Sci-Fi Dada

The fabulous worlds of Christine Nguyen

Photo by Tenaya HillsIf Fritz Lang's Metropolis were happy instead of sinister, and if it were set in outer space instead of an underground postindustrial city of the future . . . well, I suppose it would be Barbarella.

Okay. So if Barbarella were underwater, and had anthropomorphized jellyfish and blimps instead of a sluttily (but fabulously!) togged Jane Fonda constantly getting surprised by inconvenient and uninvited orgasms, well, then it might be Christine Nguyen's work at Huntington Beach's The Office. Maybe. Better throw in Finding Nemo, as well. Or maybe Nguyen's work is more like the Beatles' Yellow Submarine? The cartoon they used to show on Saturday mornings in the late '70s sometimes when they weren't rerunning the animated Jackson 5? There were little creatures in that, right? No, Yellow Submarine, not the Jackson 5. We know all about the poor Creatures Jackson.

So. What the hell is Christine Nguyen doing with her "mixed media" (pencil and what looks suspiciously like crayon or colored pencil) on a canvas that looks like tracing paper? What is she doing with her bizarre sea/spacescapes, with her blimps that look like cuddly hammerhead sharks? What's up with her Water Spirits, where fish that look like buses live inside glass bowls that are actually heads that have small metropoli sprouting from them and tiny Jetsons space cars cruising on an el in between? What?

Or how about Fishmarines collecting energy from islands? Purple Lorax trees rise from island heads while, you know, "fishmarines" collect energy from them. Then there are the bitter bluebirds of Scapes—bitter, sinister bluebirds that are really jets, with tiny x-ed windows in their bellies, soaring over one-eyed pink jellyfish with barbs and city fish with tiny Saturns (the planet, not the pleasantly PC family sedan) emerging from their maws. The bluebirds carry blue eggs, giant ones, and they (the bluebirds) are hoppin' mad.

I do not know why.

Nguyen is a perfect artist for The Office—a tiny, three-cubicled space that's as anonymous and generic as the anonymous, generic Huntington Beach office park in which it's secreted. A Cal State Long Beach alum in her second year at UC Irvine, Nguyen should at this stage in her career rightfully be perpetrating some tired identity-politics art and gazing at her vagina. Instead, she's going sci-fi Dada, forsaking the politics of her gender, country and world for an equally frightful place: one that's superficially much prettier, with its pastel hues and bright creatures and teeny cities that live on fishheads (and are purple!), but where bluebirds look ready to launch an MX missile.

In a second room, Nguyen shows prints on beige fast-food bags. They'd probably be more acceptable to the discerning high-art crowd due to their terribly bland color-scheme (you know how the toity like their ecru), but they lack the goofy zippiness of the cartoony fish worlds. Still, there's one, Ceremonial ritual of welcoming, that shows an inked quail bowing down to some . . . other creature . . . in a graceful, gracious gesture. Gestating within the quail is either a parasite or a fetus—which are, to some people, one and the same. The print is lovely.

Derric Eady's Manifesto takes the third cubicle, with a quote from Tristan Tzara explaining how to commit automatic poetry. It seems you take a newspaper or magazine article that is about the length you want your poem to be, cut it into individual words, and then pull them one by one from a bag, carefully recording the order. "The poem," Tzara claims, "will resemble you." But that sly Eady instead cut up Tzara's quote and made three automatic poems from that! Clever Derric Eady.

Unfortunately, the automatic poems are such an abstract kerfuffle that one can't be bothered to read them carefully all the way through. When one gets to the fourth, one realizes it is the original—Tzara's instructions—and that the previous three were derived from it.

One can do much better, really, with those poetry refrigerator magnets. Still, Eady's sense of font and paper stock was extremely pleasing aesthetically, and that's something. Eady also shows a couple of sterile, futuro graphics that are quite cool and nifty. His future may really lie in design—the kind without words, or where words don't matter, like vintage Wired, maybe. Or The Orange County Register.

The Great Escape: The art of Christine Nguyen and Derric Eady at The Office, 5122 Bolsa Ave., Ste. 110, Huntington Beach, (714) 767-5861. Open Tues.-Fri., 1-5 p.m. Through Aug. 8.
 
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