01: Vessel   02: Burning   03: Foil
AP Nguyễn: Degrees Hot, Cường Minh Bá Phạm
December 2023

AP Nguyễn, Still from ‘Remembering Vietnam’, 2021. 

I met AP a little before Covid-19 had disrupted our lives, yet it was only from being part of a group exhibition, No Place Like Home Part II (NPLH) (2023), that we were able to truly cross paths again. Thanks to this project, I was able to interact with AP and her art practice, her lived experience and our shared love of fried food. This conversation is centred around different ‘degrees’ – as temperature and angles.

AP is an artist living and working in London actively working in both the UK and Vietnam. Her practice is characterised by the meticulous assembly of landscapes that interrogate prevailing clichés associated with the contemporary globalised experience of travel, tourism, and movement. In her exploration, she sheds light on the intricate narratives of desire interwoven within these societal phenomena.

Cường Minh Bá Phạm: I wanted to begin our conversation at boiling point. When something is boiled, it transforms: water begins to turn into steam. For me, when I boil, it is either hotpot or tea. These things for me are about hosting, sharing, community and eating. When you go to Vietnamese houses, they often serve tea, it's one of the first things that they bring out to you. It can also be the thing you end the night with. The act of eating a hotpot is communal. Boiling point can represent moments of intimacy.

AP Nguyễn: In my practice, at boiling point, that's when clay starts to steam in a kiln firing. Water fully evaporates if there’s any bit of moisture left. If I put something in the kiln and I don't let it dry out fully, it will inevitably blow up. Under the pressure of the clay, that steam is going to be so strong that it explodes from within. It’s an uncommon issue but can definitely happen from time to time.

You mentioned boiling point in relation to cooking, hosting, and eating. I guess when things pass boiling point they become edible, right? An egg, for instance, you leave there for long enough at boiling point and it becomes consumable. In some ways, I think this relationship was always at the back of my mind when making my work for No Place Like Home Part II1 (NPLH). I thought about the dining space within the home a lot, especially as the plinths were designed so that viewers could share the experience of looking at each piece together – almost like a family meal. It felt a lot like the works were being eaten, dined and feasted upon which felt wholesome and frightening at the same time. It’s like how family meals can be moments of intimacy but also distress and tension – boiling points, so to speak. If you look closely at the sculpture, which was fired to 1220ºC in the kiln and well past boiling point, you’ll see faint outlines of oyster shells, which I stacked on top of one another on this rock-like mound. I wanted my sculpture to be a decadent and pleasurable thing to feast on at the table but also to question our readiness to collectively consume things that are presented to us, especially when it’s a culture, custom or entity that belongs to another.

I should have complicated the question by saying that hosting, cooking, or eating is not always joyful. In my family, the house I grew up in, and my partner's family, it can very much be a moment of concentrated chaos and agony.

Yeah, it can be very painful in a lot of households. Maybe that sense of collective commitment can be explored in a way that’s less romantic and more real at times. On a personal level, I feel like actively contributing to the community is a responsibility that’s been ingrained in me from a young age in a Vietnamese household. There’s something to be said about how community-building has been important for diasporas all across the world. In the Vietnamese diaspora, I find that there is a lot of importance placed on the act of hosting, cooking and eating. I wonder if this somehow flattens and simplifies an individual’s experience into a sort of trope. Although of course I don’t deny the significance of sharing a hotpot or a chả cá griddle.

There is this symbiosis between love and hate when it comes to hospitality.

Hospitality is an interesting word because it relates to the individual and their ability to receive, but is also a word to describe an entire industry of interactions, experiences and aesthetics. I’ve been thinking a lot about the way hospitality, on a larger scale – tourism can become a simulated experience, where there is definitely a symbiosis between labour and leisure, joy and resentment, pleasure and pain.


Let's talk about fried food. The act of deep frying food happens at 160 to 190ºC. I came to know about your love of fried food from the "AP Frying Bánh Rán" file you sent to me which I used for my ‘(Re)generative Mediations’ piece for NPLH.

When I think of frying, I think of abundance and joy. You have to be in a specific mood to fill a pot with oil and stand in front of it and fry for hours. Frying is joyful because I feel like a lot of the things I do in my everyday life are mundane and methodical. It’s a luxury to have so much oil. And whatever you make will be delicious. Then you need to consume it quickly, otherwise it'll go stale. So when I think of frying, I also think of hosting because I’ll probably make something shareable to lessen the guilt. Usually if I host, I’ll want to make some bánh rán.2

Bánh rán can be time consuming to make right?

Yes, it’s a total drain on time. I'm from Hanoi and they make it so well there. When I think of frying, I think of having a day off and being able to prepare for a feast. You have to be present too. You can't just set it and forget it. Frying is the ultimate day off, an act of joy for oneself and others. It doesn't happen very often but I find it quite therapeutic, being here in London, to have time to fry.

