IF REVOLUTION IS A SICKNESS a film by DIANE SEVERIN NGUYEN. 2021. USA/Poland. 19 min. A punchy blend of radical images and revolutionary K-Pop tunes by a multi-talented contemporary artist.

This film screened exclusively for a week and is currently not available online.

Multimedia artist Diane Severin Nguyen — whose recent film In Her Time is on view at this year’s Whitney Biennial until August 11 — marries popular music with revolutionary aesthetics in If Revolution is a Sickness. Her unclassifiable blend of agitprop filmmaking and music video imagery inhabits an uncanny visual dimension while upholding the joy of belonging to a youth subculture invested in making the world a better place.


If Revolution is a Sickness follows a Vietnamese orphan who washes up on the shores of Poland and joins a K-Pop dance group invested in radical politics. The film — a witty exercise in disjunction where references to Mao Zedong, Hannah Arendt, and Ulrike Meinhof are presented alongside dance routines and images of Cold War monuments — is a gleefully irreverent but smart dialectical venture. Throughout, balloons that spell out “1989” allude to the fall of Berlin Wall and soviet-style sickles are used as microphones during hyper-pop ballads.



“I think there’s a revolutionary potential in summoning new ideas through such a contaminated medium, partly because Western postmodernism tells us there are no new ideas. I’m thinking here of newness not as an outcome, or a thing that’s never been seen or felt before, but more as a set of conditions from which the emergence of difference can occur and be perceived as such.” DIANE SEVERIN NGUYEN


Nguyen’s decision to center her latest film around both K-Pop and Vietnamese immigrants in Poland — a country whose youth subcultures love K-Pop and hate their conservative government’s anti-immigrant policies — emphasizes the ways in which popular media can bridge political differences. Nguyen’s belief that “the most certain thing I know about the new is that it is capable of seeing the old” frames her film as a proposition to reimagine the world anew. With K-Pop being influenced by Black Americans stationed in Korea during the Cold War and K-Pop later becoming popular in Poland — a country that took in Asian migrants around the same period — it’s clear the genre’s rhythm and lyrics harbor a history of transnational solidarity; it is this history, with its crisp sounds and infectious hooks, that Nguyen celebrates.


Diane Severin Nguyen was born in Carson, CA, in 1990. She received a BA from the Virginia Commonwealth University and her MFA from the Milton Avery Graduate School of the Arts at Bard College. Her sculptures, photographs, and films have been exhibited at the Hammer Museum, Metrograph Theater, and the Whitney Museum of American Art, among other renowned cultural institutions.


Text written by Nicolas Pedrero-Setzer. If Revolution is a Sickness was co-commissioned by the Renaissance Society, Chicago and SculptureCenter, New York.