SNOW YUNXUE FU’s experimental animation and installations explore the digital Sublime, liminality and multidimensionality. She moves her viewers through virtual space, which has the capacity to be both gargantuan or minuscule in size, complicating our perception of physical space. She simultaneously grounds them in the tangible world by combining animation and architectural interventions in the gallery. Snow holds two BFAs, one from Southeast Missouri State University, Cape Girardeau, Missouri (2009) and the other from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago (2011). She also earned a BA from Sichuan Normal University, Chengdu, China and went on to earn her MFA in Film, Video, New Media and Animation from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago (2014), where she is currently a lecturer. Her solo exhibitions include Tunnel at Mana Contemporary (Chicago, 2015) and Still at Yellow Peril Gallery (Providence, Rhode Island, 2015). Most recently, her work was included in Abstract Mind: the International Exhibition on Abstract Art (CICA Museum, South Korea, 2016) and Group Format at Logan Square Arts Festival (Chicago, 2016). Through September 30, 2016, her work is on view in Vision and Perspective: Chinese-American Art Faculty Exhibition at Hongli Cheng Art Museum in Guizhou, Guiyang, China. Snow lives and works in Chicago.
OtherPeoplesPixels: Tell us about your background in Painting.
Snow Yunxue Fu: I grew up with two art educators as parents and a grandfather who was a well-known Chinese traditional painter and sculptor. I was painting as long as I can remember. I worked with Chinese ink painting, acrylic and oil pastel throughout my childhood, painting anything from abstraction to figurative. As a child, that was very much part of my life. Art is how I reflected what I saw during the day and processed things I experienced.
However, there was a break from art in my teenage years, mostly because of the heavy load of Chinese academic work from school. Plus, I had a bit of a rebellious period where, due to family pressure to continue the trade and become an art star, I resented the idea and focused on English. This actually paid off, since I came full circle in the States. It was not until I came to America for college that I started to paint again (on my own terms) and finally majored in oil painting. In my many undergraduate years, I was mainly a painter, but also had a multidisciplinary background in sculpture and photography before making the leap into Experimental 3D and installation.
OPP: What led to that leap?
SYF: On a whim, I took this intro to Experimental 3D course at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. It was very different from my normal practice, but I found myself relating to it. What I had been hoping to express and explore in painting seemed to suddenly be freed and made possible through the limitlessness of virtual reality. It was like a light coming on or a door opening, and I never looked back. However, I brought with me a painter’s sensibility and process. I quickly replaced my canvas and paintbrushes with software like Maya and Realflow, and moved more and more into intentional abstraction.
The main conversations in the painting world were not so connected to what I was trying to explore conceptually. Painting seemed burdened by always carrying around centuries of conversation and baggage. One would almost have to choose to fully carry that baggage or find a way to creatively dismiss it all to explore what one wished. Yet, when I came to 3D experimental animation, it was like a sudden discovery of a better language.
It was definitely a younger medium and virtual reality had yet to be explored in the art world. The conversation was more energetic. I think the painter in me will never die, but, as in my real life, one language may work better than another to express myself. With each language you learn, new perspectives are available to you to explore. Some languages seem naturally related to one another, and the language of installation was a natural progression from 3D work, as it is often projected into architectural space.
When looking at your work, I definitely bring the associations of
non-art uses of 3D animation that I’ve encountered: scientific
illustrations of the Big Bang and planetary movement, representations of
the microscopic goings-on in our bodies, video games, CGI in Sci-fi
movies. Do these references support or distract from your “Kantian quest
to capture the experience of the sublime through the limited means of
human consciousness especially within the contexts of the multi-faceted
contemporary technological society”?
SYF: That is a really good question, and one that I have wrestled with. If I am talking to someone even slightly out of contemporary art circles, when I say I work with 3D animation, nine times out of ten, their response is, “Oh yah! Like Pixar and Toy Story, right?” In contemporary art making, one has to take into consideration the commercial context of the medium they work with, especially with a medium so widely used in mainstream culture. By selecting 3D animation as an artistic tool, mainstream’s perception of it is unavoidable, but I actually do welcome that, especially as a starting point for conversation.
Some of the earliest comments of my work were, “It looks sci-fi,” and that the color choices were commercial – bright and beautiful. I like the notion that aspects of what is familiar in the mainstream become abstracted aspects in my work. I like John Chamberlain and the Pop artists, who used relatable images or objects in an abstracted way to draw viewers into greater perceptions and awareness beyond their mainstream selves.
OPP: In your recent installation Still
(2016) at the Ammerman Center for Arts and Technology at Connecticut
College, viewers were confronted by a floor-to-ceiling rift in the
gallery wall, through which they could watch an animated video. Viewers
could both peer directly into this rift or step back to experience how
light and color from the video affected the atmosphere in the gallery. A
rift can be dangerous, but it can also provide a new point of view.
Could you talk about how you think about the rift?
SYF: A rift or gap to me is a starting point. It indicates new possibilities.