Recent study from AP Nguyễn‘s studio, 2023


I want to talk about 360º, this time unrelated to heat, but as angles. We have the Super Harvest Moon coming up soon. Moons are permanent, because they're always in the sky. However they are also impermanent because they are not always visible. One of my favourite lines of poetry is from Lâu thượng ngẫu đắc kỳ 1 樓上偶得其 by Nguyễn Văn Siêu 阮文超. The line is 長流到載天。Trường lưu đảo tải thiên, in vernacular Vietnamese it's: Dòng chảy dài chở ngược bầu trời. Which I have translated to: The river carries water and the reflection of the moon. Whilst Thiên 天 means sky or heaven. But if we look to the sky, especially at night, we can see stars, clouds or if visible the moon, when I look to the sky it becomes the most dominant.3 I don't know if this is related to your practice, but another thing that is 360º is the wheel. Do you throw?

Interesting. I don't throw at all actually. I handbuild all of my work. My process usually starts with rolling out slabs, which are two-dimensional sheets of clay with varying thickness that I then join together into a three-dimensional form. These slabs usually evolve into rock-like or mountainous forms through additional coils. I then carve into the many faces of the form to give it texture, taking away to create negative spaces and leaving behind imprints of my tool. This is a Japanese technique called Kurinuki. But for throwers, you’re quite limited by the motion and movement of the wheel. The wheel was invented to help craftsmen produce ceramic items like mugs, bowls, plates and vases quickly. It's a tool for production. Before the wheel, people made things simply through handbuilding and it allowed for so many shapes and variations. With the wheel, it demands 360º of perfection and consistency.

When I make my Hòn Non Bộ sculptures, I tend to build either a single form or many small forms that get joined together to create a landscape. I’m still working with 360º because that’s just the nature of sculpture. I really like that quote you mentioned, it makes me consider the landscapes I build to not just reflect and appear to be itself but also to have the potential to mirror the skies, seas and cosmos surrounding it.

Could you explain for the readers what Hòn Non Bộ is?

I would say it's an art in rockery and miniature landscaping that descends from ancient East Asian arts like bonsai and penjing. It was first adopted by Vietnamese royalty and then, by the common people of Vietnam. The emperors wanted to maintain beautiful gardens, and the Hòn Non Bộ was what emerged from that desire. A Hòn Non Bộ is very specific, which is something that I’ve only acknowledged recently. The name translates to “island-mountain-panorama” so it must always contain an element of land, water and life.

My interpretation of it is that it’s like a decorative piece of the universe for your home. And I’ve always found myself questioning the element of ownership. Like, what does it mean to want to own, capture and possess a miniature universe? In your house? After NPLH and spending time reflecting in the studio, I realised that in order to possess and produce recreations of nature, one actually has to destroy it in some ways. Like in my use of clay, I’m replicating forms of rocks and stones and yet the clay I use has had to be mined and extracted from a large quarry. It’s a strange contradiction and something I constantly think about in relation to making, but also living. This practice of extraction permeates through every crevice of our life and in some ways, making art allows me to confront it even if it makes me uncomfortable.

Recent works by AP Nguyễn


Let's move on to 900 to 1700ºC. I'm going to quote this netizen I discovered on Reddit who was talking about aeroplane engines, "Temperatures in the combustion section can exceed 1700°C. As the gases from the combustion process exit the burner section, they begin to expand and provide the energy to rotate the high and low pressure turbine wheels which turn the engine’s high and low pressure compressor blades. As the gases exit the exhaust nozzle the temperature can be as high as 900ºC".

When we think of aeroplanes and airports, I think of them as manifestations of hard borders. They're the place where you're reminded of where you're from and what restrictions you have. As you may have experienced, my partner had to travel with a Vietnamese passport. It can be a daunting experience. I recently flew to Ho Chi Minh City. I hate sitting down for ten, 11, 12 hours. It's confined. I was looking at James Nester's work, which revolves around breathing. Over the duration of the flight, he thinks they control carbon dioxide and oxygen levels to make us more sleepy.

First of all, I’m really glad you brought up aeroplanes. Since the start of the year, I’ve been thinking a lot about the vehicle of travel and migration after reading Flights by Olga Tokarczuk. Instead of fixating on this vague idea of displacement and inequality, I’ve been really interested in the actual architecture and tools that manufacture those experiences. And of course, depending on where you’re born, a passport can be a very real reminder of the borders that surround us. To answer the question, I think it's probably true. They can pretty much change the pressure to be whatever they want in the chamber, right? And a little sleepy dust might be helpful.

It makes sense. Because if you're sleeping you won't complain too much about why food service is slow and mediocre. Or why are we confined to such uncomfortable spaces? Why are we paraded through Business or First Class, as we reach our seats, almost as if they are teasing us?

Before we talk about that, 900ºC in the kiln is when slightly damp clay – greenware – becomes bisqueware. Clay goes from being porous to non-porous. You will usually fire twice in ceramics, once to 900 and then to 1200ºC or above. In my practice, 900º is a transformative moment.

