Digital exhibit imagines women of past, present and future

What do a cavewoman and a futuristic woman (in a tinfoil dress and sparkly spandex pants, no less) have in common?

As it happens, a lot.

Two characters – “Queen Ugha,” a cavewoman, and “Xugha the future woman” – are the stars of Lycoming College alumna Amanda Le Kline’s exhibit, “Speculation on the Trajectory of Human Kind,” opening Tuesday at the college’s Digital Media Gallery, located in the communication building on the corner of Fourth and Franklin streets.

These characters, portrayed in photographs and videos, both are played by Le Kline, who also builds the sets, designs the lighting and shoots and edits the photos and videos.

As Le Kline’s artist statement explains, “Through these characters, inventions and social structures are examined, and their origins and futures are inferred.”

Leah Peterson, Lycoming chair of communications and the show’s organizer, said Le Kline’s artwork explores “imagination, fiction, reality, history and believability.”

Le Kline’s ideas were inspired by human evolution: “This whole body of work stemmed from a visit to the Harvard Museum of Natural History, where I saw an exhibition on human evolution … I started doing research on the topic, especially the roles of women. My previous work was about traditional gender roles, so I thought I would go back to our origins and research the first roles of women,” she said in an email interview.

Le Kline said that because human evolution focuses mainly on men, she wanted to use her work to give women a role in their own destinies: as her artist statement says, “The mimicked environments (portrayed in Le Kline’s photographs and videos) such as a cave interior, or the surface of an alien planet, are the stages for Ugha the cavewoman and Xugha the future woman to act out theories about women’s roles.”

“A major goal is to give women agency and show that ‘Woman the Gatherer’ and ‘Woman the Hunter’ existed alongside ‘Man the Hunter,’ ” she said.

Le Kline’s work also explores the concepts of truth and objectivity: “Her intent is not to recreate the past or assume the future but to question our knowledge base and by doing so, question the trajectory of our future,” Peterson said.

Le Kline said she encourages her audience to view her work – and all information they receive through digital and other media – with a degree of curiosity and even skepticism.

“We should always be questioning what we are told, and I think this is even more important in the digital age of information sharing,” she said, adding, “I am not an anthropologist, nor am I an archaeologist, and I was not around 20,000 years ago to witness cave painting firsthand. I am an artist sharing what I chose to believe.”

Creating characters, a framework for the story and a narrative is just the first step in Le Kline’s creative process. Conceptualizing the video or photo is about a two-week process. Next begins the physical creation of the work.

“The most time-consuming part of the whole process is building the sets and props,” she said. “I use materials like paper and cardboard, and the backdrops are painted sheets. Even though it takes a while, it is one of my favorite parts of making this type of work. I can’t help but feeling like a little kid while I’m in the studio making a papier mache tree. The inexpensive, non-precious nature of the materials is really liberating because I can just go for it and not be afraid of making mistakes and having to start over.”

Creating props takes around three weeks unless Le Kline reuses props from prior works. Once the set is created, Le Kline is ready to shoot the photo or video. Videos are not scripted; instead, she does what comes naturally.

“I have an environment within a lighting studio, and a concept in mind that I want to present, whether that be a cavewoman inventing a specific tool, or a future woman struggling with cell phone reception, and I go from there. I set up the camera, hit record, walk on set and improvise,” Le Kline said.

She spends six to eight hours recording, playing back the material and recording again. “I usually end up doing this five to 10 times, until I am happy with the performance (or) recording.”

The editing process adds a few more hours of work to the piece until it is finally complete.

Le Kline enjoys exploring ideas through the characters of Ugha and Xhugha.

“I wanted a character that I could take with me through time and through each piece, so I came up with Ugha,” she said. “Ugha’s character is set anywhere from 3 million years ago to 20,000 years ago, depending on the narrative … I think of Xugha as a distant relative of Ugha who lives 2,000 years into the future on an alien planet. The names are similar because I wanted them to be an extension of each other, on opposite sides of the spectrum of humanity.”

She added, “I am dealing with complex issues, and use the characters to insert some humor into the pieces.”

Peterson and Le Kline both look forward to the discussion that can be generated by the exhibit.

“My hope is that the work enables us to consider why we believe what we do,” Peterson said. “When we question what we know of our history other versions may be revealed and that it is only through questions that we may find the answers.”

An artist lecture will be held at 1 p.m. Tuesday in the Fine Arts Lecture Hall. The exhibit opening and artist talk will be held at 4 p.m. Wednesday, and the exhibit will run through March 20.