Artists explore ‘post-truth world’ in Anderson’s latest student exhibition

“Fake News,” VCUarts’ 2020 undergraduate juried exhibition, is on display at The Anderson until Nov. 21. “The Bacchae: Pentheus-inspired mask” by theatre freshman Harris Erickson is featured in the exhibit. Photo by Jon Mirador

Grace McOmber, Contributing Writer

Black tears trickle down the face of a young woman while ominous music plays in the background of a short video clip. The word “Hollywood” scrawls repeatedly across the screen in shaky handwriting as the girl’s image distorts, her expression becoming increasingly distraught as she is engulfed in darkness.

The animation is accessed through a QR code on the wall of The Anderson art gallery. A poem titled “Hollywood” surrounds the code in silver letters and details the pressures to conform to the media’s beauty standards.

“Now, standing by her mirror, she looks at her reflection,” the poem reads. “But all she looks back at is the soul that she discarded.”

Created by freshman VCUarts student Chloe Posthuma-Coelho, “Hollywood” explores the media’s negative influence on body image and mental health.

I wanted to portray the sense that we should all be unique,Posthuma-Coelho said. “It’s hard because, in Hollywood, all we see are these stars, and we think ‘oh, that’s how I should be.’”

The Anderson will host Posthuma-Coelho’s piece alongside artwork from 36 other students from nine different departments until Nov. 21. The 2020 undergraduate juried exhibition centers on “fake news,” a theme selected by Anna Katz, a juror and curator at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles.

 “It was very cool to see the kinds of works that students submitted that were on point in terms of the current moment in so many ways.” — Monica Kinsey

Katz’s open call for the exhibition was sent to all VCUarts students, requesting contributions that focused on “the exploration of states, modes and the consequences of mis- and disinformation.”  Students wishing to participate submitted photographs of their work virtually, alongside a 500-word description of how it fit the theme.

“It’s a very broad topic, so there’s a lot of interesting personal narratives and exploration of bigger political narratives,” said Chase Westfall, curator of student exhibitions and programs at The Anderson. “Within those narratives, you get to see the creative resilience and ingenuity of VCUarts students.”

The Anderson reached out to Katz after she was nominated to the position by the 2019 predecessor, Rebecca Matalon, curator of Contemporary Arts Museum Houston. The team finalized the theme in spring, but the open call was delayed to the fall after VCU’s March closure due to COVID-19.

 “It was very cool to see the kinds of works that students submitted that were on point in terms of the current moment in so many ways,” said The Anderson’s administrative coordinator, Monica Kinsey. “I think the fake news theme is a really good one to choose, given the current political culture.” 

Craft and material studies major Arrington Peterson said it was rewarding to have her artwork chosen by someone with Katz’s experience; it was her first time applying for a show at the 907 1/2 W. Franklin St. gallery.

Peterson’s work, “Rose Colored Glasses Room 1,” is a part of her thesis project “Rose Colored Glasses,” which is made up of dioramas that resemble miniature film set pieces. Peterson said she utilized this series to explore themes of conformity and rebellion through colored lighting. 

“Dada for the 21st century: a meme manifesto,” a zine created by sophomore Syd Lewin, connects internet meme culture to past art movements and explores the political and social uses of memes. Photo by Jon Mirador

“I would love it if people get the ideas that I’m trying to portray,” Peterson said, “but I’m also interested in different readings of it and having art that starts conversations.”

Peterson said pink lighting in the piece represents individuals who view the world through “rose colored glasses” and blindly follow popular social media trends. The green light peeking through the set’s window suggests rejecting that mentality and embracing one’s individuality.

Sculpture and extended media student Syd Lewin’s zine, “Dada for the 21st century: a meme manifesto” explores the connections between internet meme culture and Dadaism, an early 20th-century art movement centered on irreverence toward modernity. 

“I wanted to explore this new way of existing, in which we’re accustomed to really high-speed turnarounds in the news cycle,” Lewin said. “Even though the speed of content is growing exponentially, there have been people that have experienced this before.”

Like Posthuma-Coelho, Lewin’s work also included a QR code for viewers to scan. The artist said the technology incorporated in the work made it more accessible for guests using screen readers. When scanned, the code leads to Lewin’s website, where a digital and plain text version of the artist’s zine can be viewed. The physical and online versions of the zine include Lewin’s sketchbook and planning process.

“I felt that, for something that is so based in this ever-changing digital landscape, it would be really weird to have this thing be static and unchanging,” the sophomore said. “I wanted to have more of a record of the process rather than any finished piece.”

Lewin hopes to reconceptualize the widespread, casual use of memes in society and encourage people to reevaluate the value of the format.

“I think that memes have a social purpose as a cathartic space, a communicative space and even a resistant space,” Lewin said. “I’d like people to reconsider what they’re able to do with the content they’re putting into the digital landscape.”

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