• Bardo Series 2021
      Dreaming Root
      Glazed porcelain, combusted plant matter
    • Passing Wing
    • Of Sulfur + Dust
    • From flying Dragons
    • Lullabubs Rising
    • On Becoming
    • Passing Wing
    • Lost Flower series 2019
      Glazed porcelain combuted vegetation, black clay
    • Chrysathemum

    • Fallen
    • Green
    • Spring
    • 2019
      Dancing Root
      Wood, ceramic, porcelain gesso
    • Leaf Formation
      Glazed porcelain, Black clay, combusted leaf
    • Leaf Formation
      Glazed porcelain, combusted leaf
    • Planetary Gardens 2018
      Glazed porcelain & combusted plants
    • Glass + Ceramic objects 2014
      Tail & Nose Form
      Hand engraved blown glass
    • Life on a Stick
      Hand engraved blown glass, glazed porcelain, wood
    • Bird on a Stick
      Hand engraved and blown glass, painted wood
    • Organic Wall Vessels 2010
    • Moss blobs + Tubes + Fruit + Organs
    • Glazed slipcast porcelain
    • 2010
      Still Lives
      Glass + Ceramic + Painted vegetation
  • Rosa Nguyen
  • Rosa Nguyen
    • 2022
      Celestial Bodies
      Series of frottage & pierced drawings on vintage french exercice paper.
      Clay gesso + gouache + ink + watercolour pencil
    • 2017
      A Stone a Day
      Colour pencil + graphite on coulour paper
    • 2018
      Planetary Herbarium
      Ink, clay, pencil, vegetation
    • 2019
      Planetary Nocturnes
      Ink, clay, pencil, vegetation on paper
    • 2005
      Ink + graphite on Chioyogi paper
  • Rosa Nguyen
  • Rosa Nguyen
  • Rosa Nguyen
  • Rosa Nguyen
  • Rosa Nguyen
    • 1
    • THE SEA

      Anna Ricciardi

      As its gnarly protrusions shoot out into finer woody needles, Rosa Nguyen’s sculpture, Dancing Root, tiptoes in seemingly outright defiance of gravity. By rights, the glossy black porcelain bead crowning the spindly piece should send it toppling. Instead, it appears, just as the title suggests, to waltz across the desk in the studio where we sit in discussion of other roots; the London-born artist’s background in contemporary craft & design, her study of astronomy, her French and Vietnamese family trees, amongst many others. An afternoon sun floods the studio with golden light, picking out the bright capillary-red lacquer marking the root pieces.

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    • For a brief second, possessed with an animacy that fires my imagination, the doll-like root looks as if it could break loose of the studio confines, to scuttle off into the Peckham wilderness outside. Some of the root pieces are turned upwards to the sky, emphasizing their dendritic appearance to embody an inverted image, an echo of a past spent reaching for sunlight.

      Still Root, though, is an oddity of another time and place. Nguyen’s treatment of this sturdier piece, again with clay & pigment mix, is by way of an unsettlingly aortic shade of vermillion, moving it even further away from its original plantliness. No longer pliable and yielding, less spry than its dancing sister, it looks as if it once lived but ossified with age or pollution, like a fragment of bone or calcified coral. Yet it’s the talismanic bead, striped with dark inky pigment across grey clay, placed atop one of the root’s tubers, which seals this almost animistic approximation. Reminiscent of a bodily organ or receptive feeler of extrasensory perceptivity, it looks more than decorative, and as if it may indeed conduit realms beyond this Earthly one.

      In his catalogue essay for Phytopia at Glynn Vivian Art Gallery, in which Nguyen exhibited work, Tom Jefferies writes that the etymology of the show’s title suggested that “not all places need exist in the real world; that imagined places - for example those of art

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    • or literature - create possibilities for new ways of thinking about the very concept of place”. That the exhibition’s titular neologism should have required making up by the curator Edward Chell in the first instance, Jefferies maintains, indicates how the relationship between plantlife and place is more complicated than we may prefer to believe, and that with contemporary understandings of ‘nature’, “the thread between the two has somehow come loose”.

