Julia Prudhomme takes on the character of LuLu Miller in this video still image from her installation

Julia Prudhomme takes on the character of LuLu Miller in this video still image from her installation

Images haunt in master student’s thesis exhibition

Julia Prudhomme, completing her master’s in fine arts degree at UBC Okanagan, looks to her past for installation opening at the VPAG.

As a child, Julia Prudhomme often visited the well-known theme park and hotel that bore her family’s name.

Located on the shores of Lake Ontario near St. Catharines, Ont., Prudhomme’s Landing delighted the many who visited its Wet ‘n’ Wild Water Park and amusement rides.

But what was most famous about the park was its haunted house, located in an old mansion on the property.

Those who dared to walk inside the near equivalent of the Bates Motel, save for the cross-dressing murderer with mommy issues, often ran outside one of its “chicken” doors in a panic.

The place, darkened and creepy, had its fair share of ghosts, whether real or not. Nonetheless, you could literally feel them grab you.

Long sold by the family and subsequently closed, part of Prudhomme’s Landing, including its century old dance hall, succumbed to a fire in 2009.

Now living in Kelowna, where she is finishing her master’s in fine art at UBC Okanagan, Prudhomme, at only 23, has a few ghosts of her own.

They lie within her photo-based and video installation work, which will soon be viewed in her exhibition, Just Passing Through, opening at the Vernon Public Art Gallery Thursday.

The exhibition is actually part of Prudhomme’s master’s thesis and reflects some of her family’s history, namely her great-grandmother from her mother’s side.

After receiving her bachelor’s in fine art at St. Catharines’ Brock University in 2011, Prudhomme drove out to the Okanagan last summer after being accepted in the master’s program at UBCO.

“I used to do stop-motion animation, installation and performance work, where I used photo cutouts, painting and drawing,” she said. “My work is process-based and self-directed… I like playing with character roles, etiquette and performance.”

Just Passing Through is best seen to be believed.

Holed up in a log cabin studio on the UBCO campus, which she had 24 hour access to, Prudhomme also booked herself into the Chinook Hotel in Kelowna for two nights, where she shot some of her footage. It was there that she took on a few personas, one of them influenced by her great-grandmother, whose ghostly figure appears in many of her images as well as the eight-millimetre film.

They have a ‘60s-style tone to them and show Prudhomme performing simple gestures such as sewing and pouring milk.

“I  have been putting myself into my work, and have an intense relationship with my work. It is not necessarily obviously personal. I like to grapple with ideas, collective ideas and aspirations… I like to dress up. I’m like a little kid stuck in a grown-up world.”

Naming her character LuLu Miller after her great-grandmother, Prudhomme specifically used her ancestor’s travel diaries to get a better understanding of her past and found connections to her own life.

“My family is of German-Mennonite background, a Heinz 57 mixture, and I was fascinated with LuLu who died just before my twin brother and I were born,” she said. “There’s always that linear part of family where you hear about who you look like and who you act like. Most of my family is out east, but before I came out here, my grandmother told me of her mother and her trips out west. She always had her suitcase packed. She was always attracted to the west… I thought it would be neat to follow in her footsteps.”

An obsessive reader, Prudhomme was also influenced by other sources, namely Amy Vanderbilt’s Etiquette, a 1951 etiquette guide written by a descendant of the Vanderbilts, as well as a highly publicized first‐degree marital murder case in San Bernardino Valley, which was recounted in Joan Didion’s collection of essays, Slouching Towards Bethlehem. She also gleaned from Harold Pinter’s 1957 stage play, The Birthday Party.

“I read a line in the play that started: ‘Lulu, a girl in her 20s….’ Her character was minimal; it’s more about the male characters, but I took her performance in the play and shaped an entire world from it. I spent time with all these fragments,” she said.

“All of this had me questioning myself and being reflective on why I was doing what I was doing. It forced me to look back at the etiquette book and I linked it to my own family. I became interested in how women were supposed to act and look back then.”

The resulting video installation and photographs tell the fragmented narrative of this character, which Prudhomme hopes will translate to those who come see her exhibition.

“I wanted to create something authentic… I hope that it is interesting for those who see it as it was to make.”

Prudhomme’s Just Passing Through opens at the Vernon Public Art Gallery along with UBCO’s BFA graduation exhibition Continuum, West Kelowna artist Petula Pettman’s Flowers and Tears, featuring the artist’s stone sculptures, and the Mackie Lake House artist-in-residence James Postill, of Coldstream, showing his Hidden Treasures.

Opening reception is Thursday, May 30 from 6 to 8 p.m. The work, except Postill’s, can be viewed until July 25. Postill’s work is up to June 28.

Visit vernonpublicartgallery.com for more information.