whatsherface #10: Althea Mengxi Rao


White Mushroom, Black Earth

White Mushroom, Black Earth is a doc-fiction piece about the permanent landscape installation The New York Earth Room. The film combines personal storytelling with the larger social/historical context of the art piece and its neighborhood —  SoHo. Because the installation itself is not allowed to be filmed, the filmmaker invited the visitors to stand in front of the camera for thirty seconds, where they were asked to express their experience with the earth room, without speaking.


By not showing the topic of the film, White Mushroom, Black Earth seeks to represent the abstract organic whole of The New York Earth Room experience in a provocative but non-intrusive way. By participating in the film, visitors deepened their understanding of their own experience of the The New York Earth Room.


Cloudville is an exploration of the conception of an image and how to use it in my self-image, my repertoire of concepts, and my works. I started experimenting with an image of a blank, emotionless face in mind -- empty stares and big black eyes. Then the concept of a city full of faces like this started to form. Joni Mitchell’s album cover is a physical embodiment I decided to use for this face. I placed the face in different urban contexts and character relationships, while the actual characters around the image are always completely unaware.

Later when I started to create a fantasy world for my MFA thesis film Three Seasons, Cloudville and its citizens came back to me. In the world of Three Seasons, people who live in different cities experience years in different lengths with a different number of seasons.

Three Seasons

Althea is currently fundraising for the production of Three Seasons and she's almost reached her goal! To support the film production check out her Kickstarter campaign for more information. The deadline for contributions is Saturday, May 20.

Freya comes to Cloudville in search of her estranged cousin, Elliot, only to discover that she is the only person awake in a town that is frozen in time.

The rule of time and season is different in Cloudville. In the current season, her cousin succumbs to random bouts of narcolepsy.

To Freya, Elliot feels not much different from a stranger except their partially shared ancestry, a piece of knowledge that was passed down from parents and testified by an old photograph.

When Elliot manages to fight off the seasonal slumber, he and Freya struggle to connect, while Freya hides a family secret regarding Elliot's mom who disappeared from Cloudville in disgrace.

Inspired by the ancient Chinese story of Confucius and the "three season man," Three Seasons is set in a fantasy world where different cities have different rules of seasons and time. Depending on where they are from, people in this world experience time and the flow of a year differently. This physical boundary sometimes increases difficulties for cross time-zone communication, yet also could become a strong force that creates collective recognition of selves among individuals.

Freya and Elliot, the two protagonists of the film, struggle in search of an unfamiliar sense of kinship in the strange flow of time. Will they be able to restore their ill-maintained cousinhood despite their physical and cultural differences?

The issues the film addresses are important, as urban environment, growing technologies and our enhanced mobility have created new forms of relationships where the biological and the emotional are often separated from one another. Three Seasons invites viewers to look inwardly at their own relationship with families.

Althea Mengxi Rao ​is a Chinese media artist and filmmaker. Her works explores different innovative ways of expressions: cross media, cross platform cross culture, cross genre … but the themes always point back at some of the most human emotions, and the forms are always interactive. She was one of the six Flaherty Film Seminar Fellows of Philadelphia in 2016. Her interactive performance Touch: the Dance debuted at the Fleisher Art Memorial last year and was invited to participate in Prague Dance Hackathon. Her most recent media sculpture Blindfold is exhibited at Abington Art Center. Her films have screened at festivals in the US, Germany and Spain as well as local Philadelphia theaters.