Antonius-Tín Bui, current artist in residency at the James Castle House, invites us into the intangible through their performance and multimedia visual art.
Bui is a self-described poly-disciplinary artist, and in their time at the James Castle House they have been exploring, among other things, their drag persona.
“I want to understand who I am when I’m in drag,” Bui said. “What it allows me to tap into and what kind of performances I can put up.”
Bui said drag is a way they connect with and honor the dreams of their younger self.
“Yes, I work in portraiture, and that is, in some ways, more straightforward for audiences. But I’m also here for the abstract, the avant garde, and asking people to work a little bit. I think that’s also very important.”
One practice Bui has adopted to document this journey of discovery, is saving the makeup wipes they use to remove their drag make-up. On each wipe the impression of Bui’s made-up face becomes less opaque, illustrating the abstract concept of transformation in a literal and physical format.
“As a queer, non-binary, gender fluid being, and a Vietnamese-American, I never want to be narrowed and categorized into just a singular box,” Bui said. “And I would hope that each and every single one of us understands our own agency, in terms of constantly transforming, challenging ideas of identity and selfhood.”
James Castle’s body of work reflects similar values. It is impossible to categorize Castle and all that he created in just one way. Traditional methods of engaging with art, like galleries, barely capture the impact of all he made.
“Framing a piece of James Castle’s work just seems blasphemous after visiting the archives,” Bui said. “Because you hold on to it, and you immediately become aware of the weight of it, the texture. You feel transported to a place and time, because he used so much found material, like ice cream cartons, very dated items.”
Castle truly used everything around him to create, the variety and sheer volume of what he made continues to prove valuable inspirational fuel for the artists who travel to Boise for this residency.
“He created belts and buttons and was so intentional about how to play with these objects,” Bui said. “And I understand the importance of archiving, but a lot of his works, I feel like they’re meant to be engaged with and to be really hands-on. So, what a gift it was to work with Andrea and the archive team.”
In addition to being in the house and studio where Castle worked, Bui said that visiting the archive and traveling throughout Idaho helped them connect to Castle and his world.
“I feel like James Castle gives you permission to just follow your impulses and curiosities,” Bui said. “He reminds you that nothing is too mundane to spend time looking at, and that there’s such great power in observing a moment or an object or place from multiple perspectives.”
Being open to the unknown and willing to explore different points of view is key to appreciating much art, including Castle’s, and Bui’s.
“I’ve learned to enter every opportunity without expectation,” Bui said. “The only expectations are the ones that I put on myself to be as earnest and porous as possible. I truly believe in reciprocity as my guiding compass, and I hold onto that wherever I go.”
Bui’s dedication to creating space for connection with oneself and others by engaging with art and performance in community settings is truly special. They said one of the challenges with this residency has been finding the balance between solitude, focusing on Castle’s work and their own, and spending time connecting with the community in and around the Boise area.
“There’s always doubt that creeps up, like, what impact does this have on the world?” Bui said. “With the war in Ukraine, or abortion rights under attack, what is your art actually doing in the grand scheme of things? And it’s really easy to doubt every decision and every hour that you spend making. But community events remind me of the power of art to bring people together, to be an opening for expression.”
Bui’s final presentation will be Friday, Nov. 4 from 6 to 7 p.m. They will also host one more Inside the Studio event, on Saturday, Nov. 5 from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. To learn more about Bui and the James Castle House visit jamescastlehouse.org.