New York, Apr. 2010: Artslant Senior East Coast Editor Trong Nguyen poses a few questions for Memphis-based artist Tam Tran. Tam is the youngest artist (age 23) in this year's Whitney Biennial, and her photographs tell a whimsical and noire story of someone caught between east, west, and south.
Tam Tran, Battle Cry, 2010; Courtesy of the artist
Trong Nguyen: Tell us a bit about your work (Raising Hell) that is in the current Whitney Biennial.
Tam Tran: Raising Hell started as a simple act of recording my nephew’s growth that has evolved into an art project for me and a singular bonding process for the two of us.
TN: How did the process of being included in the biennial happen for you? Was it a complete surprise?
TT: I was invited to be part of the biennial after showing at an exhibition in Memphis. It was a complete surprise since I didn’t think I’d make it into the local show I was in.
Tam Tran, Alice Syndrome (from the Accents series), 2009; Courtesy of the artist
TN: There is a lot of individual narrative in your photographs, usually beginning with the benign or mundane and ending in some form of distortion or mishap, like the Trouble series. What is the inspiration for these?
TT: Anything can happen at any time. I suppose, the spontaneity of Death’s arrival intrigues me and I want to visually convey that.
TN: You have also been working on a series of self-portraits, which not only involves dressing up, but again utilizes distortion. What made you turn the camera around on yourself, and how do you go about treading that much-traveled territory?
TT: I was curious with what I could do with myself; contorting, transforming, being someone else, but still remaining myself. If I had asked a friend to pose for me, she wouldn’t translate what I wanted to convey since she’s not me. Self-portraiture has been done, but I try not to limit myself just because it’s a beaten path. I discover a piece of myself in every portrait that I take.
TN: Your degree is in journalism. How has that contributed and helped you in your photography? Are you a better storyteller with words or the lens, or both?
TT: I took the design route in journalism which consists of laying out content for newspapers/magazines. I’m no Wordsmith, just a shutter bug that wishes she has lens for eyes.
TN: What's it like being an artist in Memphis? Are you thinking about moving to New York?
TT: I keep to myself a lot. There’s small art scene, but I’m too socially awkward to know. Moving to New York is an idea I flirt with in the back of my mind, but I’m still unsure at the moment.
TN: Are there any good Vietnamese restaurants in Tennessee?
TT: Yeah, at my momma’s!
TN: Have you been back to Vietnam?
TT: I went back once as a teen and the other as a young adult.
Tam Tran, Welcome to Memphis, 2009; Courtesy the artist
TN: Where to and what next?
TT: Working still and I wish to know what’s next myself!
ArtSlant would like to thank Tam Tran for her assistance in making this interview possible.
-- Trong Nguyen