Jennifer West’s rainbow-colored curtain of filmstrips that span a full gallery of the Seattle Art Museum doesn’t evoke a sense of death, at first. The Los Angeles artist’s site-specific installation is made of discarded 70 mm film that she manipulates with household substances such as nail polish, salt, spray paint, and vegetable peelers. A cascade of electric blue, violet and tangerine kiss marks fill one section, their colors popping like confetti. A nearby set of black strands curl and warp, their texture reminiscent of the plastic Shrinky Dinks kids cooked in ovens in the 1980s. Bursts of red spots fill others like clusters of ladybugs perched on a flower. Three monitors situated on the floor screen recordings of the manipulated reels in action, flashing their colors and shape in a rapid-fire pace that dazzles the eye. Spend too little time with “Film is Dead…”, and the installation’s title could be mistaken for irony; doesn’t this vibrant celluloid prove film is alive?
But, a few strips with “COKE” and “PEPSI” scrawled across the center appear between the abstractions—the only legible words among the hundred of frames in the room. When they flicker on the screens, the decades-old commercials made famous by the “Pepsi Challenge” of 1975 comes to mind with disturbing ease. The effect prompts the question of how deeply the images we consume contort and embed themselves within the mind. West’s manipulations bear greater weight in this context. The processes she inflicted upon the celluloid to create her wall of color—the burning, the salting, the scratching, the peeling—suddenly seem violent. The slick parade of images that flies through the screens appears more overwhelming as the uncertainty of how long images that are passively absorbed remain engrained in the human mind descends. West’s installation reveals the way the greater stakes may not reside in film’s death but in the subliminal longevity of its impact.