      Nguyen shows me a collection of dried plants. Hefty bundles of French Yellow Pages, archaic objects in themselves, contain brittle slips of weeds flattened on each telephone directory page, in a makeshift flower press tightly bound together with string. For just a few weeks during summer each year, she returns to her studio in France and tends to the garden beside it, in the knowledge that, each time, she’ll have to start all over again. As a gardener, a maker & a Buddhist, Nguyen appreciates the harshness of horticultural realities; the fact that the seeds she sows may not flourish as she’d hoped or that the plants which do grow may die in her absence. In submission to this repetitive cycle, Nguyen views gardening as a form of meditation practice; digging up dead roots, casualties of passing seasons across the channel, or weeding out plants which are no biological threat to the garden’s ecology, but have simply seeded out of place.Even so, unable to bring herself to discard the remains of these plants,

    • Anna Ricciardi

    • Nguyen resolves herself to discard the remains of these plants, Nguyen resolves to “remove them, press them and find their right place”.

      In this reparative act, these remains become material for Nguyen’s Planetary Herbariums, a series of works on paper originating in her studio in France and continued in London. These circular drawings are a compelling synthesis of her interest in mythology and mysticism, alongside her studies of quantum science theory & astronomy. From afar, they could well be depictions of celestial objects. Rivulets of ink and watery clay run into scattered husks and dried seed pods to make chance markings, suggestive of the whorls and smudges that pit the luminous surface of the moon. Seen from another perspective, though, they’re reminiscent of Petri dishes in a laboratory, full of bacteria writhing in fervent multiplication. Both notions, of the telescopic or the microscopic viewpoint, return to the lens as the ultimate divinatory tool, a portal for scientific enlightenment & clarification, serving as a reminder of an esoteric mirror image of the heavens and the earth, that ‘as above, so below’,

      In another variation of plant portraiture, Nguyen’s series of ‘Lost’ sculptures transform plants into hollow-hearted mountains of porcelain and, so too, a state of unambiguous objecthood. All botanical features of identification melt into a topography of

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    • phantasmic parts - flowers, leaves, roots, stems - every fibre of organic matter having combusted in the furnace of the kiln. While impressions of them are captured in sumptuously glazed porcelain pallor, the titling of the works is fittingly brutal in its literal simplicity, referring of course to the dead plant matter but also to the casting process itself. When we think about the ‘lost wax’ method of casting, we must also think about how an history of monumental sculpture has been latitudinal to one of power, conquest and capture, whereby only some events & figures survive time by immortalisation in bronze, often at the expense of others. A question of who has been lost in memory is arguably more lamentable than loss through death itself. Tributaries of site-specificity and transience often converge in Nguyen’s performative work within museum collections. An experienced maker of handmade objects, her knowledge of ceramics and blown glassware informs her interventions. However, it’s her research into the significance of the vessel form throughout many Eastern spiritual practices that brings Ikebana, the ancient Japanese art & tradition of arranging flowers, into transformational contact with conventions of museological display. A key principle of Ikebana is mitate, meaning to see with fresh eyes, and for which the use of fresh flowers signifies renewal or a shifting of perspective. For example, Nguyen’s installation Still Living at Bristol Museum & Art Gallery, brought the specimen skins of birds back to life through a new

    • Anna Ricciardi

    • relevance. Curating ceramics, glass and plants to reimagine the museum vitrine as a type of commemorative shrine, she invited viewers as to ‘see’ the inanimate artefacts of the collections anew, with ‘fresh eyes’ as it were.

      Likewise, in an earlier installation, Petites Terres, a culmination of her 2008 residency at Maison Patrimoniale de Barthète, Nguyen used not only Barthète’s architecture but its life-giving spring water too, creating a host of ‘mini cultures’ in the form of floating gardens. Taking inspiration from the tile patterns suggestive of water droplets, she subverted the earthenware ‘vessels’ of the museum collection, drawing on the site itself, especially its architecture as an ancient thermal spa.

