Ubiquitous “screen time,” instant communication, online bullying, handles yelling at us and at each other, the stress of strained communication, and the maintenance of our virtual selves—all of this certainly inflicts deep mental damage that needs healing. And healing is exactly what the Orlando-based virtual artist Elizabeth Mputu provides in his/her new installation at Interstitial, Georgetown’s own new media gallery.
Mputu's work has consistently focused on our virtual existence, tackling topics such as bodily representation, the commercialization of our identities, surveillance, and aggression against POC. LVLZ Healing Center leaps from his/her cyberspace (if I may use an old expression) into a physical space that's composed of 4 Pods, each segregated from the other with opaque shower curtains reflecting a variety of subtle light.
Julia Greenway, the director of Interstitial, showed me to "Pod 1: Welcome Center," and gave me a brief run down on the installation. The space is to be utilized, handled and explored without boundaries or rules. There is no right or wrong way to move through it. Each of the Pods are separated enough to create a shift in the visual/audible experience. Three of the four Pods feature digital videos. The incorporation of the digital platform alongside the physical experience of Mputu's media creates a digi-manifestation that will make you put your phone away and forget it.
Before leaving me alone to explore, Greenway explained her intention to create an environment where the physical absence of the artist themselves is felt as a lingering strangeness. Small items would be left behind, like a pair of shoes or notebook, to signal the true occupant of the space. As I moved through the Healing Center, I did not feel strange as in uncomfortable, but strange akin to how I used to feel as a child left alone in my Grandmother’s house. I could touch things and was welcome and safe there, but none of it was familiar and it felt very much like the intimate space of another–open and warm, but from without my realm of ownership.
I spent close to 1 hour in the installation, carefully moving through the Pods. Each of the videos are subtly integrated into the space and maintain distinction and clarity even when all playing at once. Pod 2: Level A is a simulated waiting room. Pod 4: Level Zed, is a simulated apothecary. Pod 4 presents bell jars of chamomile, nettle, and goldenseal herbs. I inhaled the smell of the herbs, opening each jar and mixing a small spoonful in a provided bag which I have since kept with me. The last Pod, Pod 3: Level 0, is a media and learning center. Pod 3 offers sketchbooks and books, Mputu’s own sketchbook, and a laptop showing his/her NewHive digital work. In the corner there stands a tall pedestal with a colorful bust. Attached to the back of the bust is an iPhone 4 playing digital video.
The continuity between the physical space and the digital pages built in NewHive was the essential success of the installation. This continuity is the main strength of Mputu’s growing body of work. The installation felt good—I left feeling healed, revitalized, and a little bit happier about technology, knowing that artists are claiming e-spaces. I hope to see much more from Elizabeth Mputu and Interstitial.
See this before it is gone on October 28th and be sure to enjoy the affirmation apples in Pod 2: Level A.