As part of this edition of the Agora Talk, our guest Snow Yunxue invites us to discover and learn about the nature of personal reflection and growth in our contemporary digital landscape.

Adrian StClair  |  Ed Claire Deal | 28 August 2020

Snow Yunxue Fu, Avalanche (2020) © Courtesy of the artist.

A media artist, curator and assistant art professor at NYU, Snow recognises one common aspect of digital creators, which is their ability to merge many aspects of culture, philosophy and materials into pieces of art. Creations that break the mould and stand in liminality; in spaces of change and growth where reflection is unavoidable. This, of course, could be said of any successful work of art in the sense that they exist as a nexus where the viewer will experience a change within themselves, no matter if it is slight or immense.

Liminality is seen as this point of transition or confusion between two states of being. An inescapable aspect of life. As an anthropological concept, we know it only from the 20th century thanks to the work of Arnold van Gennep in his key work “Les Rites de Passage” from 1909, as a term describing the state of teenage-hood. Neither child nor adult.

Snow Yunxue Fu, Fire (2020) © Courtesy of the artist.

The word liminality is derived from the Latin word limen, meaning threshold, and closely associated with the word limes, meaning limit. Unlike a limit, the threshold is not an endpoint but a midpoint, that allows fluid crossing of, or wavering between two worlds. Akin to a Metamorphosis whether it is of the soul or of the flesh this exists everywhere one looks.

Snow’s digital artwork is embedded in liminality, born from her training as a painter and art historian and now inhabiting the digital realm. She describes how through liminality in digital art we can also observe the “Techno Sublime”. This is in relation to Romanticism connected to the nature of reflection on existence.

Snow Yunxue Fu, examples of Render use © Courtesy of the artist.

Faith and solemnity are found in landscape paintings by Caspar David Friedrich; who most notably represents the Techno Sublime. His works excel at creating a reunion with the spiritual self through the contemplation of nature. Romanticism as an artistic movement launched by the renewed sense of importance toward the individual’s experience. 

Unlike many other European countries, Romantic painters were not surrounded by traditional art, this is why many artists chose to become Landscapists. At first, Romanticism Landscape was not considered a form of Fine Art. It is thanks to pieces such as Two Men Contemplating the Moon (1819), The Monk by the Sea (1810) that the movement gained recognition.

The writer Goethe inspired much of the perception and ideals these kinds of work sought to emanate. Friedrich had read and worked trying to infuse Manner into his landscapes, the concept of creating a visual language that spoke of a connection between the soul and the painted image.

Snow Yunxue Fu, Placid (2020) © Courtesy of the artist.

In today’s postmodern culture where the past is a well of information, the “distant feeling” of Romantic Art is also represented in Digital Art. Friedrich composed impossible landscapes with pieces of reality that digital tools allow him to create. Digital art offers a space in between worlds.

One of Snow’s contributions to this history is her piece “Pool” from 2016, a series of installations which stand or are projected as humble pools of water that evolve and transition, inviting the viewer to submerge their thoughts. Rightfully to her background Snow moulds these works referencing the work of Caspar David. Another piece from 2018, “Slant”, also observes in the form of video projections this fluid concept of “techno sublime”.

When asked about the Chinese landscape, Snow provides a humbling answer acknowledging the complexity; but what she takes away from Chinese Old Masters is the richness and importance of world creation. The ability to compose deep thought within a landscape is undoubtedly one of the admirable skills of artists. The teachings of master landscape artists have persisted into today’s digital age, reimagined by today’s tools.

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