As the idiom asserts, Food for Thought stimulates our intellect, encouraging an engagement with art that appears to be actual food. Hand-decorated ‘cakes’ with personalized text, writing on ‘spaghetti and meatball’ plates and small, transparent mylar bags filled with tiny rice grains bearing words feature in the show. Deceptively frivolous and playful and brimming with wry humor, the works raise questions about our notions of food as language and the symbolic inference bestowed upon it.
The script on the trompe l’oeil cakes (Be Well.. and Be Gone; Welcome to Heaven. How go to Hell; and so on) seems to mock our tradition of marking occasions with celebratory cakes by turning mundane, bizarre or even rude words and thoughts into causes for commemortion.
The 12 spaghetti and meatbass pieces reveal an imagined dinner conversation through noodles. Laid out on a long wooden table, the works appear to engage in vapid banter, albeit in a dozen languages. While referencing The Last Supper (¿Dónde está Jesús?), Nguyen tosses in questions such as Wie stands im Speil? (What was the score?) and Não há meninas? (No girls?) into the absurd conversation.
In his Library series (2007 – present), Nguyen faithfully copied word for word entire chapters of books from his own library onto small kernels of rice. The rice ‘books’ seem almost like fetishes – obsessive transcriptions of literature neatly packaged and catalogued. Subverting the writers’ prose, the rice ‘books’ disregard all hierarchy in the collected word – articles like ‘the’ and ‘a’ and prepositions such as ‘on’ and ‘with’ carry equal weight as more charged, descriptive words – there is no hierarchy in their position. Full of potential, the words are both neutralized and sacred, acknowledging both the futility and power of language.
In the video projection Stolen Moments (2006), which documents a performance where the artist buried a time capsule of stolen items in an undisclosed location in Iceland, the viewer is blocked from approaching the protagonist by a barricade of rice bags. The barrier may prevent us from approaching the protagonsist by a barricade of rice bags. The barrier may prevent us from moving in too closely to the scene, but as observers we are guilty of abetting the crime.
Nguyen teases us with unobtainable temptations: the food you can’t eat; the books you can’t read; the buried treasures that can never be uncovered.