The humanity of an actor in “In Her Time (Iris’ Version)”

The humanity of an actor in “In Her Time (Iris’ Version)”
Diane Severin Nguyen, If I hadn’t created my own world, I would have died in someone else’s (exhibition view), 2024, Contemporary Art Gallery, Vancouver. Photo: Rachel Topham Photography.
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The film industry is a multi-faceted machine of artifice. Not only in its material, but there is a particularly inhuman quality to the making of large-scale works, creating a bubbled environment. None embody this odd surreality better than actors, those who are charged with creating these contrived ideas by containing them, even into their daily lives through publicity and social media. And in Diane Severin Nguyen’s In Her Time (Iris’ Version), a rumination of art, artist, and perception is explored for an intimate view from within the silver screen.


On exhibition until May 5th at Vancouver’s Contemporary Art Gallery, Nguyen has expanded upon her original 2023 feature film In Her Time, the Iris of it all, the name of her character in the movie, being an added layer of insight into the character and material. The movie itself follows Iris in her preparations for a role in a Chinese historical epic as she tries to discover the character for herself. Framed as a “making of”, it shows Iris in her day-to-day grappling with internalizing victimization and pain for the sake of this film.


What Iris’ Version adds to this is an eye within an eye of this voyeuristic examination of an actor’s craft. Using material shot by Nguyen with her iPhone to serve as Iris’ personal documentation of her life at this point, blurring the line even more of this film’s reality with how genuine her delivery is in these moments. There is an understated melancholy that pervades this ping-pong of the actress as the subject for this paradigm of contrived authenticity of behind-the-scenes shoots (even when they themselves are a fiction) with the equally performative but self-directed journal the cellphone footage becomes.


The installation itself for In Her Time has a sense of a pocket of heightened reality, a warm nook that holds the ideas of Nguyen and Iris in a very iconic yet abnormal space for cinema. Red lights cover the curtained box in a sense of tense emotion and point to the cinematic staple of red velvet while only being a facsimile of it. The pew-like seating gives a sense of something communal, something confessional, juxtaposed by the grand project we know Iris to be working towards. It’s a dichotomy that makes for a dream viewing of Nguyen’s well-considered cut.


In Her Time (Iris’ Version) speaks to the human and inhuman within the titan of cinema. It evokes a feeling of intimacy and closeness yet also an ocean of distance, both from the production and from Iris—and perhaps Iris and the production. Diane Severin Nguyen has landed on something that does not endeavour to steep with dread like the adjacent Inland Empire but still plumbs the depth of humanity an actress contains in the great beast we call cinema.