Still, as an architectural video installation project, finds Edwin Abbott’s novel, Flatland: A Romance of Many Dimensions,
as a primary inspiration. The story centers on a 2D geometric
character, Mr. Square, who lives in a land of flatness. Through a series
of encounters with a three-dimensional being, known as Sphere, he
discovers a greater reality outside of his own 2D perception. Through
some considerable yet considerate prodding from Sphere, Mr. Square
begins to explore 3D space, and learns to adjust his perspective of
In my installations, as for Mr. Square, the
seemingly infinite world within virtual reality has to be made into
something we can relate to in our world. I found the relationship
between the infinite virtual world and the need for scale to be ripe
with symbolism for our physical selves in relation to new perspectives,
the infinite, and the sublime. To bring moving images into space, where
the physicality of the images (size, ratio, brightness, and depth) have a
relationship with the viewer’s body. The size of the viewer’s body
becomes their basis for relating to the infinite virtual world, where
the limitation of their height and the distance of their vantage point
become rulers, which they measure the infinite realm suggested in the
projections or screens.
Experimental 3D animation for single-channel projection
OPP: Is it a metaphor?
SYF: My work offers a metaphor for the human being’s existential relationship to the larger world. Extending out from the pictorial and expanding into the land of virtual reality. The projections and installations become metaphors for the human physical perception, by which the quality of the sublime is framed, inviting the viewer to physically and mentally enter into a liminal Gordon Matta Clark-like interior within a digitally constructed space.
In the same way abstract work can at times appear cosmic yet microscopic, the experience of the viewer encountering the liminal space can be a metaphor for our perceptions related to our practical relationships with each other, not just our cosmic existential relationship to all of reality. Like Plato’s Allegory of the Cave, we have to choose to accept our limitations to grasp realities beyond them. This, to me, is something very relevant today. For example, with the racial strife happening in the U.S. right now, both sides have to strive and choose to move beyond perceptions they were born into and arrive at a greater understanding, one that celebrates their uniqueness, but moves into a new and greater realization of what they need to do to end the problem. Approaching and exploring such rifts can be dangerous, but it is necessary. To acknowledge the rift, and to begin exploring its untold wonder, is to acknowledge we are on the other side. Like in the cave, people can resist this vehemently, but for those who reach, they begin a process of discovery that we need in contemporary global culture.
OPP: How do you approach sound in your work? Some animations have it and others don’t.
SYF: As a former painter, sound was not an immediate concern going into 3D. Now it is quite obvious. Sound continues to be an area of exploration for me. My process is quite intuitive, so there are times sound seems to be a natural extension of the work and other times not. Like with mainstream viewers’ perception of 3D animation, media natives that have experienced digital media and sound from near birth, tend to expect sound when they see a moving image. Whether sound is or is not used, its presence or absence can help viewers arrive at a particular awareness of themselves in relation to the work.
When I do use sound, I usually start with recording environmental sound or I use recordings from various sources and then edit them on software like Logic. I find there is a draw for my work to combine sounds at opposite ends of the spectrum – sound based in the environment and sound that is fully synthetic. And that relates somehow to the experience I want my viewers to have: either fully immersed in the visual and audible elements of my work, or stopping to explore why there is not sound and how it relates.
OPP: Does your exploration of an abstracted “digital realm”
have implications for the way digital technologies are embedded in our
SYF: Definitely. The majority of digital technology has
practical uses in our daily routines. How can I do this efficiently? How
can I get this information the fastest? How can I connect with this
group of people? These questions are often answered by “looking down”,
focused on a specific place in time, a screen, an app, a watch. It very
much reflects a western capitalist consumerism, though, in my work, I am
more fascinated with the idea of conjuring an experience of the
infinite in nature – like what happened when you saw the ocean for the
first time or climbed to the top of a peak. These experiences reflect
the questions we face when our finite selves meet the infinite. The
digital virtual world parallels this stage. Everything in the virtual
world is made up of singular finite 0’s and 1’s, yet they grant the
virtual world infiniteness, as in Maya where the X, Y, and Z axes extend
forever. The digital realm, therefore, is an excellent platform to hold
conversations about the significance of our personal/interpersonal and
Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based, interdisciplinary artist Stacia Yeapanis. When she’s not writing for OPP, Stacia explores the relationship between repetition, desire and impermanence in cross-stitch embroideries, remix video, collage and impermanent installations. She is an instructor in the Department of Fiber and Material Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where received her MFA in 2006, and was a 2012-2013 Mentor-in-Residence at BOLT in Chicago. Her solo exhibitions include I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For (2013) at Klemm Gallery, Siena Heights University (Adrian, Michigan), Everything You Need is Already Here (2014) at Heaven Gallery (Chicago) and When Things Fall Apart, a durational, collage installation in the Annex Gallery at Lillstreet Art Center (Chicago). Form Unbound, a two-person show, also featuring the work of Aimée Beaubien, closed in December 2015 at Dominican University's O’Connor Art Gallery (River Forest, IL). In March 2016, Stacia created a brand new site-responsive installation for SENTIENCE, a group show at The Ukrainian Institute of Modern Art. Her work will be included in SHOWROOM, curated by Edra Soto, at the Chicago Artists’ Coalition as part of the ANNUAL, on view from September 16 - 29, 2016.