June 25 – July 30, 2021
Cinema stories tend to follow a chronology of technical and mechanical innovation. Recognizing the precursors of cinema, or proto-cinema, historians evoke the first shadow puppets, magic lantern slide projectors, and the first examples of photography capturing movement over time.
In Lantern strike (strong loneliness), his second solo exhibition at 47 Canal, Cici Wu presents nine sculptures, four drawings and a video, all dated 2021, which invite us to broaden our understanding of proto-cinema by letting light, perception and philosophy lead the way. . Wu considers this re-imagining of primitive cinema to be “outside the existing framework of the history of cinema”. She strives to align proto-cinema with what she calls “light, optical experiments and the abstraction of images”.
This includes the timeless play of light and shadow from sources we sometimes take for granted, such as lamps or moonlight. We could also think about how people can interpret the same light differently. The light of fire, for example, can suggest a ceremony, a celebration, a light casting out darkness and a house, but it can also mean danger, destruction and war.
Lantern strike (strong loneliness) encourages living together, an Asian transnationalism and solidarity across borders despite national and international crises. Wu’s nine paper lanterns approximate specific local lantern designs, and their titles include the corresponding telephone country codes. Foreign object # 2 Shadow and penumbra (+84), referring to Vietnam, is a diamond-shaped blue lantern suspended from a stick that rests in a round glass vase on a low wooden plinth. Foreign object # 2 Umbra and Penumbra (prototype 63), meaning the Philippines, is a pink star-shaped lantern, also suspended from a stick with a wooden frame and a similar plinth supporting it. There is a rabbit for Hong Kong, a pagoda for Indonesia and a flower for Myanmar. Thailand is the tallest, while the South Korean lantern appears to be lying on its side. The lanterns come together like a glowing pre-colonial or post-colonial reunion, a coalition of neighbors, protesters, or a striking union.
By further exploring cinematic resonance, Wu incorporates digital cameras into his lanterns. They are inactive in the gallery, meaning images to come. Lanterns often have text written on them (names, wishes, or puzzles), but the messages of Wu’s Lanterns are also yet to be determined. The Lanterns look like a vigilant community – watching us and each other – perhaps wary due to the violent past, persistent colonialist attitudes, and an uncertain future. The digital camera, like the lantern, processes and produces light; at either end of a time spectrum, the camera and the lantern have a lot in common.
Wu’s drawings use ink, mineral pigments, and glue on Japanese paper to historicize his interest in these lights. Lantern Study 01 (Woman Admiring Plum Blossoms at Night) and Lantern Study 02 (Light a hanging lantern for the Obon festival) are based on Japanese woodcuts, the first from the 18th century by Suzuki Harunobu, the second from the 19th century by Shibata Zeshin. In Lantern Study 01, a woman uses a lantern at night to light up a flowering tree. In Lantern Study 02, another woman lights a hanging lantern as a signal to her ancestors. In both of these intimate scenarios, lanterns, like cameras, facilitate connection to other worlds.
TS (Celestial) is based on a section of the Tang Dynasty silk scroll, Eighty-seven celestial, sometimes, perhaps wrongly, attributed to the eighth-century Chinese painter Wu Daozi. The parchment depicts a procession of gods carrying decorated poles and wearing headdresses incorporating what appear to be ribbons, flowers, and gemstones. There are no lanterns in this witty drawing, but the scroll refers to cinema. A parchment unfolds in time like a movie.
Strong loneliness, a single channel, a nine-and-a-half-minute video, serves as the final scene for the exhibition. Wu made the video with one of the lantern cameras programmed to recognize shadows. Shadow detection is typically used to clean up images, sometimes in surveillance. Lantern with camera in hand, Wu traveled through New York. In the video recording, its paths look like a quick patchwork of layered lightmaps. Realistic details, like an aerial view of Manhattan and a demonstration, are fleeting, quickly overtaken by colorful shapes. We hear the children playing, but we don’t see them. Buildings become distorted and rounded, as if the lantern camera imposes a fisheye view. The city is no longer entirely architectural or human. Instead, it’s an exuberant mix of colors, lines, and sounds. The shapes change everywhere along the way.
In Wu’s work, the lanterns address spatial, historical, spiritual, and political realms. And with lanterns in hand, abstraction quickly follows. According to Chinese legend, an emperor once planned to burn down a hunting village after the hunter accidentally killed the emperor’s prized bird. Instead, the villagers worked together to light lanterns and set off fireworks, deceiving the Emperor’s soldiers, who stayed away because, from a distance, it looked like the village was already in. fire. In this legend, the interpretation or misinterpretation of the light saved the community. It has become the stuff of legend. Or, Wu might argue, it was an optical experience worthy of being considered a proto-cinema. It was a summons of light and a powerful and versatile symbolism.