This post originally appeared on the Library as Incubator Project in March 2017.

Today, we’re delighted to feature Trong Gia Nguyen, and his impressive “Library” project– an installation that bends the idea of what a book is by  re-writing famous works word for word on rice grains. Don’t miss his fascinating concepts for the “ideal library”– zero gravity reading rooms? To-scale reproductions of paintings to check out and take home?  Yes please.  Enjoy!  ~Erinn

Tell us about yourself and your work. What was your training like, and what are you working on right now that you’re excited about?

Well, I’ve been living in New York for about 13 years, having moved here shortly after getting my MFA from the University of South Florida (the joint I lovingly refer to as the Yale Art School of the South). My degree is in painting, though I don’t paint so much anymore. I’m your typical urban multi-tasker.  Currently, all my energies are being channeled to a solo exhibition in Frankfurt later in April. I’ll be including mostly works that have some sort of interactive angle. It’ll be called “Mann Cave.” I’m excited about that and also the possibility of taking summer road trips in an awesome, used minivan I recently purchased. I named it Chaka Khan.

For the past seven years I’ve been writing literary works word for word on rice kernels, encased in little mylar packets imprinted with old library card-cataloging information. The original idea was to write all of Marcel Proust’s “In Search of Lost Time” word for word on grains of rice, to be housed in a giant hourglass. I’m slowly plugging along on that one, but in the meantime I’ve written mostly single chapters of numerous books. I’ve always been interested in the idea of books as knowledge, and by extension the library as a repository and collection of this body of knowledge. Written knowledge versus memory knowledge.


The idea of books and libraries as repositories of knowledge has clearly influenced “Library”– tell us about the first library you can remember playing a significant part in your artistic development. 

When I was a young student, I remember fixating on the Laurentian Library in Florence, which was designed by Michelangelo. Maybe it was just a fascination with all things related to the Renaissance artist. The library is particularly renowned for its staircase and the architecture was said to have mimicked the shape and aspects of the human body– the Renaissance basis for the ideal. Imagining myself walking up and down these flights of stairs, and any other stairs for that matter, becomes a metaphor for intellectual and creative treading, ascending and plumbing, finding and endeavoring. The mythic Alexandrian Library also often flickers like a cranky neon sign in the back of my mind. Like most humans, I’m drawn to the idea of forgotten knowledge, and, by extension, loss.

What 3 things do you wish were available for checkout at every library?

How about audio tours of the library narrated by interesting people from all walks of life? These could be tailored to specific interests, i.e. David Bowie could take you on a tour of his favorite music books and navigate you to them, while humming his new album personally in your ears.

If you’re interested in other interesting artistic conceptions of “discovery” in a library, check out our feature on artist Chris Gaul who served as Artist in Residence at the Library of the University of Technology, Sydney.


As an artist who explores knowledge and memory, what would your ideal library look like?  What could you do there, and what kind of materials would it house?

I was always attracted to the idea of the court reader. So in my ideal library, one might enter a dreamy columnated rotunda or hall where something is always being read aloud, from somewhere in the world. It could be audio from a live feed, or a cassette book. The goal would be to read–or speed read–every book aloud in the voice of Sean Connery, Mike Tyson, or Stephen Hawking. It might have an oculus like the Pantheon: a watchful eye scanning and sunning the library. You could laze around and just listen. My ideal library would contain only faithful reproductions of rare books that anyone could check out. It might also have an oracle that recommends books to you based on what it thinks you need. Live bands would play on the roof while bonfires of the mundanities blazed, and of course an underground gallery for visual art, realized in the form of holograms re-creating exhibitions described in historical and fictional literature. It would also contain a soundless, zero-gravity “outer space” reading room, where people would be seat-belted to their reading chairs and read/scream in silence.

On second thought, another ideal library might be one in which one could check out art to take home and hang temporarily in one’s place of residence.  Like the rare books, they could also just be faithful bootlegs of actual works, painted to scale and medium in China or outputted by a 3D printer. This could be an alternative form of a collection, the commonality shared by museums and libraries.


Anything else you’d like to share with us?

I’m Asian and it’s impossible for me to grow a beard.  On a biblio-related note, I have a work in a traveling show called “The Book Lovers.”  It’s an exhibition of artist novels, and I contributed a re-printed version of Dan Brown’s “Da Vinci Code” in which I’ve inserted an extra short chapter detailing the fictitious love pursuits of Marcel Duchamp.


Want More? Check out this interview from the Societe Perrier (Miami): The Many Dimensions of Trong Gia Nguyen


trong_portraitTrong Gia Nguyen is an artist based in Brooklyn, New York.  His wide array of works examines structures of power in their myriad forms, making attempt to scrutinize the soft foundation upon which contemporary life plays out, often behind the facade of fairness, sincerity, tradition, and civility.  Trong has produced everything from iPhone applications (Metaphysical GPS, with Christopher K. Ho) to installation, film, painting, sculpture, performances, and web-based actions.  He has received grants and residencies from the Museum of Arts & Design (New York), Artist in Residence in the Everglades, LegalArt Miami, Foundation for Contemporary Arts, Lower Manhattan Cultural Council, Harvestworks Digital Media Center, Bronx Museum of the Arts, and Puffin Foundation.

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