Exit Strategies is a new exhibition by Vietnamese-Australian artist James Nguyen that reflects upon the artist’s experience of living in a factory in south-west Sydney with his family during the 1990s in a effort to save a failing textiles business. Commissioned by 4A Centre for Contemporary Asian Art, Nguyen’s new body of work explores the complexities of familial relationships between himself, his brother and parents as migrants in an adopted country.

Working in a semidocumentary mode of construction, whereby the artist presents a fictional story that incorporates many factual details or actual events, Exit Strategies sees Nguyen collaborate with his family as key characters in a fragmented narrative. Adopting the roles of both the artist and his brother during moments of their upbringing within a place of work, Nguyen’s parents interpret scenes from the family’s history that saw the children passing time while they laboured to earn a living in the floundering Australian textiles industry. As a final attempt to sustain both family life and livelihood under a single roof, this act reflects the challenges experienced by many migrant families seeking stability and opportunity.

Exit Strategies includes on a newly-commissioned 4-channel video work that focuses on the artist’s parents. Dressed in matching white t-shirts and shorts, the couple re-enact and narrate the experiences of their children through split scene sequences. In doing so, Nguyen re-visits a family’s personal reflections on the idiosyncrasies of parenthood. By reversing the roles of the parent, Nguyen re-imagines his childhood as a psychological reference for the responsibility that children of refugee or migrants often assume. Also included in the exhibition are a number of sculptural components, video vignettes and installations that further address the economic transformation and social implications of the decline of the textiles industry on Australian society from the 1980s onwards.

As the artist’s first significant solo exhibition, Exit Strategies marks an important contribution by a member of a younger generation of Vietnamese-Australian artist, of which a critical mass share an upbringing in western Sydney, and are likewise exploring concerns relating to the Vietnamese diaspora in Australia. Through re-staging and framing intimate familial gestures in the face of financial ruin, Exit Strategies draws human and personal connections alongside broader geopolitics of war, economic reform and nationhood.

James Nguyen (b.1982, Vietnam) is a Sydney-based artist whose output ranges from drawing, installation, video and performance. He graduated with a Bachelor of Fine Arts (Honours) from the National Art School, Sydney, in 2012 and is currently undertaking a Masters of Fine Arts at Sydney College of Arts (SCA), University of Sydney. He has been the recipient of the Clitheroe Foundation Scholarship and the Anne & Gordon Samstag International Visual Arts Scholarship. Since 2012 Nguyen has participated in several group exhibitions including at Articulate Project Space, Sydney; YOLK Collective, Sydney; William Wright’s Artists Projects, Sydney; and Perth Institute of Contemporary Arts. His first solo exhibition was at Bradfield College, North Sydney, in 2013 titled EXIT Strategy, and his recent solo exhibition, The Man With the Movie Camera, was presented at both SCA Gallery and FELTspace, Adelaide in 2014.


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