Upon Leaving the White Dust
May 13–June 7, 2020
“It perhaps will always stay at the ‘temporary state of being with,’ crude and open, as if the moment of leaving a movie theater could actually be pulled very very long.”––Cici Wu on Upon Leaving the White Dust
Presented here for the first time is a selection of storyboard images for Cici Wu’s multimedia artwork and installation Upon Leaving the White Dust (2018), a study in reconstructing memory and historical narratives through the legacy of expanded cinema––its residues and affects. Departing from Theresa Hak Kyung Cha’s unfinished film White Dust From Mongolia (1980), Wu has reinterpreted Cha’s original storyboard, comprised of eighty five shots, into her own notes and sketches. On the front of each corresponding card are drawings of sculptural objects later made for the installation, and on the back are excerpted passages from Cha’s book of experimental bio-fiction, Dictee (1982).
In 2017, Wu used a small sculpture (Foreign Object No. 1, Fluffy Light, 2016) to capture light data from a thirty minute screening of Cha’s unedited footage at the Museum of Art and Design. The light data was subsequently converted into the video featured here, also a central component of Wu’s installation. For optimal viewing, we recommend playing the video in full screen in a dark room with the lights off.
Installation images of the work from her solo exhibition at 47 Canal in 2018 are available here.
An open edition publication of this special presentation, made in collaboration with are.na, is also available for print-on-demand.
“Shadows index a cinematic apparatus, yet their presence is traumatically unresolved and politically impartial, hinting towards the fleeting constitution of the dream-screen, and its entrapment of the spectatorial subject. Every so often, for a fraction of a second, the light brusquely drops as a scene changes in White Dust. The effect is quietly destabilising.”––Harry Burke, Spike
“Against a flickering projection of white light, Ms. Wu sets an assemblage of small objects that refer to images in the film: trains, an airplane, a mop, the silhouette of an urban skyline. ‘Memory, time, silence, words, and whiteness’ were the essence of Cha’s art, wrote the art historian Moira Roth, as they are of Ms. Wu’s homage.”––Holland Cotter, New York Times
“In the dimly lit gallery, one might be tempted to first refer to the space as ‘dreamy’ or ‘dream-like’. It isn’t. Instead, Wu’s pieces crackle with the presence of history and the obscure mysteries that lie within them… Here, world-historical narratives have plunged into small objects, endowing them with pasts––and futures––the present has scrambled to suppress.”––Andrew Durbin, Frieze
Video element from Upon Leaving the White Dust, 2017/2018
I will give one more example in the work of Cici Wu (born 1989), an artist currently developing a reconstruction of an unfinished film by Theresa Hak Kyung Cha (1951-1982).
Insofar as Straub-Huillet’s self-insertion into history is always fundamentally a political engagement with the here-and-now, Wu’s encounter with Cha’s work is by no means accidental. Both diaspora female artists, much of their experience resonates with each other, and so does their shared interest in exploring loss, displacement, and disappearance. Cha’s project, entitled White Dust from Mongolia, was never completed due to her tragic death at the age of 31. However, the raw unedited footage, a storyboard detailing the 85 shots, and a written narrative have been preserved at the Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive. Wu’s proposal, put simply, is to materialize the unfinished film by studying and transforming the 85 shots into interconnected objects, images, and forms. I should mention here that, although BAMPFA has offered generous support in making these materials accessible, they nonetheless rejected the idea of incorporating any of Cha’s original materials into the reconstruction, for the reason that Wu’s work seems to “intend or appear to presume to speak on behalf of the artist.” One can’t help but be reminded of the fate of Straub-Huillet’s Cézanne film, also rejected by the Muséd’Orsay which had initially commissioned it. Though the position of the institution is certainly understandable, it once again poses the question of authorship back to us.
There is something quite beautiful when Wu offers a solution to this dilemma: instead of using the original materials directly, she creates a machine to capture just the fluctuations of light projected from the images–a receptacle of sensations, a reflection of what cinema is in its very concrete. If the authenticity of an AI’s voice can be questioned as nothing more than a pure reflection of what have been created, it is also right beneath such reflections that we can trace a genealogy of art practice. I would end with a passage from the Aesthetics of Disappearance by Paul Virilio, who amusingly enough, once engaged with Straub-Huillet in a heated debate on image and virtual reality:
The whiteness of birds or that of horses, the brilliant strips pasted on the clothes of experimental subjects, make the body disappear in favor of an instantaneous blend of givens under the indirect light of motors and other propagators of the real. […] the world keeps on coming at us, to the detriment of the object, which is itself now assimilated to the sending of information. […] technique finally reproducing permanently the violence of the accident; the mystery of speed remains a secret of light and heat from which even sound is missing.
Excerpt from “A Disappearing Act,” an essay by Xiaofei Mo published originally in LEAP Magazine, December 2016