Van Lier Visual Artist Fellows Tammy Nguyen and Alexandra Phillips to Show in Sunroom Project Space, September 6–October 12
Inspired by Wave Hill’s botanical complexity and its unique place within the urban fabric of New York City, artists Tammy Nguyen and Alexandra Phillips enliven Wave Hill’s Sunroom Project Space with two interactive installations that fuse natural, cultural and material worlds. Their highly tactile work reflects a nuanced awareness of nature’s infrastructures and idiosyncrasies—gained during the artists’ tenure as Van Lier Visual Artist Fellows—as well as a preoccupation with questioning the concept of preciousness, whether that of classical Western mythology or of the art object itself.
About the Artists
Through her complex, sculptural artist books, Tammy Nguyen tells stories about the contradictions embedded in cultural beliefs. The artist’s narratives, often loosely related to her own background as an Asian American woman, morph as they are read, creating unexpected juxtapositions and paradoxes. Through her participation in Wave Hill’s Winter Workspace as a 2014 Van Lier Visual Artist Fellow, Nguyen has expanded her practice to encompass plant sciences.
Nguyen’s Sun Porch installation, Hermes, the Epiphytes, introduces a trickster narrative that merges classical mythology and plant morphology. The installation comprises three artist books set on custom-made display tables, each taking on the physical form of both plant and human bodies. Viewers sit at the tables and peruse each book, unfolding its story and structure. All three tales feature the Greek god Hermes—the messenger of the gods who travels between the mortal and divine worlds—in the guises of three epiphytes or air plants: the bromeliad (Bromeliad – Neoregelia sp.), the ant fern (Lecanopteris mirabilis) and the red mistletoe cactus (Rhipsalis ramulosa).The artist playfully exploits the etymological roots of “hero” in the Greek word for spring, hōra, to draw out parallels between distant disciplines. The artist’s original stories weave together varied references as a way to reflect on agonizing, internal conflicts. Through the tragic tale of Achilles, Nguyen calls attention to the fleeting nature of youth and beauty. The myth of Philemon and Baucis alludes to the experience of inward friction provoked by familial obligations. The story of Persephone addresses the many consequences of displacement. Ultimately, viewers are encouraged to cut across conventional categories and engage with notions about the hero as he identifies himself and relates to his home and the world beyond.
Alexandra Phillips creates sculptures from cast-off or cheaply acquired objects that she picks up from the sidewalk or finds in discount stores. Her art practice pays careful attention to the wear and tear on mundane objects, encouraging viewers to experience matter in new ways. Fondly working these materials into forms that echo traditional sculpture, she seeks to heighten our awareness of the immediate environment, be it parking lot or public garden. As a Van Lier Visual Artist Fellow, Phillips participated in Wave Hill’s 2014 Winter Workspace, pursuing her interest in sculptural form as she explores our understanding of labor and the impermanence of matter.
For Temp Work, Phillips’ exhibition in the Sunroom, she installs platforms she has constructed using OASIS® floral foam; as viewers tread across the foam, they permanently mark the delicate material. Floral foam is used to hold water for cut flowers, thus keeping them alive in fresh arrangements. While the green color of the foam blends with the natural green of flower foliage, and apparently supports living plants, this highly synthetic material is, in fact, unhealthy for the environment.
Phillips is interested not only in nature but in the infrastructure on which it depends, both in her installation and at Wave Hill at large. In light of her interest in signs of wear, Phillips will also be presenting new sculptures inspired by potholes. These she presents on bases made from stacked floral foam. Often viewed as commonplace nuisances, potholes reveal the way the city is built up, even as it begins to wear down. Phillips’ damaged foam platforms and distressed sculptures contrast sharply with the pristine garden oasis just outside the windows of the Sunroom, at the same time serving as a reminder of Wave Hill’s own relationship to the larger urban environment in which it is situated.
About the Van Lier Visual Artist Fellowship
Tammy Nguyen and Alexandra Phillips are the third pair of Van Lier Visual Artist Fellows at Wave Hill. The one-year fellowship provides a remarkable experience for two young artists from culturally diverse backgrounds to develop the skills and professional credentials needed to establish a successful career as visual artists. Van Lier Fellows participate in Wave Hill’s six-week Winter Workspace program as artists in residence, create solo shows in the Sunroom Project Space in the fall, are mentored by curatorial staff and work with artists and arts professionals to define career paths. Previous Van Lier Fellows include Francisco Donoso and Onyedika Chuke (2013) and Nova Jiang and Cameron Rowland (2012).
Exhibition-Related Public Events
Unless stated otherwise, all public programs listed here are free with admission to the grounds and do not require pre-registration.
Exhibition Reception: Saturday, September 6, 2–4:30PM
Guided Gallery Tours: Saturdays and Tuesdays, 2PM. Tours are led by Wave Hill’s Curatorial Fellow.
Meet the Artists: Sunday, September 21, 1:30PM
Family Art Project: Nature Becomes a Greek God: Saturday and Sunday, September 27 and 28
Sunroom Project Space artist Tammy Nguyen takes us on a mythological journey to transform found materials in nature, such as leaves, dirt and twigs, into a portrait of a nature deity or a fantastical Greek god.
The Van Lier Visual Artist Fellowships are supported by the New York Community Trust. The Sunroom Project Space is supported in part by the Milton & Sally Avery Arts Foundation. Additional support for the visual arts is provided by the New York State Council on the Arts with the support of Governor Andrew Cuomo and the New York State Legislature and by the Cathy and Stephen Weinroth Commissioning Fund for the Arts. The Family Art Project is generously sponsored by Target, with additional support provided by the National Endowment for the Arts. Sustaining support is provided by the Sally and Gilbert Kerlin Endowment for Environmental Science and Nature Education. The Institution’s operations are made possible in part by public funds provided through the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs.