The thing about science fiction is that while it generally takes place in "the future" and/or "in space," at its core it is always really about its own present, right here on earth. Issues of politics, race, sex, wealth, technology, environmental resources, disease, mortality, justice, fear and power play out in classically constructed metaphors dropped into fantastical settings in which we are invited to imagine ourselves -- almost. For painter, sculptor, installation and video artist Peter Wu, science fiction is the perfect idiom for examining the "strange new world" we are living in. "What are the anxieties of our era?" asks Wu. "The sci-fi classics The Fly (by Kurt Neumann, 1958 and David Cronenberg in 1986) each successfully captures the anxieties of their respective eras," -- fear of nuclear apocalypse in the Cold War-era and the first wave of the AIDS crisis in the 1980s. "Each film introduces a type of mutation which is brought forth by technology," Wu continues. "I see Cronenberg's version as a mutation of Neumann's film and my exhibition as a mutation of these films combined. With my adaptation, I hope to express our current state of anxiety." As the viewer, you are encouraged to define today's fears in whatever way you see fit. You've got plenty to choose from.
Gallery-goers are signaled that there's more going on than painting in the show long before they enter. The whispering cacophony of its ambient soundtrack is audible at some distance. They follow it to find a darkened space, illuminated only by the cool pooling of neon-light wall-writing and the flickering of projected videos. Wu brings all his practices in different mediums and technological platforms to bear on a series of singular, intermedial works and vignettes containing various configurations of painting, video projection and sculpture. All the works share a lexicon of imagery culled from the two films, but spliced, isolated, deconstructed, and reassembled into metagraphs that look like abstract expressionism but contain graphic visceral pictures, posit swarms of glowing insects, layering modified segments of the movies into new fever-dream moments of ominous juxtaposition. The multichannel video projection is an imminently watchable loop that comes to life across a series of floor-mounted screens and wall-mounted painted grounds. Aside from the content, it looks like how we might be watching movies in the future -- multifaceted, simultaneous, immersive and nonlinear; physical and virtual at the same time.
"This is what the viewer encounters within my exhibition," says Wu, "to see the familiar through strange eyes. What has become of the image itself? With its proliferation on screens, continually mutating with each share in an endless string of memes, our relationship to truth, its source, and "the original" has forever been disconnected." While this existential, informational crisis plays out in this pair of movies as a metaphor derived from cellular/DNA science and the promise of nanotechnology and teleportation -- but it is also a poignant meditation on the obsession with medical science, genetic engineering, cancer, control, and Franken-everything in our teched-up society. At the same time in its physical form Wu's work itself embodies the fractured state of modern consciousness, and the blessings, curses, and opportunities for new kinds of perception to which our brains are busy adapting -- for the future.
Rise of the Fly II is on view through Saturday, March 18 at the Vincent Price Art Museum at East LA College in Los Angeles. See more of Peter Wu's work on his Instagram.
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