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Victoria Fu’s ‘Cult of Splendor’

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Two short 16mm films and a digital video installation, all by Victoria Fu, meditate on the progression from film to digital media. Through the purposeful juxtaposition of old and new media, “Cult of Splendor,” on display in the University Art Gallery, posits that the art of motion pictures has, since its inception, been a needed distraction in society.

Curator Kellie Lanham, a third-year graduate art student, presents the solo exhibition as her thesis. It is the first thesis submission to the Claire Trevor School of the Arts’ new Critical and Curatorial emphasis within the Art MFA program.

Lanham opened the exhibition last Thursday night with Fu’s “Belle Captive I,” a brightly saturated video containing random uses of stock imagery on a dreamy, gradient background. The video is projected on a white screen that extends from the floor to the ceiling, bisecting the gallery. The large-scale video installation dominates the space; whereas, the 16mm films that make up the remainder of the exhibition, are initially obscured from the viewer.

“As viewers stepped into the exhibition, I wanted to create an environment that was off-setting,” Lanham said. “I wanted viewers to be immersed in the grand, digital experience of “Belle Captive I.” Yet they would hear projector reels in the background and know there was something else beyond.”

“Belle Captive I” is a collage of clips pulled from the Internet, representing the accessibility of digital media. The subjects of the work range from a girl wearing a pink backpack and smiling and waving to a blonde woman whose face is obscured by foliage to a dog slurping water in slow motion to thumbs pointing upward in unison. These objects and figures are often cropped and are constantly blurred out of focus.

“Fu took such disparate images and through the editing and filtering process created a strange narrative,” Lanham said.

Throughout the six-minute video, Fu uses iconography associated with contemporary digital media. For instance, a pointed finger taps on the figures and swipes across the screen as if it were a touch screen device. Lanham also compares the arrangement of the video installation to the screensavers on a Mac computer with a “redoubling of windows.” In computing terms, “Belle Captive I” is arranged as overlapping square-shaped, computer “windows” stripped of buttons and menu bars.

As the viewer’s eyes shift from the central screen of “Belle Captive I” to the left wall, one notices another digital projector emitting light in the same visual language as the gradient backgrounds of “Belle Captive I.” The projection lighting on the walls makes the interior space dynamic and ever changing. The shafts of multicolored light emanating from the projector move playfully around the interior walls of the gallery.

Although “Belle Captive I” seems to dominate the exhibition, the incessant pulsating sound of the 16mm film projectors is audible within that space. This represents the conscious decision Lanham made to create a lingering presence of the analog as viewers experience “Belle Captive I.” Being able to distinguish the sound of the film projectors symbolizes the cultural memory of the older medium of grainy 16mm film.

“I wanted the two sections of the exhibition — digital and film — to be equal and symbiotic,” Lanham said.

The two 16mm films are looped on opposite walls in the back area of the gallery. The black-and-white short “Milk of the Eye” depicts a solitary woman holding a mirror and slowly walking towards the viewer (and the artist) amidst natural landscapes. The landscapes remain static and unchanging while the woman moves steadily within the setting. The mirror held by the figure reflects sunlight, which bleaches and leaks onto the film. This causes the film to fade to white at several moments. The ray of light reflected in the mirror acts as a reference line, extending from the woman’s location to the camera’s location.

The other short film, “Three Breaths” depicts pigments gradually bleeding onto a parchment-like surface. The process is elaborate and painterly. The result is a beautiful layering of red and yellow hues that fade to red and cut to a desert landscape. Fu’s choice of warm and bright pigments makes the film substantially vivid within the dark space.

Aside from the films themselves, the film projectors are also focal points. They are placed on pedestals so that their inner mechanical workings are on display. These 16mm film projectors are not relegated to the side like the digital projectors of “Belle Captive I” because these instruments are revered remnants of a bygone era of motion pictures.

By placing these two types of motion picture together, Fu’s individual works become more meaningful and show both the progression and stagnation of society. As technology progresses, our needs and anxieties remain the same. The challenge is meeting those needs and quelling those anxieties within a different cultural framework.

“The anxiety towards digital technology comes from the need to be distracted from the real world, but it is an anxiety that has been building. It is not just a contemporary issue,” Lanham said. “Cult of Splendor” will be on display at the University Art Gallery for public reception until February 8.