The trajectory of virtual performances from last spring to now showcases the remarkable ingenuity that artists possess. There have been exciting developments when artists connect with audiences in experimental and often startling new ways.
Such is the case with a project curated by Zoe Cinel, with assistant Junyi Min, and presented by Gordon Parks Gallery called "Refresh: The Space in Between a Screen and a Body."
The first layer of the piece consists of three digital spaces created by Snow Yunxue Fu for her 2018 virtual reality experience, "Karst." On top of that, dance artist Lela Pierce inhabits the spaces Fu has created. The third layer is a video presentation of Pierce's performance, edited by Cinel.
In the first section, a rotating selection of videos are laid out together, most of which take place in the virtual reality space that Fu created based on her memories of the karst geological formations in China.
The videos, which change whenever the browser is refreshed, offer different viewpoints — either of Pierce moving through the space or a point-of-view shot of what she sees. There's a video featuring an ominous repeating line of light that makes up one frame, a video that uses sensors to create an experience of surveillance, a close-up of Lela's face, and a close-up of Pierce's eye. There's also footage of what appears to be the karst formations in real life.
Designed by Eric Anderson, who also made the sound design and sensor-based visuals, images are projected onto Pierce's body as she moves through the metallic foil-covered gallery. This footage captures her exacting gestural work with fingers and arms. The viewer becomes, through Pierce's movements, a child plunged into a new world.
In that vulnerability is also an apparent danger. Wearing a bodysuit, Pierce almost looks naked, and there's added sense of her body as an object of a perhaps malevolent gaze by the audience watching.
Hand imagery is prominent in all three sections. In the first part, besides Pierce's articulated gestures, there's a latex glove that hangs from the ceiling. In the next part, Pierce's hand floats, as if detached from her body as she moves through Fu's design inspired by a glacier in Canada. In the third part, set in a heart chamber, Pierce's body is depicted as a reverse silhouette, glowing in pink light. Her fingers reach out, as if grasping, desperately, for human touch.
Perhaps a digital world, experienced entirely remotely, is the ideal venue for this type of exploration of longing for connection. Virtual reality makes infinite experiences possible, and yet, as humans, our need for human connection — and touch, remains.
Sheila Regan is a Minneapolis arts journalist and critic.
Refresh: The Space in Between a Screen and a Body
When: Through July 1.
Where: Free at refreshexhibition.com