'Infinite Jest'-Inspired Exhibition Opens at VCU

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"Various Small Flames"

A series of short films inspired by the oeuvre of a fictional filmmaker form an inventive new exhibition opening at VCU this evening.

“A Failed Entertainment: Selections from the Filmography of James O. Incandenza” features 15 works that take their titles and impetus from a footnote in David Foster Wallace’s sprawling, beloved 1996 novel, “Infinite Jest.” The footnote is a detailed list of the more than 70 films that make up the complete works of Incandenza, the creator of an especially beguiling film that plays an integral role in the novel. In collaboration with VCU, Sam Ekwurtzel, a Fountainhead Fellow in the VCU School of the Arts and the organizer of the exhibition, commissioned artists to re-create works from the fictional filmography, taking the short descriptions in the footnote as their guideposts.

“A Failed Entertainment,” which is presented by the VCU Department of Sculpture + Extended Media, will run from March 7 to March 21 at the VCU Fine Arts Building Gallery, 1000 W. Broad St. Gallery hours are from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. or by appointment. The opening reception is March 7, starting at 5:30 p.m.

“A Failed Entertainment” already had an initial showing at the LeRoy Neiman Gallery at Columbia University in February, catching the notice of The New Yorker and The Guardian, among others.

Ekwurtzel said the works in “A Failed Entertainment” do not aspire to solve the many riddles of “Infinite Jest,” which he describes as an “enigmatic, open-ended book.” However, fans of the novel will appreciate the way the films work with the novel, incorporating its themes and occupations. Ekwurtzel likens “A Failed Entertainment” to a satellite above the world Wallace created – each piece observing and responding to the novelist’s creation. 

“It takes the text as a departure point,” Ekwurtzel said. “But these works can also stand on their own.”

The lengthy filmography that formed the inspiration for the exhibition included a range of works for artists to pick from, including industrial, documentary, conceptual, advertorial, technical, parodic, dramatic non-commercial and non-dramatic commercial films.

The exhibition showcases works from a worldwide collection of artists, including representatives from England, Germany, Italy, Brazil, Canada and various regions of the United States. Among those with a film in “A Failed Entertainment” is Reid Ramirez, a painting student at VCU.

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"Various Small Flames"