James Nguyen <em>The Camelia Economy</em> 2019 (still); single-channel video and stereo sound. Courtesy of the artists<br/>
© James Nguyen and Nguyen Thi Kim Nhung

James Nguyen

James Nguyen
(b. 1982, Bảo Lộc, Việt Nam. Lives and works in Naarm/Melbourne)

James Nguyen’s interdisciplinary practice moves between live and online performance, video, drawing and installation. He often makes work in collaboration with family and friends, inviting them to respond to specific sites using readily available materials. Research and conversation play key roles in his practice, which examines strategies of decolonisation while interrogating the politics of family history, displacement and diaspora.

The Camelia Economy, 2019, consists of interviews in Vietnamese with Nguyen’s relatives and family friends in suburban Sydney and Melbourne. The work is inspired by Nguyen’s act of border subversion at the age of fourteen: given a handful of tea seeds by his late grandmother from their family plantations in Bảo Lộc, Vietnam, Nguyen brought the seeds back into Australia, ‘smuggling’ the plant material past border security. From these seeds, the artist’s mother and aunty managed to propagate a line of tea plants and seedlings which they continue to swap and trade with family friends and neighbours. This intimate and often hand-held documentary gives insight into an informal barter economy. The Camelia Economy uses personal experience to develop a palpable sense of Nguyen’s community – the maintenance and continuance of cultural practice and place despite the disruptions of war, political exile and relocation.

Nguyen has received several prizes and awards, including the Clitheroe Foundation Scholarship, the Nillumbik Prize for Contemporary Art, and the Anne & Gordon Samstag International Visual Arts Scholarship. Recent solo exhibitions include Re:Tuning (with Victoria Pham and collaborators), 2022, Sydney Opera House; Re:Sounding (with Victoria Pham and collaborators), 2021, Samstag Museum, Adelaide, 2021; and BLEED Festival 2020; Homesickness (with Nguyen Thi Kim Nhung), a commission by the Australian War Memorial, Canberra, 2018; and BuffaloDeer (with Nguyen Ngoc Cu), Westspace, Melbourne, 2016. His work has also been included in group exhibitions across Australia, including The National, Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney, in 2019.

The Camelia Economy appeared in Community Hall on 29 May – 4 Jun 2023.

Film credits
The Camelia Economy 2019; single-channel video and stereo sound, 20 minutes 29 seconds. Courtesy of the artists © James Nguyen and Nguyen Thi Kim Nhung