Who is… Nguyen Phuong Linh?

Single-channel video, rubber latex, soil drawings on paper and metal stands

Artist from Hanoi, 32-year-old Nguyen Phuong Linh, is one of Asia’s ten most influential up-and-coming artistic innovators.

As the daughter of the founder of Nha San, Hanoi’s longest-established non-profit art space, Phuong Linh grew up among a plethora of Vietnam’s most respected contemporary creatives. Her artistic talent was fostered through a childhood surrounded by some of Vietnam’s most experimental artists, writers, and musicians.

The emerging multi-disciplinary artist Phuong Linh Nguyen’s practice now spans installation, sculpture, and video. Her work spotlights the tension between the traditional and the modern with alienation, dislocation, and ephemerality of human life all-dominating as recurring themes.

Her choice of materials (including salt for the Salt Project (2009) and dust for the Dust Project (2011-2012)) and research interests deal with the transformation of geopolitical landscapes, human manipulation of nature, and alternative historical perspectives of modern Vietnam.

SANCTIFIED CLOUDS 2013 by Nguyen Phuong Linh
SANCTIFIED CLOUDS 2013 by Nguyen Phuong Linh

The resulting art is deeply personal and has earned her exhibitions and residencies in 3147966 cm3 mobile gallery, Fukuoka Asian Art Museum, Seoul Art Space, Kaman Art Foundation, and The Luggage Store.

IMemory of the Blind Elephant (2016), a commission by the Singapore Biennale, Nguyen Phuong Linh delved into the history of rubber agriculture, centring on rubber cultivation in the central Gia Lai Province. Realised in three parts: a video projection, a nine-piece installation, and a suite of soil drawings on paper, Phuong Linh, clearly fascinated by colonial rubber plantations and the role they have played and continue to play in Vietnam, investigates the historical significance of the country’s rubber trees and plantations through the three mediums.

From salt to dust and now rubber, Nguyen Phuong Linh has mastered her interpretation and manipulation of materials. Phuong Linh is the artist who successfully captures the spirit of a lone explorer, the rich history of a curious narrator, and an unquestionable aesthetic quality.

We asked Nguyen Phuong Linh briefly about growing up and living in Vietnam and how her experience there has informed the conception of her art… 

“When I first learned to make art, my work focused on feminist identity and sexual issues. It was a natural instinct. There are very few female artists in Vietnam. Vietnamese society places a lot of pressure and barriers on female artists: censorship, cultural expectations of the role of a woman in the family… I think making strong feminist and sexual work is needed to express a woman’s identity in Vietnam. I wanted to be free and strong to break out of these barriers and judgments.

Now my concerns have changed. Feminist works, shocking imagery… are no longer interesting to me. To me, what I did before are sculptures or digital images that are built up as monuments; the audiences walking around the monuments and the ideas behind the works were quite easy, shallow… that became boring and too easy to me. I want to create something that is more exciting, more complex, and meaningful. I want to be involved in communications that allow for the possibility of collaboration. I want to challenge myself to be patient with materials. The materials/objects/spaces have a meaning, and in my work, I just want the material to stand by itself originally, without the need to put any polish on it. I want to find simplicity and wisdom in visual language.

The Salt project changed me. I grew up while working and living with the salt people. It was not just my involvement in the environment and getting to know people that affected me, but also forming new concepts of how art can be made.”





Text: Hannah Vasdekys