If people truly are as unique as snowflakes, then Angie Nguyen is a blue-haired blizzard. Intrigued by music, sound and movement, the artist behind Visual Soundings and one half of the Scopophiliacs Photography team has been at the helm of an enormous range of artistic projects. From sound sculptures to artist management to photography and everything in between, Angie’s passion seems boundless.
She’s also her own muse. Whether she’s working with Scopophiliacs partner Louisa He on a series of photographs exploring the darker side of addictive games like Candy Crush, or going solo on a set of ocarina whistles in the shapes of animal and human heads, Angie’s art draws from her own life experiences and curiosities.
“I don’t sit there and think, what’s the next sculpture I’m going to make?” Angie says. “I ask, what’s the next phase in my life? And I just put it together.” Her pieces, thoughtfully visceral, sometimes comic, serve as catalysts for deeper reflections on the socio-cultural norms we may unwittingly be perpetuating.
Her Blow Series, for example, is a line of genitalia-shaped ocarinas. The response to these pieces, which were first conceived as a Secret Santa gag gift, has highlighted some particularly troubling issues in the ways that sexuality is perceived across genders. Male-gendered pieces inspire mainly laughter and crass emails requesting custom-made models. The most common reaction to the female-gendered ones, on the other hand, is, ‘That’s inappropriate.’ Unfazed, Angie is hard at work designing the next addition to the series: a transgender-genitalia ocarina. “These whistles really make you think about it,” she says. “You’re up close and blowing into this.” She’s not certain exactly how the finished product will look, but hopes that it will help spark conversations about, and raise awareness of, transgender issues.
While work of this kind can put an artist in the public’s crosshairs, it won’t be the first time this charismatic status-quo-buster has chosen art over approval.
In high school, Angie’s background was in biology. After graduating, she received a science scholarship from the University of British Columbia. It was a ticket to study at one of the top universities in Canada. Her Vietnamese-born parents were ecstatic. Then their daughter turned it down.
“I just said, nope, I’m going to art school,” Angie says. “It’s hard when you’re a first-generation here, trying to figure out who you are. Your parents don’t really understand, because it was all about survival for them.”
Her parents asked their family doctor to help persuade Angie that a career in medicine was the better choice. Despite his best efforts, she chopped off her “long, beautiful Vietnamese-girl hair,” and enrolled in the School for Contemporary Arts at Simon Fraser University. It’s a good thing she did, because it was through SFU’s Arts Co-op program that Angie met the woman who would become her mentor for the next five years.
Again, it was not what was first handed to her- the placements initially offered through the program were mainly desk jobs. Angie, however, was determined to get the right kind of experience. She stormed into the co-op office to question what was going on, and left holding an internship application to Diane Kadota Arts Management. She was assigned to the Vancouver Chinese Music Ensemble. Before long, the internship became a job. Then a mentorship. Angie thrived in this environment, producing memorable intercultural shows like Bang Danjos, which brought together a bluegrass banjo, its Chinese and Japanese counterparts, the sanxian and the tsugaru shamisen, and a Canadian tap dancer.
The next show she produces will be her biggest one to date: her own wedding. It’s slated to take place later this year, and, like so much of her work, promises to turn tradition on its head.
“Bam! I love you. You sure? Alright. Let’s do this,” she says, describing the wedding ceremony that she and her fiancé have planned. After walking out to the theme song from Duck Tales, the couple will host a pop-up auction of select pieces of Angie’s art. The reception will be held as a steam punk circus carnival, complete with a bearded lady bridesmaid. Inspired by the artists at the 2015 Eastside Culture Crawl, Angie has also begun creating lamps and light sculptures for the event.
When asked about her parents’ reactions to this unusual celebration, Angie’s smile takes on Cheshire Cat proportions. She shakes her head and cries, “We love her. We love her. But we only have one!”
Her parents may have gotten more than they expected out of their daughter, but they’re not alone. A few years ago, the family doctor Angie’s parents called upon when Angie first refused her science scholarship turned to her for advice. His daughter had cut her hair, dyed it white and announced that she wanted to study performing arts. He asked Angie what he should do.
“I pretty much said, just love her and support her, she’ll find her way,” Angie recalls, adding, “I couldn’t wait to call my mom!”
At the very least, this is a treat for fans of irony. On a deeper level, it’s a sign that, even in the most conservative communities, the snowflakes are gathering momentum.