FionaFei’s Impostor: reflections on art and heritage in Second Life

The Sim Quarterly: Impostor by FionaFei

Now open at The Sim Quarterly is Impostor, an installation by FionaFei that explores both her art and her heritage – and makes for a thoroughly engaging exploration of self and creativity.

A relative newcomer to Second Life and its art world, Fiona is nevertheless one of the most engaging and visually impressive artists active within the platform, her work being truly unique. I’ve personally had the delight in discovering it and in writing about it on two occasions thus far (see: Captivated by FionaFei’s art in Second Life (May 2019) and FionaFei’s shuǐmò Reflection in Second Life from November 2019), and she was recently featured in one of the Lab’s Made in SL videos, being the first film in a series that will be examining art in Second Life as a part of the Lab’s ongoing work to market and promote Second Life.

The Sim Quarterly: Impostor by FionaFei

Fiona specialises in reproducing shuǐmò ink wash paintings as 3D sculptures. Also called shuǐmòhuà (suiboku-ga in Japanese) shuǐmò, uses different concentrations of black ink to create an image. Found throughout East Asia, it first emerged in Tang dynasty China (618–907), before spreading to Japan (14th century), Korea and to India. Beside the use of black ink in place of colours, it is also marked by the emphasis of the brushwork being on the perceived spirit or essence of the subject, rather than directly imitating its appearance.

Through her installations, Fiona marvellously brings the entire essence of shuǐmò to virtual life. However, as she notes in writing about Impostor, something that causes her a certain amount of introspection about her own heritage, her art and expressionism, and her feelings of  – for want of a better word – displacement.

The inspiration behind this exhibit comes from my cultural background as a Chinese American immigrant and my technical background as an oil painter. While I am Chinese by descent, I have spent the majority of my life in the West. I have a fascination with Chinese history and culture, but I often feel like I’m viewing my ancestry through a filter of Americanized information and experiences. Furthermore, my artistic background has been in charcoal and oil painting mediums, and I’ve had very little experience in actual ink-brush painting. For these reasons, “Impostor” is meant to be a self critique and reflection of my inexperience with the actual ink-brush medium, where I feel like I’m never “good enough,” but I’m embracing it.

The Sim Quarterly: Impostor by FionaFei

Given this, Impostor is a deeply personal piece, offering us insight into Fiona’s world, her feelings and the push-pull she experiences with regards to western upbringing and her Chinese heritage. It is also an installation that again brings forth her innate skill and artistry in presenting a modern-era form of shuǐmò, one that is both evocative and rich in symbolism throughout.

From the landing point, visitors embark on a journey along a set of wooden piers set out as a walkway amidst ink washed mountains, their charcoal outline an echo of Fiona’s artistic background. They lead the way on to a large paint brush – another reminder of her background – that in turn leads naturally into an ascent up through the ink wash mountains to where a pagoda-like temple.

The paint brush forms a physical and symbolic link between Fiona’s background in art and her desire / love of classical Chinese ink-ash art that forms her bridge to her Chinese heritage. More symbols are to be found throughout the installation, several of which Fiona notes herself – the red hands (her own, desperate to reach through her art and physically touch Chinese history and its ancient cultures), the black splashes of paint that splatter the landscape (again bridges between her training in oil and charcoal and the tradition of ink wash she wishes to embrace, red flowers and black trees (the contrasting colours that she uses to emphasise her work), and more.

The Sim Quarterly: Impostor by FionaFei

Most poignantly of all, the red forest of lines and swirls that actually form the Chinese Characters 你是谁 (Ni Shi Shei? – asks “Who are you?”), a question that clearly occupies Fiona’s thoughts – and it is fair to say she is not alone in this; thus the words also touch us as we witness them. They stand as a tangled briar patch, a reflection of how thoughts of who we are can ensnare us. They also stands as a physical reminder of how easy it is to become captive to such thoughts, willingly or otherwise, depending on how our thoughts flow: touch them, and you can be set floating within their midst.  In this, they are one of several sit points that are to be found within the installation, so be sure to mouse around carefully.

Fiona views herself as an inexperienced “impostor” when it comes to ink wash painting. I beg to differ; her work both richly embraces this most ancient form of art and also lifts in to a new and evocative form of expression and storytelling, with Imposter itself a captivating installation that will remain at The Sim Quarterly until the end of May.

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