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Millian  Pham Lien Giang

Dislocated Labor | Abstract Anxiety | Loss/Leaching Field | Training A Parting | To Have/To Harvest | Refrain | Reflection of Shadows | Marks and Marrow | The Price of Prosperity | Weight of Worth | Art/Science/Collaboration

The Logic of Art : The Tone of My Other Tongue


When words fail and bodily expressions are not enough, I rely on the visual arts as a tertiary language; one in which I communicate issues and ideas that many other methods of communication cannot convey. Through experimentation and a deep investigation of materials, imagery, and phenomenological relationship, I continually cultivate a lexicon from which I formulate visual argumentation. Each piece of my work is a facet of the whole—a statement—that functions in sum as a body and apart as a thought.

Along with the tools of visual art—the elements of art and principles of design—my works rely on the associative and non-linear logic of art to infer meaning and relationship. With this crafted tongue and evolving visual lexicon, I aim to compose artistic arguments that are perceptually constructed yet objectively concrete.

Dislocated Labor

I have adopted a different way of living than my parents.
I have transformed their methods of survival to suit current needs.

Everyday I see the figures of my past egging me on.
These anonymous familiars are old social constructions.

They say there is no room to fail.
There is no room to truly be.

The only path is the path of transformation.
But successful changes require keeping the root.

I have a different way of living.
I have transformed to survive.


Abstract Anxiety


The frustration of being partially understood was most prevalent when I conveyed complex ideas in a mishmash of Vietnamese and English to my parents. Our half-baked conversations usually devolved into one-sided views reinforced by traditional gender roles and outdated notions of filial piety. My parents—like many immigrant parents—hoped their children would thrive in the American landscape, but without losing the familiar roles and values of their generation. I learned that convincing my parents to change their perspective would have required more than a mastery of multiple languages and social codes. A lack of time and cultural resources drove me to seek out visual arts not only as a language to fill the voids in my verbal expression but also as a solace for not being seen and understood.

Straddling multiple cultural codes is the norm that people of color experience everyday. To be successful is to constantly code switch to the appropriate language for the situation, creating a hybrid experience that is not always fruitful. This code switching is how I approach art making. Each work experiments with the aesthetic codes and conceptual framework of multiple cultures, art mediums, and languages. I test out new ways to convey an idea through a pluralism of perspective in the code switching of an artwork.

In my current body of work entitled Abstract Anxiety, small compositions switch from printed images to hand drawn text. Larger compositions switch embroidered text with painted imagery to revaluate the framework of fine art and seemingly lowbrow craft. Images such as durian, jackfruit, rambutan, cashew, and other exotic fruits are placed behind drawn words that allude to class warfare and Otherness—issues that affected my ability to communicate with my parents and many people around me. I’m interested in highly abstracting these words to the point of near illegibility, hiding phrases and presenting them as ambiguous visual puzzles. Since the answer to each puzzle is provided in the title of each piece, the works aim to reorient the viewer toward issues beyond mere appreciation of surface elements. It is an opportunity to navigate toward deeper dimensions through the mode and code switching of visual and verbal perception.



Loss and Leaching Field

The Treachery of Love

from my mother

My mother never had time to groom her daughters. Instead she hustled smuggled goods at outposts for meager earnings that fed her family after the war. She also endlessly toiled in the rice fields with my father—after he came back from re-education camp—for tiny grains and gains. The vanity many mothers reserve for their daughters didn’t escape us, however, as my sister and I struggled to navigate a landscape of poverty, loss, and lack while upholding expectation of flawless porcelain beauty. Our limited vocabulary as daughters of laborers did not allow us to articulate the unfair standard of having to soak up the sun in our daily work while trying to attain the impossible.

The performance and installation Loss and Leaching Field is a series of grooming actions that my mother never provided for her daughters. I braided nine rows of grains—smaller than rice—and combed the surrounding area under the beating and broiling high sun. The rows of braided grains are allowed to grow, but each bounded stalk is in a state of constant stress. To be bound by unfair forces and to keep growing was/is still an expectation.



Training A Parting

Daily Discomfort

for my father


The childhood traumas I experienced had normalized chronic stress as a daily habit. The state of non-stress became a rare gift, and more so to someone who’s overly responsive to sensory stimuli. The daily comfort I found came from a long process of trial and error, of having many small needs met and masking discomfort while being highly functional. The tasks of extended emotional and physical self-care became my daily ritual and defense mechanism.

As a meditation on discomfort, pain, and the futility of daily rituals, Training a Parting arose from a conflict of internal needs with external demands. I reorganized and trained three patches of grass using three different rakes (wide, small, and short metal teeth) for seven days as each patch was combed with 100 strokes daily. The performance and installation were documented in a 1-hour and 40-minute video with segments ranging from dappled sunlight to dripping rain.



To Have and To Harvest

Shades and Demons

with my siblings


My siblings and I worried that we would inadvertently inherit demons from our parents, those dark figures that followed their every action and consequently affected their children. We knew how and from where these demons were born—a tumultuous childhood, a cheating spouse, rejection from in-laws and a new nation, a prison sentence in re-education camp, and the harsh consequence of being on the losing side of a war. Despite our refusal, these demons latched on to each of us and morphed to fit and amplify our individual insecurities. To be functional is to keep these demons at bay by facing and reasoning with them daily.

