Jam Wu’s video installation “Through the Walls,” 2021, begins with a flashlight pointed outward, illuminating the viewer. Over the course of forty minutes, a shadow play takes shape across four interconnected channels, with the silhouettes of two performers making choreographed body movements both exaggerated and simple. Using the sparest gestures, props, and backdrops—a faint halo, a bed of flowers, a fence of hexagonal wire—and with meditative musical accompaniment from Yujun Wang, Wu’s apparitions come to life like cave paintings amid the flickering glow of an open fire.
An interdisciplinary artist working across sculpture, video, and performance, Wu primarily creates intricate papercuts that expand the form into conceptual terrain. For an excellent show that recently closed at the Chishang Art Center, the artist wove together fragments of ethnographic papers on Taiwanese Indigenous groups before superimposing images from those traditions. Wu’s installation likewise operates through negative space. Projected on four sides of a fabric cube, the composition remains unapproachable as a cohesive entity. Wu’s two phantasms occasionally enter into and share each other’s frames, but they rarely linger.
The end result is a deeply evocative and allegorical universe in which the smallest objects are imbued with a life of their own: an egg-shaped crystal wielded by one performer, the sheer garment that another laboriously dons. As with artists like William Kentridge and Kara Walker, Wu employs the silhouette to explore issues that remain subterranean, if never quite out of sight. In this animistic world, he dissolves the duality of “primitive” and “modern” while simultaneously reaffirming enigma. In “Through the Walls,” one never sees the whole. But wouldn’t that defeat the purpose? Better yet to find a vantage point from which the junctures remain visible, and where the reverse side can be seen reflected in the gallery window.