In the scheme of aeroplanes and airports. I’m not overly sensitive to the differences in oxygen and pressure levels, maybe because I’m less attuned in that way. I think it's a really interesting experience to fly, because it's two, five or twelve hours of complete displacement. That displacement is happening on a molecular level that we’re often not aware of. Physically, your body is being shaken up because these oxygen molecules are different from what you're used to. For me, flying is the closest thing to teleporting. It’s kind of magical, you go into the airport, which is the end of one country and the beginning of the next. It will be the first point of entry and last- a very ceremonial place. There's a whole set of bureaucratic conditions that you need to satisfy in order to get through. And the aeroplane is a vessel for that transformation. I love the drama and time-warping that comes with travelling. In my studio when I’m not actively working with clay, I’m often meditating on the non-space of the airport, probably because I want to take a vacation so bad.

I’ve been dreaming about making this glossy picture for a while.

Go on...

The story is about a Vietnam Airlines air hostess, whom I’ve embodied before in my past video works. She made an appearance in Twin Whisperings (2023), the video-installation-sculpture made for NPLH. The colour of the uniform of the Vietnam Airlines host is a signature teal blue. A beautiful but tacky colour.

In this story, we're in a time not too far away, not too distant. The countries around the world have all agreed that air travel must come to an end because the environment can no longer support it. All the airports and airlines are preparing to shut down and my protagonist, this Vietnamese air hostess, goes on her final job. We watch her perform mundane tasks like pack suitcases and get her passport and papers together whilst the rest of the world deals with the impending doom that comes with the end of the “holiday” experience. I should say as well, it doesn’t look as cyberpunk in my head as it sounds.. Somewhere in the plot, there’s a burgeoning sapphic love story between her and another hostess from Air France. At the end of the day, I just want to film a romance on a plane. I think they’ll have to decide what becomes of their intercontinental relationship by the end of the film but I haven’t gotten very far in developing that resolution. Probably because there are no easy answers to figuring out where one belongs or should end up in our globalised times… and to have to choose would be to let a part of yourself die in some way?

Such high stakes...

Well, I think you forget that we’ve partly experienced it two years ago during the lockdown. It might be naive to think those policies could come into effect but it’s not that unrealistic. At the start of the pandemic, no one knew how long those borders would be up. Now there’s the treatment for the film. If anyone wants to fund this picture, please send me an email.


As I stood outside of AP’s studio saying goodbye, she spoke of her gratitude to be able to talk about her practice, thoughts, and life.

She pauses and pensively posits:

“I don’t know to what extent, all we do, today’s conversation, art making, life is just a waiting game in the airport terminal?”

AP Nguyễn (b. 1999, Vietnam) is a multidisciplinary artist currently living in London and actively working in both the United Kingdom and Vietnam. She earned her BA in Fine Art from Chelsea College of Arts & Design in 2022 and is the 2023 recipient of the APT Fenton Arts Trust Mentoring Award. Her artistic practice encompasses various disciplines, with a particular focus on installations involving sculpture and video. Nguyễn's practice is characterised by the meticulous assembly of landscapes that interrogate prevailing clichés associated with the contemporary globalised experience of travel, tourism, and movement. In her exploration, she sheds light on the intricate narratives of desire interwoven within these societal phenomena. Her notable exhibitions include a solo exhibition 'Lovecore' held at Manzi (Hanoi), the group exhibition 'No Place like Home' hosted at the Museum of the Home (London), and participation in the group show 'Baggage Claim' at Staffordshire St (London). Nguyễn is currently working towards a duo show following the conclusion of the Fenton Arts Trust residency at APT Gallery in July 2024.

Cường Minh Bá Phạm (he/him) works between / in / nearby / at the intersections of sound, community, and archives. He is interested in learning (and unlearning) our understandings of history, community, movement, family, sound, language, memory, and how they can inform, challenge, or be influenced by power, knowledge, and / or subjectivity.

Cường’s projects have been involved with radio, DJing, writing, and translation. He works with vulnerable communities in London by assisting people with accessing medical or public services and sitting on various boards. Cường is the co-founder of An Việt Archives Steering Committee, which oversees the largest known collection of documents, photos, and other objects relating to the British-Vietnamese community experience currently held at Hackney Archives. 

1. See exhibition text https://filedn.eu/lm3SibFgrw4HK1NttjnPb1Y/No%20Place%20Like%20Home%20Part%20II/Zine%20-%20NPLH%20PartII%20-%20compressed.pdf

2. For a recipe of Bánh rán mặn https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uqz6s98_gbg; ASMR of AP frying Bánh rán https://e.pcloud.link/publink/show?code=XZtw7DZgP884snKysVkWt76EOxlOFW21otX

3. You can see Cường’s translation of the poem here: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1P2xKE29BPNJDlQVUOEbCIirp6zEmeRGN9ucsHQ2l41U/edit?usp=sharing