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The stone beneath our feet

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Date Minted:  November 13, 2018

Artist Description: Poem with artwork. I wrote this poem after observing the stone steps of an old manor house, a soft curve had formed from the centuries of footsteps that had walked on that very spot. The images for this digital collage are from a negative I created for a cyanotype print by scanning old photographs and postcards. The photograph I estimate to be from the early 1900s.

CohentheWriter’s Commentary:

“We are not captives of this time

We are memories set into the stone

Like the footsteps that have come before us.

And came before them, and are to come

Memories forming an impression

In the stone beneath our feet.”

These words span the top half of Ophelia Fu’s fascinating 2018 piece, The stone beneath our feet, a beautiful and multifaceted and densely-layered work of found collage that it seems, from my perch four years later in 2022, to be almost frighteningly prescient, something we might use to eulogize the masses lost to a pandemic, for instance, or a war. Fu has here crafted not only an artwork but a story, a story with characters, impossible as those characters are to know, and a story with deep, brooding tone. Fu has used everything at her disposal to establish that tone: juxtaposition, color, abstraction, poetry. And the effect is stunning. The result is an artwork unlike any I’ve seen. That it preceded the crypto art explosion by a magnitude of years is doubly prescient. Fu might just be a seer.

Since very first piece minted in October of 2018, Fu has bounced between art styles, fascinations, and sensibilities. There’s an extended period where bright yellow is included prominently in each of the artist’s digital canvas. Sometimes stick figures are Fu’s subjects, other times animals, and oftentimes she enters her piece around abstract, rotating circles, really reveling in the power of collage to juxtapose not just myriad images, but myriad textures, animations, and sentiments. Still, The stone beneath our feet is eclectic even among Fu’s overall eclectic style. Not that she never uses photographic elements. And certainly, many pieces bolster themselves with poetry and verbiage (sometimes her own, sometimes that of others). But The stone beneath our feet has an edge, a longing, the quality of memory. It manages to stand out from an already electric oeuvre (if I do say so myself).

Now: The piece. As mentioned, the top half prominently features the above poem, placing it in black, Courier-type font, atop a white background. It’s prominently meant to mirror the look and feel of a postcard, and I’m not just saying that because it reads “Postcard” along the right side of the frame. It’s the personal touches, the ink-written name “Albert.” The blots of wayward ink or subpar printing. This section of the piece is cut-off from its bottom half, a photograph’s negative depicting two workman’s boots standing next to some kind of a foundation, the colors wonky but the whites glowing almost neon, and the blacks flirting with blue. Interposed into the direct middle of the piece is a thick red bar that stretches out from the image’s right edge, covering a thin strip about a hair more than halfway across the frame. 

I reread that description back to myself, and it only emphasizes what a dense piece this is to try and parse through. We don’t have the specific chronological avenue into it that we do for crypto art made throughout the first months of the Coronavirus pandemic. So we should take stock of what we do know. Perhaps more than anything else, we know this is a piece about memory. Not just because of the poem that quite literally revolves around the concept of memory, but from the old photograph, from the found quality of the postcard elements. Every aspect of this piece calls out from a buried past. So we know that. 

What we don’t know, and what I’m having trouble even guessing at, is the presence of the red bar. I can’t help but feeling it is key to unlocking what this piece is. Because it is both anachronistically and stylistically a departure from the rest of the artwork. While Fu doesn’t mention it in her Artist Description, she does provide a bit more context for where her inspiration came from and what this piece actually depicts. “Poem with artwork. I wrote this poem after observing the stone steps of an old manor house, a soft curve had formed from the centuries of footsteps that had walked on that very spot. The images for this digital collage are from a negative I created for a cyanotype print by scanning old photographs and postcards. The photograph I estimate to be from the early 1900s.”

I’m usually less reticent to impose meaning onto abstractions like those included in The stone beneath our feet. But perhaps here, the red bar isn’t meant to be anything more than what it is: Some modern, unrelated aspect of a different world imposed onto something that has emerged from the past. Because wouldn’t that mirror Fu’s experience itself? Wouldn’t that mirror any of our experiences when confronted with artifacts and antiques? Our minds, our eyes, our perspective; we may well be the red bars ourselves. Complex and unknowable, yes, but certainly unrelated to the proceedings which came before us, of an entirely different world. But it’d be impossible to detangle the two, us from the past we view. There’s always a red bar. There will always be a red bar. As long as there are old photographs, words above them, and Albert’s lost letters, there will be our own red bars superimposed atop them. The past requires eyes with which to see it. Minds with which to process it. And sometime in the future, another’s colors will be superimposed atop us just the same. 

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