Contingent Archives: Jessica Elena Aquino, Vera Lucía Andrade Turner, Hong-Bich Huynh Vernon

2 – 18 August 2019

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Opening reception Friday, 2 August from 6 – 10 pm

Marginal Utility is proud to present Contingent Archives, a group exhibition by Philadelphia based artists Jessica Elena Aquino, Vera Lucía Andrade Turner and Hong-Bich Huynh Vernon.

“You can find the entire cosmos in the least remarkable objects.” Wislawa Szymborska

Aquino, Vernon and Turner produce working archives consisting of found objects from their immediate lives and lifeworlds. Found items such as books, clothing, plants, pages from magazines and brochures are used for their communicative, material and aesthetic properties. Official archives are strategic and produced by those with the power to determine dominant discourse. These hierarchical interpretations of history and the present are often from a colonizer’s perspective and employed to generate and reproduce forms of social control. Archives can be constructed tactically as well, enabling individuals to write their own histories and transcribe their underrepresented experiences into narratives and forms of visual communication. Turner writes:

Walter Benjamin’s depiction of historical materialism can be paralleled to making art with the memories at hand to use them as a form of interference in the present. art- induced disposition, organized pathos –

By extrapolating subject position to peoples position and vice versa

the relationship between

the clinical phenomenology of one’s psyches     and       the collective material realities / social pathologies

becomes more visible.

The American anthropologist James Deetz states “the vast universe of objects used by mankind to cope with the physical world, to facilitate social intercourse and to benefit our state of mind” is “useful in emphasizing how profoundly our world is the product of our thoughts.” A clinical phenomenology of material realities can be divided between immediate sense data and conscious/unconscious memory associations that ground objects in their historical provenance and subtle power relations.

Aquino and Vernon present immersive installations consisting of formations of found materials from their lives that are lashed and suspended by string. Objects are purposely displaced from original contexts and re-combined in ways that emphasize their presence and materiality. Through the use of stop motion animation, Turner manipulates cut-out photographs from mass publications in a direct manner that retains the distinction between the tactile nature of paper and the images and scenes being depicted. All three artists participate in a redistribution of material culture and allow for their recombined objects to signify the realities of their own particular lived experiences as well as the larger geopolitical events that are rapidly unfolding within our own shared historical moment. Aquino, Vernon and Turner remind us that the objects in our lives are never innocent and as Walter Benjamin writes ‘there is no document of civilization which is not at the same time a document of barbarism.’


Jessica Elena Aquino: Aquino’s work addresses the complex layers of cultural identity and modes of assimilation within the Latin American diaspora in the United States. Through dense installations consisting of dyed yarn that grasps and binds found objects from the artist’s immediate biographical life, Jessica allows these ready-made items to semiotically unfold their own specific cultural connotations and resonances. Aquino presents viewers with a performative articulation of the self as a hybrid being who is a “first generation Chicanx, queer, first generation, lower class, artista, from Southern California that embraces the Mexican culture of the artist’s family” while also simultaneously unmasking the forced cultural assimilation wrought by European colonization. Aquino writes that ‘home is not where the heart is. Home is on my back and I carry it wherever I may go. These are intimate fragmented accounts of love, hate, pride, anger, fear, disappointment and accomplishment.”

Vera Lucía Andrade Turner: I am interested in the relationship between the latent fiction in facts and vice versa. As an artist, my intention is to break free of or at least display the tension between the retro-action of discourse as a conscriptive institution and the re-establishment of a shared understanding of affective realities. Whether relating through determinacy or indeterminacy we are still perpetually affected together by all. However, separation through categorization presupposes non-affectable natures which are either exchangeable or merely intersect with others rather than combine or gather together. Communication is supposed to connect us not by breaking things apart through categories but by an intimation beyond what is said and into what is truly shared. We share positions in life and experiences in real time and space not just representations of them. Our senses gather us indiscriminately through their immediacy. Their insight is as outside of us as it is inside and an insight is as strong as it makes you feel. As the feel becomes drive, a drive to feel more, the pilot becomes myth as we are not servers to thought, they must rather serve us to feel together.

 Hong-Bich Huynh Vernon: Writing during World War II while exiled in England, Simone Weil wrote “to be rooted is perhaps the most important and least recognized need of the human soul. It is one of the hardest to define. A human being has roots by virtue of his real, active and natural participation in the life of a community which preserves in living shape certain particular treasures of the past and certain particular expectations for the future.” When a human being is uprooted and forced to flee their home, as I was in 1975 when my family and I were compelled to abandon our home in South Vietnam and seek asylum and refuge in the United States, one’s sense of identity is both fractured and challenged. Where before I was South Vietnamese, suddenly I became an asylum seeker, a refugee, an exile, a foreigner, a migrant, a Vietnamese American, and an American. Of course, I own other identifies as well including daughter, sibling, wife, mother, artist and more. All of these entail internal and external integration. Uprooted Memory is a manifestation of this process of integration of past and present, memory and forgetfulness, trauma and healing. At a time in which more than seventy million people around the world are forcibly displaced, governments are seeking to close their borders, and the othering of anyone different is all to commonplace, the recognition of the need for roots and the readiness to open our communities to others to create shared roots are more important than ever.