How do you see yourself? When you look in the mirror, how do you feel about that which looks back at you?
To many, these may be no more than existential questions, yet on what level do they lurk in the corners of your consciousness when you don't look like anyone in your family or those among your friends, your neighbors or your community?
Maybe you were brought into your family through an international adoption, or maybe your parents were of different races. Maybe you grew up in a place of homogeneous ethnicity and stand out as "the other."
Valery Jung Estabrook, a nationally recognized Taos interdisciplinary video artist, considers, "By changing our appearance, how do we change how people perceive us, and--perhaps more importantly — how do we change how we see ourselves? In what ways can the act of temporarily occupying another external form help liberate a person's internal identity?"
These are timely issues in trying times.
"Thinly Worn," an installation created by Estabrook, is an in-depth exploration of that which, the artist notes, "confronts the human tendency to categorize other human beings, either by race, culture or gender, and how one can transcend the identities assigned to them by others."
The public is invited to experience Estabrook's work at the opening reception for Currents New Media Festival Friday (June 8) at El Museo Cultural in The Railyard, 555 Camino de la Familia, Santa Fe. Hours for the opening weekend (June 8-10) are 6 p.m. to midnight, and admission for those over 18 is $5.
And the thought-provoking installation is truly an experience. It is based upon a series of images that embrace both the influence of Estabrook's Korean-American heritage and that of today's infatuation with selfies and the predilection for reality-altering apps, such as Snapchat and Meitu.
"The work is comprised of a collection of hand-painted masks and an accompanying performance video," Estabrook explained. "Each mask is sewn from hosiery in shades of nude, coffee, and suntan. To create each mask, I sit in front of a mirror, wearing a blank mask and draw lines and features specific to a character."
The video, titled "Beautiful Face," depicts Estabrook wearing the masks and adds context to their origins from specific experiences in her life, or by labels applied to her by others. Its relation to the mask display becomes a unique element when clips of the video are accessed using an augmented reality app called Layar.
"Originally I didn't conceive the project to encompass augmented reality, but as the work progressed and I was showing it in more galleries, I found a challenge in presenting the performance video while relying on a large, fixed screen. Using Layar solved this problem as video clips are instantly called up and shown in a viewer's mobile device," she said.
"Especially in a gallery setting where people may only be viewing a piece for a few seconds, the augmented reality element helps the masks come alive and also gives the viewer something to discover."
The imagery in "Thinly Worn," she noted, is inspired by Korean tal masks, which are archetypal masks used in folk dances and plays.
"Although 'tal' literally translates to 'mask,' the word is derived from a Chinese character meaning 'to rid oneself' or 'to free oneself.' In Korean folk traditions, these masks allowed the wearer to be free from social norms," Estabrook said. "The(y) allow other persons and identities to take visible form."
For the artist, "The materialization of these identities unpacks and dissects the personal experience of being a mixed-race Korean American woman."
Estabrook mused that technology makes things different, not better. "I don't quantify 'better,' " she said. "With any medium I'm engaged in, I always expect both a good outcome and a different one."
Her host, Currents New Media, is a nonprofit organization founded by Mariannah Amster and Frank Ragano, who also curate and administer the festival.
"The festival is in its ninth year and showcases the status of today's media art and interactive art scenes," said Ragano. Drawing upon their own prior experience as video and installation artists, the two feature the gamut of new media art and the role of technology in creating that art.
As much as technology may be off-putting to some, Rangano assured potential viewers that the exhibition is enjoyable to all. "We promote nonexclusivity, picking what we like, and making it accessible across all demographics," he said. The festival, he noted, is scheduled under the umbrella of Futurition/Santa Fe, a consortium of various participants representing the latest in media art, technology and science, and who have a series of special events planned throughout Santa Fe for the month of June.
"We've got 90 participants in our own festival this year, and we're thrilled to have Valery be one of them," he said.
"Sometimes what you think is personal, but you hope to find it's not. I hope this installation creates some empathy," Estabrook concluded.
El Museo Cultural de Santa Fe can be contacted at (505) 992-0591 or email@example.com.
For information about the Currents New Media Festival, including hours throughout the month of June, visit currentsnewmedia.org. For further information about Valery Jung Estabrook, visit valeryestabrook.com. Futurition/Santa Fe may be found at santafefuturition.com.