California

Cathy Nguyen

Inside/Out

Altered Book:

The Bell Jar, Sylvia Plath (1971)

$450.

Tea-stained pages, crumpled and stored in a jar.

Artist Statement

“Come on, give us a smile.”

...I didn’t want my picture taken because I was going to cry. I didn’t know why I was going to cry, but I knew that if anybody spoke to me or looked at me too closely the tears would fly out of my eyes and the sobs would fly out of my throat and I’d cry for a week. I could feel the tears brimming and sloshing in me like water in a glass that is unsteady and too full…


The photographer fiddled with his hot white lights.


“Show us how happy it makes you to write a poem.”

—excerpt from The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath (New York: Harper & Row, 1971)


The Bell Jar is a semi-autobiographical novel that chronicles a young female poet’s descent into mental illness, paralleling author Sylvia Plath’s own struggles with chronic clinical depression as an American writer and poet. For Esther, the novel’s protagonist, the bell jar symbolizes her experience of entrapment—both by her deteriorating mental state and the confines of gender roles as a young woman in the conservative 1950s. Barraged by sorrow and ruminating thoughts, Esther becomes alienated, describing herself as “[sitting under a] glass bell jar, stewing in my own sour air.” Though Esther can see through this metaphorical glass jar to the world beyond, her distorted perception of self and the world around her impedes her ability to connect with others, express her identity, and write her poetry—her most beloved passion.

A self-referential contemplation on emotions, thoughts, and words unexpressed, this sculpture, Inside/Out, compresses all the pages of Sylvia Plath’s eponymous novel, The Bell Jar, tightly into a glass bell jar. Inside/Out was created from a first edition, third printing of the novel’s American publication from 1971.

Short Bio

Cathy Nguyen holds an MFA in Graphic Design from San Diego State University and works as a full-time designer in higher education. When not designing, Cathy teaches courses in graphic design, typography, and visual communications at the University of San Diego, San Diego State University, and MiraCosta College. Moved by the palpable tensions of communication, Nguyen’s personal artwork explores visual poetics that intersect creative writing, typographic experiments, and intermedia print processes.