About the Photographer
French, b. 1979
Liza Nguyen's photographic series Surfaces concerns the virulent devastation caused by war and the often invisible traces that are left behind. Her work is in one sense a personal investigation, relating to her family history in Vietnam, but it also becomes a more universal reflection on loss and cultural memory. Born and raised in France, Nguyen traveled to Vietnam, the home country of her father, for the first time in 2000 and she returned in 2004. As a sort of ritual, she began methodically collecting soil samples from locations all over the country, mostly places where combat or atrocities occurred with names that are familiar from the war, like Cu Chi, My Lai, and Dien Bien Phu. She brought the soil back to Europe and photographed it in a clinical, controlled manner, enlarging her prints to reveal the subtle textures and colors of the earth. But what is most significant can’t be seen or photographed: the traces of the blood and tears of soldiers and Vietnamese citizens and the toxic chemicals that have been absorbed forever into the landscape. In exhibitions Nguyen often juxtaposes her large photographic prints of soil with sets of small postcard leaflets depicting the museums, monuments, propaganda billboards, and publicly-displayed weapons that represent the official Vietnamese government version of the war. Her small, cheap postcard reproductions rob these places of their imposing scale and pretentiousness, revealing them to be kitschy, consumer-oriented constructions.
Nguyen completed MA degrees at La Sorbonne, Paris (2004) as well as the Ecole Nationale Supérieure Louis Lumière, Paris (2003), and studied photography with Thomas Ruff at Kunstakademie Düsseldorf (2004). She lives and works in Paris and Cologne, Germany.