Lantern Strike (Severe Solitude) – The Brooklyn Rail
June 25 – July 30, 2021
Cinema stories usually follow a timeline of technical and mechanical innovations. Recognizing the forerunners of cinema or protokino, historians refer to early shadow puppets, slide projectors with magic lanterns, and the first instances of photography to capture movement over time.
in the Lantern strike (severe loneliness), her second solo exhibition at 47 Canal, Cici Wu presents nine sculptures, four drawings and a video from 2021 that invite us to broaden our understanding of proto-cinema by showing the way for light, perception and philosophy. Wu considers this reinterpretation of early cinema to be “outside the existing framework of cinema history”. She tries to align proto-cinema with what she calls “light, optical experiences and the abstraction of images”.
This includes the timeless play of light and shadow from sources that are sometimes taken for granted, such as lamps or moonlight. We could also think about how people can interpret the same light differently. Firelight can, for example, suggest ceremony, celebration, light that drives away the darkness and home, but it can also mean danger, destruction and war.
Lantern strike (severe loneliness) promotes togetherness, Asian transnationalism and solidarity across borders despite national and international crises. Wu’s nine paper lanterns are similar to specific local lantern designs, and their titles include the corresponding telephone country codes. Foreign body # 2 umbra and penumbra (+84), refers to Vietnam, is a blue diamond-shaped lantern that hangs from a pole that rests in a round glass vase on a low wooden base. Foreign body # 2 umbra and penumbra (+63 prototype)meaning the Philippines is a pink star-shaped lantern also hanging on a stick with a wooden armature and a similar base that supports it. There is a rabbit for Hong Kong, a pagoda for Indonesia, and a flower for Myanmar. Thailand hangs highest, while the South Korean lantern appears to be on its side. The lanterns are grouped together like a glowing pre-colonial or post-colonial reunion, a coalition of neighbors, demonstrators or a striking union.
To further explore the cinematic resonance, Wu embeds digital cameras in her lanterns. You are inactive in the gallery, which suggests images are coming. There is often text on lanterns – names, wishes or riddles – but the messages of Wu’s lanterns have yet to be determined. The lanterns resemble a vigilant community – watching us and watching one another – suspicious perhaps due to the violent past, persistent colonial attitudes, and an uncertain future. The digital camera processes and generates light like the lantern; At both ends of a temporal 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 her interest in these lights. Lantern Study 01 (woman admires plum blossoms at night) and Lantern Study 02 (Lighting a Hanging Lantern for the Obon Festival) are based on Japanese woodblock prints, the first from the 18th century by Suzuki Harunobu, the second from the 19th century by Shibata Zeshin. in the Lantern Study 01, a woman uses a lantern to provide light at night while looking at a flowering tree. in the Lantern Study 02another woman lights a hanging lantern as a signal to her ancestors. In these two intimate scenarios, the lanterns, like cameras, help to connect with other worlds.
TS (heaven) is based on a section of the Tang Dynasty silk scroll, Eighty-seven heavenly bodies, sometimes, perhaps incorrectly, attributed to the eighth century Chinese painter Wu Daozi. The scroll shows a procession of gods wearing ornate poles and hairstyles with what appears to be ribbons, flowers and precious stones. There are no lanterns in this spiritual drawing, but the scroll makes reference to the cinema. A scroll unfolds like a movie over time.
Strong loneliness, A one-channel, nine and a half minute video serves as the final scene in the exhibition. Wu took the video with one of the lantern cameras that were programmed to detect shadows. Shadow detection is typically used to clean up images, sometimes in surveillance. Wu traveled through New York City, lantern camera in hand. In the video recording, their paths look like a fast-moving patchwork of layered lightmaps. Realistic details, such as an aerial view of Manhattan and a protest, are fleeting and quickly overtaken by colorful shapes. We hear children play, but we don’t see them. Buildings are warped and rounded as if the lantern camera were forcing a fisheye view. The city is no longer exclusively architectural or human. Instead, it’s an exuberant mix of color, line and sound. The shapes change everywhere along the way.
In Wu’s work, lanterns address spatial, historical, spiritual and political areas. And with lanterns in hand, abstraction follows quickly. According to a Chinese legend, an emperor once planned to burn 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, thereby fooling the emperor’s soldiers who stayed away because from a distance it looked like the village was already on fire. In this legend, the interpretation or misinterpretation of the light saved the church. It became the stuff of legend. Or, as Wu might say, it was a visual experience worth considering as a proto-cinema. It was an evocation of light and powerful and multivalent symbolism.