Betty Nguyen is a curator, writer, instigator and artist, founder of Living Arts Fund and founder and editor of First Person Magazine. She curates and hosts this weekend’s Snow in the Desert at Ace Hotel & Swim Club, an activated art space for women. Artist workshops are open today from 2-4pm in the Clubhouse, and we’ll have DJs by the pool all afternoon Saturday and Sunday. Betty DJs tonight in the Amigo Room as well. She’s whip smart — as evidenced below.
You’ve said that you “embrace all forms of cultural delivery.” How do those semantics disrupt ideas of art?
I’ve never regarded one art form higher than another: film, music, performance, dance, painting … if the shit is good, I’ll take it. They all influence each other if we are open to them. I have very fluid instincts. I trained in college as an art director, so I envision worlds through texts and vice versa. Just because work is fun or colorful or punk doesn’t mean it’s not informed. My work goes deep and I enjoy it. The disruption comes from opening people’s perspectives to expand what art is or how it can be presented which includes where it can be presented like at the Ace Hotel.
Tell me about interviewing Yoko Ono and Missy Elliot.
Yoko Ono is so fucking alive. The bigger the name, the more I tend to be restrained as an interviewer. But that’s bullshit right? I interviewed Yoko Ono for First Person Magazine’s “Discomfort of Sculpture” issue that also included Lynda Benglis, Louise Bourgeois, and Maya Deren. I first encountered Ono’s work at ICA East London in 2000. She showed these big Oxford shoes in larger than life rat cages on top of tons of used paperback books. A map of the world was on a table top with her Imagine Peace rubber stamps all over the table for you to make an impression on a country or border line, the ocean whatever needed it. And the last memorable piece was this long dark corridor that led to a light box of a rainbow. Her work is so provocative in a positive way. It’s sometimes difficult to do both in a work. And it’s always been there in hers for me. She was on tour as the Yoko Ono Plastic Ono Band with her son and I was pretty nervous, thinking I had to make sure the questions were related to music. But she just went straight out the gate with, “You know John and I did a lot for promoting peace to end the Vietnam War” after I said I thought we were simliar… refugees of war. We talked about both being women and immigrants. And working in the arts as Asian women as being really fucking hard. I can name one other Asian woman curator at the New Museum. And one in Tokyo at the Mori. Oh, yeah and I made her pink peace sign sugar cookies for her show with Sean Lennon.
Eve Fowler is arguably one of the country’s greatest living conceptual artists — trained in photography at Yale and in journalism from Temple University, she documents queer lives, interrogates “non-creative” visual forms and bridges the word with the body. She’s joining us this weekend for artists workshops at Snow in the Desert, an art space for women at Ace Hotel & Swim club. We asked her about her work, and what we can look forward to on Saturday afternoon…
What is your relationship, or your work’s relationship, to ideas of “beauty”?
I don’t really think too much about beauty in an art context. When I look at art or when I make art I tend to think more about what the artist was thinking or, regarding my own work, I’m trying to get information out into the world that matters to me in some way. I have a lot of art up in my apartment right now because I run an art organization, Artist Curated Projects, and I really love most of it but I don’t think about any of it in terms of beauty. When I was in grad school the worst thing you could tell someone was that their work was beautiful…
Talk a bit about the series of works you created at your residency at One Colorado — related to one of our favorite books in the world, Gertrude Stein’s “Tender Buttons.”
The public art project I made this year using text by Gertrude Stein is something I’m really excited about. I have been working with that text for a couple years making collages. Last year driving to my studio downtown I would see neon posters, made by Colby Posters, on telephone poles and fences. This is a very common form of advertising here and these posters have been used by a lot of artists. While I was using Stein’s text to make cardboard, wood and paper signs and collages I started to think these posters might be a great way for the general population to experience this text that I really love and enjoy. I see some of the text in “tender buttons” as really queer & coded but I think it’s so open-ended that it could mean so many things depending on who the viewer is. Aside from being posted in public, the posters have been used for classes, occupy LA and other protests. I recently made larger versions of them, paintings, for a show in Austin, Texas — along with a sound piece I made in collaboration with Tara Jane O’Neil. The sound piece combines ambient sounds collected while I put the posters up and “this is it with it as it is" spoken continuously for three minutes.
What will you be working on this weekend at Snow in the Desert?
I think this weekend I will have my library that I collected from the One Institute Gay and Lesbian Archive. They sell books for 50 cents there and over time I collected about 65 books. The books are wrapped in collages — I think we will unwrap them together and talk about that project a little. My library has some very obscure books in it but I think the books and the authors are important because they were out when it was hard to be out — making it easier for everyone now.