passion that exists between the self and others. The deconstruction follows a nonlinear stream of thought through the lens of fantasy: a state of stillness akin to a stage scene. I, the maker of these scenes, am also a spectator, a trespasser witnessing and dissecting the figures, the logic from afar. The body of work is into two rooms: one reveals the passion in a manner akin to a theatre stage, and the other delves into thoughts about passion drawing parallels with the medium of photography. In the first, pairings and relations are suggested in the drawings through the presence of tangible figures and veiled forces in an attempt to bring forward submerged mysteries of will, authority, empathy and masculinity. The second room ponders on the ephemerality of passion, something that I correlate to the immediate nature of photography: in the allure and charm of instantaneity, in the immediate declaration of otherness between subject and object. In the act of collaging and rotating the pictures, which disrupt the direction of one’s gaze (including my own), and in the prolonged act of drawing, I set a distance and remove myself from this instant surge of emotion and desire. Ultimately this body of work brings forward a fundamental question that centers my investigation with passion and fantasies: why fuss so much about it? Perhaps, it’s a personal fascination with passion, desire, and its conflicting nature, like a child is naturally obligated to obey and resist at the same time. It can’t be helped.

In all 6 years of it, my artistic practice has always been an endeavour of solitude. When I applied to A. Farm, that fact forms a core of my reasoning: to find relief from an endlessly vast echo chamber of thoughts. After all, we artists love solitude with absolution, but only in small doses, not an entire existence of it. We love to be deserted on our own islands, but when we seek companionship, we’re desperate to receive. The pandemic has introduced a new, strange situation of solitude for me and the other artists at A. Farm. The 5 of us – and some who came and go as the residency carried on – found ourselves in a remote location, a peninsula of sort. Aside from our housekeeper and security person and a few others, there was hardly anyone else in sight. It was in interesting time. 

Fortunately, my work plan hasn’t been too affected. As mentioned above, I operate in solitude for a good part of my practice, making friends and drawing inspiration mostly from books, pictures and my chamber of thoughts. Thus, the initial project (a group of work on paper focusing on fantasies, memories and intimacy) maintained its track, and only benefited from having all the time and space it needs to materialize. Though, something about the form of that solitude definitely shifted in the time I was at A. Farm. It became acquainted, and later went hand in hand with companionship, as contradictory as that might sounds. The latter is present in the small things that we do to relief ourselves: blackjack and boardgames, daily communal exercises, karaoke nights; and more so in the presence of each others. Small conversations that took place when they needed to, familiar sounds and sights at certain times of day. Companionship became a routine, an expectation. A loop with only minor altercations. There’s no need to question the affect that manifested in this situation. Some of us delightedly invited said affect into their work and processes (Chu Hao Pei comes to mind), some used it as a pool of enticing energy, as a drive for their brainspace, and also a door to momentarily leave that same chamber.

The fact that our group is a multinational, multicultural group of people only added to the sweetness. The things we cooked, small arguments over different interpretations of boardgame rules, movies that we sat and saw together, past projects that we shared with each other. It’s hard to condense everything into words, but a good point of reference would be Italo Calvino’s novel ‘Invisible Cities’. We were there, in one place and one point of time; but at the same time our mental selves travelled elsewhere, everywhere. I sometimes wonder if it would have happened differently, if solitude wasn’t our confinement. But maybe it’s best that everything happened this way. 

Born in Hanoi, Vietnam in 1994, Nghia Dang graduated with a BFA in Studio Art from the Art Institute of Chicago in 2018, and now lives and works in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. His practice encompasses sculpture, installation, and drawing, driven by a concern with psychological processes, memories, fantasies and their aftermaths. Dang’s body of work as a whole could be construed as a journey through the liminal, transformative space between real and imaginary figures, in which he explores possible interactions, consequences, ethics and affect that exist in relationships between social roles.