Les demoiselles de la guere

BUILDING SITE (homage to Dali), 271x534 Oil on canvas, 2011

Marc Wellmann

Vietnamese ar tist Nguyen Xuan Huy, born in Hanoi in 1976, first came to Germany in 1994 to continue the study of architecture which he had begun two years earlier. His mother has lived in Germany since the mid eighties —— like so many of her fellow countrymen at the invitation of the “socialist brotherland” the German Democratic Republic. As a result of some confusion regarding his visa, Nguyen’s relocation to Germany was suspended for some months at the behest of the German Bureaucratic system. He occupied the free time by drawing and painting; arriving at the realisation that ar t would become his life’s pursuit . In 1996 he engaged in the study of painting at Burg Giebichenstein in Halle. Under the tutelage of Professor Ute Pleuger, he completed his training in 2006, within the scope of a postgraduate research degree (Master Scholar). He currently lives with his family in Berlin.

Nguyen has already received a variety of accolades for his, as yet , small collection; accolades which can boundlessly be attributed to the influence of his Vietnamese origins. For the past several years he has pursued a central theme, namely the long term ef fects of dioxin use, manifested in the physical and genetic deformities which dominate the collective awareness of Nguyen’s homeland. During the Vietnam war, American armed forces were responsible for the extensive application of the defoliant known as “Agent Orange”, particularly until the end of the 1960’s, which was utilized as a tactical weapon during jungle war fare. The dioxin which it contained, led to irreversible health problems in those who populated former operational areas. Three generations af ter the application of “Agent Orange”, severely deformed and disabled children are still being born in Vietnam, as a consequence of toxic damage to the parental genotype. Additionally, a notable increase in cancer cases can be attributed to dioxin use in American military tactics, the “collateral damage” of Vietnamese exposure to “Agent Orange”, which has af fected above all , the civilian population. The US government and
the military continue to deny till this day, a causal connection between “Agent Orange” and the resultant maladies.

They have also paid no compensation to the Vietnamese victims; however, those af fected within their own armed forces have, by stark contrast , received significant payouts. Nguyen has exploited these virulent problems as subject matter for his work, from the perspective of a member of the Vietnamese post-war generation. As the expatriate son of a decorated ex-serviceman, his mindset , although comprising of empathy for the victims, is untainted by ideological judgement . He states, “The war fare agent and its aftermathare only one starting point in search of a signature of existential options, and a trail of the rejection, powerlessness and vulnerability of the people which therein inscribes the mechanisms of heteronomy.”

Initially, Nguyen used documentary stills of actual events, such as the inglorious “My Lai massacre” (1968), as a model for his work. However, since 2007 he has pursued a dif ferent creative path. Nguyen creates a putatively ideal world of physical deformity through the digital manipulation of sourced or staged graphic material , the technical criteria of which hinges on both communist propaganda and capitalist adver tising. The exclusively female bodies, all of which are drawn with emphatically “unnatural” adhesions, serve as a libidinous seduction mechanism which uses their beautiful appearance as a lure to impar t mercantile or ideological
messages. The physical deformities of the women are, for the ar tist , symbolic of mental deformity. For Nguyen,
his work is concerned with exposing both governmental as well as commercial indoctrination, which treats “ the human mind like plasticine which one forms arbitrarily and seldom indiscriminately, by force, for cer tain purposes.”

Nguyen’s pictorial world is the product of an intensive interaction with (western) art history. Partly he confesses quite openly to certain prevalent artistic influences, such as, for example, thematic connections to Hieronymus Bosch, Francisco de Goya or Albrecht Dürer. On a technical level , there are clear parallels to be drawn between his work and that of Michelangelo and the European mannerism of the 16th Century (fig. Goltzius ?). The works of Francis Bacon however, are his principal source of inspiration. A great deal of Nguyen Xuan Huy’s works which originated during the time of his studies, are concerned with the existential dislocation of the figures, as can also be perceived in Bacon’s unsettling painting style. Bacon’s harsh pictorial depiction of the human face
in the form of fleshy protrusions is echoed in both the real and the fictitious deformity of the figures inhabiting Nguyen Xuan Huy’s creations.

It ’s a method of painting which gets deep under your skin; which throws any remedial promise of a putatively nice ‘New World’, back to the abysses of reality.

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