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Diane Severin Nguyen’s Transfigurations

September 21, 2022

Fingernails, karaoke YouTubers, grass jelly, make-up tutorials, and anti-war anthems all find themselves colliding in the work of artist Diane Severin Nguyen. Mixing and matching disparate elements, Nguyen creates lush photographs and videos that question the divides between trashy and intellectual, organic and fake, alienating and intimate. Mirroring the visual abundance of its subject’s artworks, this short film is a portrait of a uniquely wide-ranging photographer and filmmaker as she works in her Lower East Side studio.

Crucial for Nguyen’s work is our contemporary experience of social media and the Internet. Its endless production of images and text is both a massive archive for her to draw from and a creative model for generating a new, open-ended visual language. In her video works “Tyrant Star” (2019) and “If Revolution Is A Sickness” (2021), Nguyen appropriates, remixes and synthesizes disparate cultural materials like Vietnamese folk poetry, anti-war anthems, and “K-Pop” music to mine what is discovered in their difference.

Another kind of creative alchemy happens in her studio where the artist choreographs ephemeral processes like burning and everyday substances like styrofoam to make her enigmatic photographs. Intentionally obscuring the identity of her subject materials is core to the artist’s larger project. Says Nguyen, “I try to work against that impulse to identify and get more towards a place of feeling…The moment that you speak or communicate, there’s already mediation. There’s something that’s about intimacy that is actually more important than knowing.”

More information and credits


New York Close Up Series Producer: Nick Ravich. Director & Producer: Jessica Kingdon, Nathan Truesdell. Editor: Jessica Kingdon, Nathan Truesdell. Cinematography & Sound: Jessica Kingdon, Nathan Truesdell. Additional Camera: Brian Ashby. Color Correction: Cédric von Niederhäusern. Sound Design & Mix: Gisela Fullà-Silvestre. Design & Graphics: Chips. Music: Ryder Bach, Trevor New. Artwork Courtesy: Diane Severin Nguyen. Thanks: Lynn Do, Margaret Kross, Hannah Park, Angelina Pei, Renaissance Society, SculptureCenter.

New York Close Up is supported by The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Arts; and, in part, by public funds from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council; and by individual contributors.

Digital exhibition of New York Close Up films is made possible in part by the New York State Council on the Arts.

Closed captionsAvailable in English, German, Romanian, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Chinese, Italian

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Interested in showing this film in an exhibition or public screening? To license this video please visit Licensing & Reproduction.

Diane Severin Nguyen

Diane Severin Nguyen was born in 1990 in Carson City, CA and currently lives and works in New York City. The artist earned her BFA from Virginia Commonwealth University in 2013 and her MFA from Bard University in 2020. Nguyen draws material and inspiration for her photography, video, and installation work from an expansive mix of sources including social media feeds, 20th century philosophical writings, and debris sourced from the streets of New York City. In the collision of these intentionally disparate materials the artist mimics the dissonance of online culture and questions old divides between popular and elite, real and fake, repellent and sympathetic.