“Varifold” is a mesmerizing, mind-altering video short by artist Van McElwee. The imagery seems to be created from many, many layers of stills and moving shots, all artfully composited into a complex, every-shifting tapestry. The individual images are of houses, streets, and nature scenes, and there are occasional layers of moving imagery which include pedestrians, cars and bicycles crossing the frame. All of these layers are blurred so that their edges are softened, and the color palette is limited to soft yellows and greens.
Because so many images are blended together, watching “Varifold,” one is never looking at an identifiable moment or a place, but rather at a mental space where many different moments and places co-exist. The powerful soundtrack is blended from orchestral music. In a manner similar to the way that the images are structured, we are always hearing several pieces of music together, looped, echoed, and processed. Much of the music comes from the sounds the orchestra makes while tuning up before they play, which is appropriate, because it goes with the feeling, so strong in this piece, that it is about what is potentially present more than what is actually here.
In its choice of imagery, “Varifold” folds together the urban and the suburban, the contemporary and the historical, and makes all of these things simultaneously real, just as they are in the life of the mind. When your eye picks up the moving shots of figures crossing the screen, it draws you into an individual moment, yet one is simultaneously in a timeless, multi-layered space. Characteristically, even these moments of crossing are moments of transition. The result is a shimmering, beautiful collage, which closely resembles a lot of the images I see whenever I close my eyes, particularly when drifting in and out of sleep.
In “Varifold,” Van McElwee draws us into a world of flux, a world which consists only of incessant transition, and dares us to feel at home in the exhilaration of this shifting universe.