Colette Fu: Photo Binge, at the University City Arts League

Photo Binge, Colette Fu‘s exhibit at the University City Arts League, brings together the artist’s pop-up books and light box transparencies.

Douglas Witmer and his son examine Colette Fu’s pop-up book Skates, Rollerskating Hall of Fame, Lincoln, NE, 2004. Archival inkjet

Both bodies of work focus on excess in an age and culture of plenty. But the lightbox transparencies, which are photocollages with a Where’s Waldo stuffed-to-the gills quality, have a thoroughly brash, Pop sensibility, their imagery lit up to sell.

Colette Fu, Waddle Pool, 2003, archival pigment backlit, transparencies

The pop-up books, although using some similar kinds of imagery and ideas, are the opposite of Pop. They are more Alice in Wonderland than Where’s Waldo, although equally stuffed to the gills. But the subject matter is more focused. In these a respect for the intimacy of what’s between the covers combines with the delight of how a book, on opening, offers so much more than just its material components of paper and words in ink.

Colette Fu, Waddle Pool, detail

The dichotomy is the difference between passively viewing a film or an ad, which is prepackaged to assault the senses and awaken desire, versus actively seeking an experience by opening the covers, walking around the object, and satisfying a desire that’s already there–curiosity. The pop-up books, which also are photo-based, are tempered by the hand crafting–the cutting, the engineering, the 3-D planning. The work, like predecessor Jennifer Bolande, up at the ICA now, combines pictures and sculpture with a Pop sensibility, but Fu, like so many contemporary artists working in the crossroads of photography and sculpture, takes the ideas in new, engaging directions.

Colette Fu, Skirt, Sephora, New York, NY, 2004, inchival inkjet

Fu expresses horror in Waddle Pool, a lightbox transparency of an overcrowded-swimming pool scene that features a liposuction vacuum device with a slot for quarters. The willing victims are subjected to an implied, self-administered invasive procedure as they loll around, like odalisques in a contemporary harem, preparing for their man.

In the pop-up book Skirt, Sephora, make-up tubes fall into the vortex formed by an inverted skirt printed with more makeup tubes. The skirt is a frilly blossom open for receiving This piece, too, implies a metaphorical self-rape, but the implements of insertion are familiar objects from the dressing table and purse. These pieces have feminist elements, but they are part of a more general horror of a culture that promotes excess and gluttony of various varieties and also of a culture that desires humans transformed to look unnatural.


Fu, who had a Fulbright in 2008 to photograph the ethnic minorities of her mother’s hometown in China, will show work in March at the Philadelphia Airport, Terminal D. She is currently one of the artists in the Breadboard-Mural Arts residency program at NextFab, where she’s learning her way around high-tech fabrication equipment; think murals with 3-D elements in the offing. Her show at the UCAL is up through Feb. 27. It’s nice to see work of this high quality in a neighborhood art center.