Nguyen, Tammy: O
Ugly Duckling Presse, paperback
Publication Date: April 15, 2022
Publisher Marketing: In O, artist and writer Tammy Nguyen returns to Vietnam to visit the caves of the Phong Nha Karst. This journey into the Karst’s “wind-carved teeth” resounds with the traditional songs of Nguyen’s guides, whose melodies produce the O-O-O-O-O-O-O-O that echoes through narratives woven together around it as a visual and sonic spine: the story of Nguyen’s Uncle Van, an opportunistic businessman who traded in Vietnamese porcelain vessels; her coming-of-age as a child with missing teeth, and the material and mineral histories of the veneers that eventually completed her “American Smile”; the plastic paradise of the man-made island of Forest City, a simulacrum of natural beauty kept uncannily bright and lush by the flow of global investment capital; and, behind it all, a retelling of Plato’s Allegory of the Cave that supplies what the original parable lacked: an understanding of fantasy’s role in the construction of a sublime. In O’s anti-allegory, the personal and geopolitical sit uncomfortably alongside one another. The shape of a bowl becomes the mouth of a cave. The uncanny naturalism of Nguyen’s zirconium veneers reflect Forest City’s manicured paradise. What emerges is a kaleidoscopic meditation on the play of language across scales: how it rebounds between our stories of self and the semantic regimes of global capital alike.