      Motifs of expiration and temporality run throughout Nguyen’s art, finding resonance with what taxonomists refer to as ‘shelf life’, the period of time between the discovery and description of a species. Biologists Benoît Fontaine, Adrien Perrard and Philippe Bouchet forewarned some years ago that “a large part of biodiversity is still unknown, and it is estimated that, at the current pace, it will take
      several centuries to describe all species living on Earth”. As a full blown biodiversity crisis only continues to accelerate, an aspect of the meaning attributed to the idea of extinction, as a loss of life, at least in part, as once knowable or nameable, has

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    • changed beyond our recognition. As Fontaine, Perrard and Bouchet conclude, “A significant part of the unknown segment of biodiversity awaiting description is already in museum collections. With a biodiversity crisis that predicts massive extinctions and a shelf life that will continue to reach several decades, taxonomists will increasingly be describing from museum collections species that are already extinct in the wild, just as astronomers observe stars that vanished thousands of years ago”.1

      It is with some poignancy, then, that in this context of ecological, climate and biodiversity crisis, Nguyen contemplates loss as a universally disorienting force which, paradoxically, stretches beyond geography, throughout time, into all lives as a connective tissue of existence.

      In confluence with such diverse areas of study, her approach of seeking to trace the physical mattering of, & accounting for, loss & its meanings, might be best described as an orientation towards the ‘cosmological’. This puts me in mind to remember the cli-fi modern classic, ‘The Man with the Compound Eyes’, by the Taiwanese author & artist, Wu Ming-Yi. Here, environmental catastrophe and personal loss are inscribed into landscapes, both real and fictional, and through a lexicon of imagined memories and speculative futures. On returning to a friend’s home

    • Anna Ricciardi

    • by the seashore, a place in which she and her late husband would often holiday, the novel’s grief-stricken main character, Alice, tells us that:

      The sea is totally changed. From a distance it is still blue or even multi-coloured on account of the garbage. But having spent time with the sea on a daily basis I can feel its emotions. Now the sea seems to be made out of pain and misery.

      For Nguyen, it is the iridescent qualities of human memory and the many languages we have to preserve it, which border on the miraculous. There is alchemy in our narrative ‘loosenings’ between nature and place; for to hold someone, something, somewhere, in our thoughts and prayers, is afterall, a kind of cosmic time travel.

      1 Benoît Fontaine, Adrien Perrard & Philippe Bouchet in ‘Current Biology’. Volume 22, Issue 22.

  • Rosa Nguyen

Rosa Nguyen is an artist who materialises the ephemeral. Whether this is in memorialising stars that shine bright but are long gone, or immortalising flowers that died far away, across borders, in other soil, her works give tangible form to universal narratives of loss.

With a background in contemporary craft and design, Rosa uses sculptural and casting techniques common to ceramics and glassware to explore the natural world and its matter. The significance of these processes as a force of transcendence is crucial to her practice as a whole. In the case of the Lost series of porcelain works, in order to capture their impressions in sensuous glaze, for example, the delicate specimens of plant life she deems worthy of celebrating in sculpture must be sacrificed. These artworks hold a sort of memory, like a deathmask, leaving piles of spirit flowers and twigs, combusted plant material destroyed in the fires of the kiln.

This reckoning with a belief that all things are, in some way or another, if not actually divinely designed then definitely interconnected, that ‘as above, so below’, aligns with many of the holistic or mystic philosophies Rosa draws from. As a gardener and a Buddhist, she sees the cross-pollination of ideas ancient and modern from divergent quarters - quantum science, permaculture, astronomy, conservation and museological display, Eastern philosophical traditions - as fundamental to her practice. This approach, described by the writer Anna Ricciardi as ‘an orientation towards the ‘cosmological’ leads Rosa to use fresh flowers, dried plants, clay and ink to create drawings, objects and installations with an ecopoetic sensibility.

Born in London, but of French Vietnamese heritage, Rosa Nguyen’s often performative work within museum collections honours and navigates the distance between form and function, thought and belief, and even the greatest existential divide of them all, life and death.

  • Contact
  • r.nguyen@macunlimited.net

  • Website
  • nguyen-ceramics.co.uk

  • Instagram
  • @rosamandenguyen

  • Copyright
  • 2020
    All rights reserved
    The material and ideas published are protected by copyright laws and treaties worldwide

  • Rosa Nguyen
  • Rosa Nguyen