Or, the Modern Prometheus

Held & Bordy Gallery, Windward School, Los Angeles, CA
Generously funded by the Windward Visual and Media Arts Project Grant
January 8 – February 15, 2018

Or, the Modern Prometheus, 2017
3D glow in the dark PLA prints, archival pigment prints on Habotai silk,
wood, fans, mapped HD video projections with sound (TRT 6:30 min loop)
144 x 105 x 74 inches


In honor of the 200th anniversary of the publication of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, Windward school has invited Los Angeles-based installation artist Peter Wu to create a work of art that reflects on the relevance of Shelley’s novel today. Wu borrows the title for his work from the subtitle of Shelley’s book, Or, The Modern Prometheus, which alludes to the allegory of the danger inherent in meddling in ideas and powers beyond one’s comprehension or mastery. Prometheus was a Titan in Greek mythology who defied the gods by stealing fire, the first technology, and giving it to humanity, spurring on the growth of civilization. By focusing on the themes of abandonment and “The Other,” Peter Wu re-animates the amputated portion of the novel’s title and opens up a different view of Victor Frankenstein’s story.

In her novel, Shelly conjures many of the sentiments felt about the failed French Revolution. Failing in its attempt to create a democratic government, the country, instead, created a symbol of mechanical death: the guillotine. Wu employs this symbol in the video and within the installation’s structures with dismembered body parts, blades, and slicing to create a dialogue about how technology engenders alienation. The guillotine was a newly impersonal form of execution: no bloody axe wielded by hand; instead, a clean, precise blade that separates the executioner from the executed, the living from the dead. As video images in the installation imply, this distancing only gets wider as civilization and its technologies of war advance into nuclear warfare, in which millions of people are executed with the simple push of a button, and which continues today in drone warfare, executed by pilots firing on targets from a dark room hundreds or thousands of miles away.

The aforementioned technologies allow the user to remain distant from their victim, and thus remove the humanity of the person on the receiving end of the action. Less violent, but similarly callous rifts now exist because relationships are increasingly held together by the distancing technologies of social media. To avoid this technology is to abandon the current accepted social structure. But users of this technology often do so at the expense of real social interaction. Even though users are in a society that puts them in physical contact with others, they increasingly resort to social media as the preferred platform to see and be seen.

This desire to be seen is the most poignant of the themes in both Wu’s and Shelly’s works. Shelly was no stranger to abandonment in her early life as she was shunned by her aristocrat father and suffered the loss of a newborn child before writing her novel. This experience comes through in the monster’s pleas for acceptance from his creator: to be seen as a person, and not as “The Other”. The sculptures of dismembered monster hands set against the foreground of the artist’s dismembered head or death mask opens the door for the viewer to consciously acknowledge the role that all members play in defining what is “The Other” and what is the standard. These sculptural forms also exist in an ethereal form as the head is digitally animated to deliver a monologue from the perspective of the monster, and the monster’s hands are doubled through the video to once again animate the dead and discarded. It is in this monologue that Wu summons the pain of the monster, “The Other,” and the abandoned when he plaintively asks: “What am I to you?”

– Rob Greene

Peter Wu (b. 1976, Windsor, Ontario) lives and works in Los Angeles. In 2013, he was the recipient of the California Community Foundation Fellowship for Visual Artists. Solo exhibitions include Vincent Price Art Museum (Monterey Park, CA), Greene Exhibitions (Los Angeles, CA), Patrick Painter Inc (Santa Monica, CA), Power Galerie (Berlin, Germany), and Tomio Koyama Gallery (Tokyo, Japan). He has participated in group exhibitions at R/SF Projects (San Francisco, CA), Piasa (Paris, France), Parkhaus im Malkastenpark (Dusseldorf, Germany), the Guggenheim Gallery at Chapman University (Orange, CA), the Fellows of Contemporary Art (Los Angeles, CA), and the Glendale College Art Gallery (Glendale, CA). In September 2018, he will have a solo exhibition with R/SF Projects (San Francisco, CA). He received his MFA from the San Francisco Art Institute and his BFA from the University of Windsor.