The video and still image installation To Have and To Harvest is an acknowledgement of the demons within. The action of embrace is to hold dear the demons that help define us individually; the action of cutting with a sickle is to harvest or cut out that which no longer needs to grow. Both actions are the reality of the invisible battle that marks our daily existence and the choices we make.





holding a hairpin
both practical and decorative
it folds fibers of history
flourishing on my head
bundle from my eyes
I see those piercing
breaths that mark
a fleeting glimpse
when exfoliation
erases a body
with tools that force,
pierce, break, and mark
power is practical
power is decorative
fear exhaled again
inhaled by victory
veiled by lost symbols
hidden by hypnos
forgotten regrets
lit and charred
into shadow
they remain



Reflection of Shadows


Stories that are not recorded are quickly forgotten. Stories that are not retold are quickly buried. Many stories, even minute and mundane in importance, form the aggregate spine that glues the system together. By eclipsing the outer appearance of the body, (ant)umbra and penumbra attempts to reference the absence of the body. As a metaphor for forgotten stories, these shadows materialize the erasure of existences through circumstances occurred in time. These foreign yet familiar memories form a collective body that is inaccessibly present and uncannily exigent.



Marks and Marrow


After all the flesh has been consumed, the cartilage gnawed away, and the thin ligament covering the surface of the bone has been peeled off to satisfy some deep-seated greed, the only value that remains is the marrow. To get to the marrow, the bone must be slowly boiled or broken with heavy force. The sucking of marrow is either an act of desperation or of true greed.

Pyramid Schemes, "trickle-down economics", Economic Neoliberalism, Capitalism, and various structures of the market--those hierarchical industrial systems--have one thing in common with the structure of war and conflict: a few benefits at the cost of many. This unequal distribution of capital depends on the unseen weight shackled across the shoulders of those who have no more flesh, cartilage, or ligament to trade, whose only value is contained in thick walls of bones that are being slowly boiled out of their meager existence.

My family barely eked by with our meager existence as lower class citizens in Vietnam and finally in the United States. We barely made it out of poverty. But during that period of poverty, we went from toiling in the rice fields of Vietnam to working side-jobs serving the same imported rice in restaurants in the USA. We went from using every ounce of energy cultivating rice at great losses in Vietnam to consuming those now-cheap rice in the USA—nourishing our bones and bodies, then serving these same goods as lower-middlemen in a system that guaranteed upper executives exponential growth while laborers experienced linear decay.

In my current upper-lower class lifestyle, I could afford to participate in throw-away culture. I escaped the lower rungs. However, these cheap goods I consumed, the affordable services I enjoyed, and the lack of psychosis from a weary day of work and simply survival, came at great cost for someone else. I recognize the privilege of existing on slightly higher rungs of a system while also acknowledging the plight of those underneath. Marks and Marrow arise from this acknowledgement; serving as a reminder of a collective class issue and, for me, the need to climb and carry.



The Price of Prosperity


My body is a vehicle through which I experience the world and relate to those around me. It is a vehicle that is built through my individual choices and, most importantly, a vehicle that is built through the collective efforts of other people. These efforts can be seen through the simple objects I consume and certain liberties I experience. In many small and large manners, the choices I make are the consequences of constant creative and destructive acts.

In the Price of Prosperity, I combined the creative language of rice cultivation with the destructive consequences of war to focus on the spiraling cycle of growth, loss, and the pain that lingers. Using drawings, appropriated images of conflict, and sculptural objects, I arranged visual arguments that conflate the body’s relationship to food and war—comparing a source of nourishment with a source of pain for the body. The Price of Prosperity offers the perspective of growth of an individual as a result of loss for someone else.



Weight of Worth


The Weight of Worth stemmed from my family’s history of participating in the profane act of rice cultivation and compares it to the sacred act of art making. As industrial farming replaces the human labor of small family operations and trade between nations opens up the market, the price of food has become more affordable. The food that my family once labored to cultivate is now cheap enough to be easily thrown away along with its take-out boxes.

In the Weight of Worth, I conflated the value of rice with the value of the US pennies through sculpture, installation, and performance works. As materials, pennies cost more to produce than they represent on the market, and rice cost more in caloric input to produce than their contribution in caloric output. Each material’s worth is miniscule on a small scale, but becomes significant through accumulation. The unimportant materials of my daily life become important through my work; they serve as reminders of the weight and worth of our individual existence.





The following works were completed with either collaborators and or with the generous supports of microgrants. Supporters included the University of Florida Creativity in the Arts and Science Event, the Codified Art and Genetics Grant, the Creative Capital funded project Student Artist In Residence Program (SARP), the Provost Digital Fabrication Award, and collaborations from the Analogous Thinking in the Arts and Science course (taught by Celeste Roberge and Jamie Gilooly, Spring 2012). Specific collaborators are credited with respective works.



The Other's Utter Part 1

The Other's Utter Part 2.



Translation: 23 Codes For Gene Expression was made through a collaborative effort with Oliver Klicker (BFA: Sculpture and Photography). Special thanks to the University of Florida Genetics Department for open participation in the project.


New Technological Adaptation From Deep-Sea Fish Photophores was a collaborative effort between Hye-Young Kim "kimae" (MFA Art and Technology), Randall Anthony Singer "singeri" (PhD Icthyology), and myself "phamae".