The second edition of the Copyright Agency Partnerships Commission, James Nguyen’s multi-lingual installation Open Glossary interrogates the politics of language, cultural exchange, activism and belonging.

August 29, 2023

Amongst other things, Nguyen will fill ACCA’s main hall with hundreds of white shirts, as a sensory and immersive sculptural work that probes the language of contemporary art and society more widely.

Born in Vietnam and based in Narrm (Melbourne), James Nguyen’s practice examines ways to decolonise and interrogate the politics of family history, translation, displacement and diaspora.

For Open Glossary, Nguyen and his collaborators, Tamsen Hopkinson (Ngāti Kahungunu, Ngāti Pāhauwera), Budi Sudarto, Kate ten Buuren (Taungurung) and Chris Xu, present dynamic installations, videos, performances and events across all four ACCA galleries, each carrying multi-lingual conversations on a range of contemporary issues including gender diversity and sexual identity, the linguistic and spiritual connections of Southeast Asia, First Nations Australian and Moana neighbours, as well as Land Rights and Indigenous Constitutional Recognition.

A central feature is the installation of white shirts, gathered from donations across Australia. Presented together these shirts evoke a range of touch points, from the political sculpture of Brazilian artist Lygia Pape, the Angel Ally corridors from Stonewall rallies and the Matthew Shepherd murder trials, the deregulation of the textiles and footwear industry in 1980s Australia, to Nguyen’s family sewing factory. This provisional structure is an intimate space for the public to encounter experiences of belonging and non-belonging from a range of LGBTQI+ migrants recently resettled to Australia, whose personal accounts were recorded in workshops facilitated in collaboration with Budi Sudarto.

In the adjacent gallery space, a guard of white angels secures a safe space for queer communities, filled with messages of hope and A Queer Glossary – a collective multi-lingual translation project of queer terms for, and by, non-English speaking LGBTQI+ community members. This evolving glossary records the shifting and collective presence of multi-lingual queerness.

In a separate project, James Nguyen stages an extended conversation with Māori artist and curator Tamsen Hopkinson. The work is a material and conceptual coming together, a manifestation of the shared term ‘Hui’, which resonates across Indo-Pacific and Moana Polynesian cultures. Conceived as a meeting space of cultural negotiation and exchange, ‘Hui’ continues the contemporary linguistic and artistic connections of two practitioners coming from Māori and Vietnamese traditions.

In the final section of the exhibition, James Nguyen and First Nations artist and curator Kate ten Buuren have crafted an interactive space for young people to consider their relationship with Aboriginal and Torres Strait people in contemporary Australia. Furnished with zines, dioramas and costumes, this hands-on making-space encourages participants to craft their own stories in relation to Sovereignty, the Voice, Treaty and Care for Country.

This project is presented in partnership with the Copyright Agency as part of the 2023 Copyright Agency Partnerships (CAP) Commission, supporting mid-career and established Australian visual artists to produce a major new commission. The first in the series was TextaQueen’s Bollywouldn’t at the 4A Centre for Contemporary Asian Art’s Haymarket gallery.

James Nguyen, Open Glossary
In collaboration with Tamsen Hopkinson, Budi Sudarto, Kate ten Buuren and Chris Xu
16 September – 19 November 2023
Curator: Shelley McSpedden

Australian Centre for Contemporary Art
111 Sturt Street, Southbank VIC 3006
Melbourne, Australia
Opening hours: Tuesday – Friday 10am–5pm, Weekends 11am–5pm, Free entry
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